Learn About African Violets

Question: My African violets have hard, clumping centers. The outer leaves look good but the centers are brittle and any buds do not flower. What should I do? I have many African violets and they seem to all be affected. Read more ...
Answer: There are several possibilities, none of them very good.
1) Cyclamen mites would be indicated when the center leaves have a gnarled and grey appearance. Twisting leaves are also sometimes noted. Usually the African violet ceases to bloom and any buds that form are distorted or fail to open. Mites feed on the tenderest growth in the plant, sucking out juices and leaving behind a toxin that stunts the cell growth. One or two won't do much damage, but when they become infested, the center growth stunts and blossoms usually stop developing. A miticide is required to kill them, but realistically it will take a full year for the plant to grow out of the damage. Often it is best to discard the plant and watch other plants for similar problems. It is possible to take leaf cuttings to propagate. Isolate the cuttings in a closed environment (like a clear plastic bag) in the event that any mites are still present. I would strongly suggest treating any plants that still look healthy with a miticide or with Neem oil, to prevent further problems. Ivy, begonias, and cyclamen are also commonly affected by cyclamen mite and should be treated or discarded if they are in the same area.
2) Botrytis blossom blight can also cause stunting, but generally the first symptom is an unusual draining or graying of color in the blossom. The center tends to look like it isn't growing, but it would not look brittle or twisted. It is also very hard to cure and disposal is best.
3) Virus diseases especially INSV can cause stunting. Outbreaks of thrips (an insect that feeds on pollen in the center of the flowers) usually precede a virus outbreak. It is possible to test for virus, but generally if the plant looks sick and isn't getting better, it is better just to discard it. Most of the time the damage will be random... a plant here and one there without much pattern.
4) Toxic levels of one or more of the micro-nutrients (sometimes called trace elements) in fertilizer can cause stunting. In this case, a large standard plant might suddenly have a center that looks perfectly miniaturized with a large gap between the big outer leaves and the very petite center leaves. This is the result of a toxic build-up of the micro-nutrient and appears to be irreversible once it reaches this stage. It happens most commonly when the minerals in the water are already providing the needed nutrient... the addition of fertilizer adds a second dose and it quickly becomes too much. Occasionally the water pH level allows too much of the micro-nutrient to be absorbed and correcting the pH can prevent further problems. You have my sympathy... none of these are good choices.
Please feel free to ask if I can be of further assistance.
Joyce Stork 

 Much of the information here in Violets 101 was originally published in the African Violet MagazineJoin AVSA to receive the magazine with much more in-depth information.

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