The Bay Gardener
By Dr. Frank Gouin
What Your African Violets Wish You Knew
They want a jungle’s warmth and muted light
African violets continue to be one of the most popular houseplants. They are a tropical plant from a region where daylight hours are nearly the same as nighttime hours. What’s more, the plants grew naturally under a forest canopy. The canopy helped considerably in moderating fluctuating temperatures.
They have undergone a tremendous amount of breeding to improve foliage and flower color and texture, but their demand for organic rich soils and constant temperatures for growing have remained the same.
To keep them flowering throughout the year in your home, you must minimize fluctuating temperatures in their environment. This means that placing the African violet plants near a window during the winter months is the worst thing you can do.
Most home gardeners are aware that African violets are sensitive to direct sunlight and should be grown where they will only be exposed to light from windows facing north. What you may not realize is that placing the plants near a north-facing window exposes them to widely fluctuating temperatures: During the day, the temperatures near the window are likely to be warmer than during the evening and night. The cool night temperatures prevent the African violet from flowering.
If you want your African violet plants to flower all winter long, place them in the middle of a well-lighted room or several feet from a window facing north. The more constant the temperatures, the better the plants will flower.
Plantings for Privacy
Q: I would like to place some evergreens into the woods near my house to provide a winter screen for when a house may be built nearby. The evergreens would be in full shade from the deciduous trees during the summer and fall. I would like something that would grow to at least 20 feet in height.
—Tom Heath, Chesapeake Beach
A: For planting a screen under a tree canopy, use a combination of American holly and mountain laurel. To get these plants started under a mature stand of trees, you will need to rent a trencher and dig two trenches two to three feet deep about eight feet apart in the area where you are going to plant. This eliminates root competition for two to three years, giving the new plants time to get established.
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