Joe Palagonia on ‘The Genus Saintpaulia’
(compiled by Marilyn Heinrich based on a talk given to the Long Island, New York Gesneriad Society. Reprinted from ‘The Violet Connection’, Volume 59, Issue 1, December 2010, Mel Grice, editor.)
In the October 9th meeting, Joe Palagonia gave us an overview of the African violet genus, Saintpaulia. The genus is found only in a small portion of Kenya and Tanzania, in East Africa. It was discovered and collected by Baron Walter von Saint Paul in 1892. There are currently 9 species and over 70 subspecies, most falling under species ionantha.
Saintpaulias grow mostly on limestone and prefer a neutral pH of 7 to slightly acid. Joe says that the species plants can grow at the ends of the tubes in a fluorescent light stand, that they like to grow cool, and like more lime than the hybrids. Joe has not observed a set blooming season for the species, they bloom whenever they want to.
Volume 59, No.1 of the Gesneriads magazine is a great reference to the species. Joe also recommended the book “Growing to Show” by Pauline Bartholomew which can be ordered from the AVSA.org website.
While the species’ blossoms are single and come in colors of pale lavender to purple, hybrids can have single, semidouble and double blossoms that come in pink, white, reddish purples and lavenders, and many combinations thereof. Hybrid blossoms can have edges, fantasy speckling or puffs, and chimera stripes. Hybrids also come in plant sizes classified as standards 8 inches in diameter or larger, semi-miniatures between 8 and 6 inches in diameter, and miniatures under 6 inches. There are micro-miniatures that can be grown in a shot glass size pot but they require a lot of attention to watering. Miniatures should be grown in 2 inch pots, and semi-miniatures in 2-1/2 inch pots. Standard violets should be grown in a pot 1/3 the diameter of the plant. You don’t want to over-pot Saintpaulias since bloom is encouraged when they are pot-bound.
Joe recommends that when you get a new plant, it should be repotted into your own soil right away. Joe puts Marathon insecticide in all his plants’ soil. He uses a soil mix of 5 parts Promix, 2 parts Perlite, 1 part Vermiculite, 5 tablespoons of dolomite lime. His city water is acidic and so are fertilizer solutions, hence the extra lime. Joe uses fiberglass screening to line the bottom of his pots to keep soil from falling out of the holes. He then adds one inch of plain perlite before adding soil. He waters once a week.
Leaves are started in a perlite/vermiculite mix, in a shot glass size to 2 inch size pot. Baby plants are repotted every 2 to 3 months. Repot in sequence (standards) from a 2 inch pot to a 3 inch, to a 3.5 inch, to a 4 inch, up to a 5 inch if necessary. Don’t over or under pot and don’t over or under water. Species plants don’t like too much water.
When repotting, firm the soil around the plant so that it doesn’t wiggle around. You need to know what kind of plant you are repotting — mini, semi-miniature, standard or trailer. A fully grown plant only needs to be refreshed in the same size pot every 6 months. You should repot regularly to keep the plant growing steadily or the change in culture will show up in the size of leaves. If you practice bottom watering, the fertilizer salts will dry up and collect at the top of the soil, so the top of the soil must be removed when repotting.
Don’t be afraid to remove bottom leaves to train the plant for proper symmetry. There is a schedule in the “Growing to Show” book that is excellent to follow. Labeling plants is very important. Joe recommends the use of white electrical tape on the side of the pot.
Joe uses 2-tube fluorescent fixtures with wide spectrum bulbs. Standards are grown 12 inches under the tubes, and mini/semimini’s are 8 inches below. He runs his lights for 10 hours during the year, but for 12 hours before show. He gets 40 mini/semimini plants on one shelf.
When growing trailers, light must get into the center of the plant. So pinch out leaves to open up the center. When beginning to grow a trailer, take out lower leaves to let light in and get growth, branching and bloom.
Joe doesn’t wick water. He says it requires maintaining reservoir water/fertilizer balance in spite of evaporation. It is also easy to forget to add water to a dry reservoir. Reservoirs take room and have to be cleaned. Joe uses saucers for watering. Joe recommends Physan to keep algae down and says it is also good for keeping white pots clean.
Since Joe has won Best In Show several times, his methods have much to recommend them.