Archive for the 'indoor plants' Category

Saintpaulia | African Violets

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African Violets – General Maintenance
By Kathleen Franklin (

The African violet (Saintpaulia) is an excellent flowering house plant, and these days there are more varieties than ever! Here’s a short primer on how to take care of them.

* Light – African violets need bright, indirect light – not direct sunlight – for about 8 – 12 hours per day, but they can manage with less, too. An east or north window is best. If the leaves are darker and/or thinner than leaves on plants getting more light, then the plant needs more light. Too little light also translates into fewer flowers. Too much light turns leaves pale or yellowish green, and growth slows down. African violets respond well to fluorescent light for 15-18 hours/day.
* Temperature – African violets prefer night temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees F, but will grow satisfactorily at 60 to 80 degrees F. They tolerate dry air, but thrive better in humid conditions. You can boost humidity by setting pots on top of trays of gravel and watering the gravel.
* Soil –You can find special soil mixes for African violets, or you can mix your own: equal parts potting soil, sphagnum, and perlite. Soil mixtures should have a pH of about 6.0 to 6.5 — slightly acidic — for best results.
* Water – Drainage is crucial. Plants in clay pots require more frequent watering than those in plastic pots since evaporation is greater. Decorative glazed pots without drainage holes are generally unsatisfactory. Water whenever the surface soil feels dry to the touch, but before it becomes hard or the plant wilts. African violets may be watered from the top or bottom. When watering from the top, apply sufficient water to surface soil to thoroughly saturate it and discard excess water which drains through the bottom of the pot. Watering from the bottom may be done by placing the pot in a container to which about 1” water is added. When the soil surface becomes moist, remove the pot and pour out of excess water. “Wick” watering may also be used. Finally, water temperature should be no cooler than room temperature. Tepid is best. Place the pot in a wide, deep saucer; saucers that are too snug are undesirable.
* Fertilizer – Fading leaf color and a slow-down in growth and flowering usually indicates that fertilizer is needed. I recommend Jack’s, a granular fertilizer specially formulated for African violets.

2007 – Kathleen Franklin, All Rights Reserved. Kathleen is a Montgomery county, MD -certified Master Gardener and a longtime employee of a local garden nursery. To ask a question or to schedule a garden consultation, contact

Jade Plants: A Survival Guide

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Jade Plants: A Survival Guide
By Kathleen Franklin (

The jade plant (Crassula argentea) originated in South Africa, but has been cultivated as a house plant in Europe and America for over a hundred years. Their dark-green, fleshy leaves can have blue or red tinges, depending on the cultivar, and they produce clusters of white or pink star-shaped flowers in winter.

Jade plants are succulents; they can store water in their stems, trunks, and roots. They like the warm, dry conditions that characterize most homes. The best soil for jades is a cactus-mix with some regular sterilized potting soil added, plus a dash of peat moss. Don’t fertilize between November and March; then use a 10-20-10 or 5-10-5 ratio soluble plant food every six weeks or so. African violet food works very well.

Like most succulents, jades prefer full sun or bright filtered light. South-facing windows are ideal, and the plants need at least four hours per day of direct light. Never let jade plants touch cold windowpanes in winter or stand in drafts. Jade plants are more likely to bloom if they are kept in rooms that are naturally dark at night.

The major enemy of jade plants is overwatering. If the soil does not drain well, or if you water the plant too frequently, it will develop root-rot and the leaves will become mushy and yellow. If the jade plant is allowed to become too dry, you will notice leaf drop. In winter when jade plants are dormant, let the soil dry out more than in spring and summer when the plant is actively growing. Try not to splash water on the leaves.

Jades are prone to mealybugs, which look like tiny white cotton balls. Get rid of them with rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab. Never use insecticidal soap or horticultural oil on jade plants, as it will damage the leaves.

Finally, jade plants don’t mind cramped quarters, so you don’t need to re-pot them often. If you do re-pot, wait until new growth starts in the spring, and make sure the container is heavy and stable enough to support the foliage, which can get quite heavy as the plant matures.

Next week: Caring for Conifers

2006 – Kathleen Franklin, All Rights Reserved. Kathleen is a Montgomery county, MD -certified Master Gardener and a longtime employee of a local garden nursery. To ask a question or to schedule a garden consultation, contact