FAQ - Diagnosis


Question: What causes white spots on the leaves. Can you give me any solutions? 
Answer: I think that the white spots may be powdery mildew. This fungus disease has the texture of a spattering of white flour; it can be wiped off; the spots have an indistinct round form; spots may appear on both foliage and flowers. Powdery mildew thrives best in areas that have widely varying temperatures in a 24 hour period. Warm days feed moisture into the air allowing the relative humidity to climb dramatically during cooler nights. If the air is not being stirred by a fan (especially at night), pockets of humidity collect between the pots and near the plants. Regulating temperatures and/or moving the air will help prevent future outbreaks. In the meantime, Lysol disinfectant antibacterial spray can be misted in the area to control minor outbreaks. Do not direct it toward the plants from close range because aerosol sprays are very cold. For more persistent mildew, Ortho Rose Pride Rose and Shrub Disease Control is effective and does not damage violets when used as directed. Neem oil (which is also an effective insect preventative) is also a safe and effective biological control when used as directed. Other spots than can be present include: 1) water spots which can be persistent even when trying to wash them off. A bit of vinegar (rinsed off fairly quickly) can help. And 2) web-nests of the dreaded foliar mealy bug... these spots look like tiny tufts of cotton and will shred like cotton when prodded with a pin-point. Treatment is very difficult and immediate disposal is recommended. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: I could use help on why my violet blossoms are getting a powder on them , then die. 
Answer: I think that the white spots are powdery mildew. This fungus disease has the texture of a spattering of white flour; it can be wiped off; the spots have an indistinct round form; spots may appear on both foliage and flowers. Powdery mildew thrives best in areas that have widely varying temperatures in a 24 hour period. Warm days feed moisture into the air allowing the relative humidity to climb dramatically during cooler nights. If the air is not being stirred by a fan (especially at night), pockets of humidity collect between the pots and near the plants. Regulating temperatures and/or moving the air will help prevent future outbreaks. In the meantime, Lysol disinfectant antibacterial spray can be misted in the area to control minor outbreaks. Do not direct it toward the plants from close range because aerosol sprays are very cold. For more persistent mildew, Ortho Rose Pride Rose and Shrub Disease Control is effective and does not damage violets when used as directed. Neem oil (which is also an effective insect preventative) is also a safe and effective biological control when used as directed. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: Several of my violets have a white powder dusting on them but the plants seem to be unaffected from it. Do you know what is causing this or what it is? 
Answer: You probably have powdery mildew which is just beginning. You need to control it quickly because it will soon affect the plant growth and become much harder to fight. The simplest first control is to mist the air around the plants with aerosol Lysol antibacterial disinfectant spray. The spray is very cold and can damage the plant tissue, so be sure not to spray directly at the violets from close range. A second treatment might be with Neem oil (available in many garden centers). This is sprayed all over the leaves until they are dripping (it also helps control bugs), but you must do this in the morning and set the plants out of direct sunlight until they have dried. If the disease becomes persistent, you may need a third very serious fungicide called Ortho Rose Pride Rose and Shrub Disease control which is also commonly available in garden centers- use according to package directions. Mildew thrives in areas where plants are too close together, where air doesn't move freely, and especially when the humidity is high. Allowing the temperatures in the area to go up and down by more than ten degrees in a single day, will also lead to problems because of relative humidity. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: Some time in the past week a white fungus looking mass has appeared on the soil of almost all my violets which are growing on a light stand. The blossoms and foliage look fine, but the soil has this fuzzy looking stuff that I can move with my fingers. I turned off my fan during the dry winter so the air has not been moving as it did during summer, spring and fall. There is no fuzzy stuff on my plants thus far. My plants are watered Texas Style, and I have never had this problem before. I repotted everyone in April.

Answer: While this white stuff looks pretty ominous, you need not worry. It is almost certainly the beneficial bacteria in the soil that is simply blooming out. This bacteria is responsible for breaking down nitrogen into a usable form for the roots to absorb. Occasionally, when the soil conditions are very good it blooms and the white fuzz appears on the surface of the soil. Since it isn't pretty, you certainly may just scrape it off the surface of the soil. Often just watering from the top will flush the bacteria back down into the soil. You could also spray the surface of the soil with Lysol, however remember that the aerosol spray is very cold and that you must protect the plant from temperature shock. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: My African violet has two leaves with large white circles on them. What could that be?

Answer: This might be spotting from having had water stand on the leaves. In which case, the circles will disappear when you moisten the area. It could be worse.  White circles (rather than white round blotches) are an ominous symptom of a viral disease called impatiens necrotic spot virus (INSV) that has been known to affect violet collections especially following outbreaks of thrips which carry the disease from plant to plant. Typically it is also associated with general malaise, including stunting, irregular growth and failure to thrive. There is no cure and it is best to discard plants as quickly as possible to prevent further spread of the disease. Before you do that however, I would like to see a photo that would allow me to say for certain if that is what you are describing. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: My African violet was bought 2 months ago. It has a white flower. The petal had brown edge. I thought it would be a short-time condition. However, the brown edges continuously appear on flower bud. Most flowers die before they blossom. They are totally brown in color. Too much water? Or fungus? I have used fungicide already. No use at all. May you tell me if it had very bad fungus that I should throw it away? I am afraid it may spread disease to my other plants.

Answer: Some white flowering violets are very delicate and tend to bruise, but yours sounds like it could be a case of blossom botrytis blight. This is a very serious disease for blooming plants. There are only one or two fungicides which are very expensive that will be effective. I strongly recommend that you discard this plant, clean the area with a disinfectant, and wait for a month or so before you purchase another violet.

Question: My problem: Many of my violets are producing buds brownish in color, and when they open the flowers are brownish. I wick water, fluorescent lighting in racks. I pulled all the brown buds off, but when more appeared they were the same.

Answer: The symptoms you are describing sound a lot like botrytis blossom blight, which is a fungus disease that is very difficult to control. While you describe the blossoms as brownish, I might say that the flower color has a tan hue. My husband describes it as looking like the color got sucked out of the flower. When it is advanced, the buds also show the odd color. If the disease is advanced, you would also see some stunted growth in the center of the plants with a grayish color. If you are seeing all of these symptoms, then it is a fair bet that you have botrytis blight. The disease thrives in high humidity particularly if the temperatures tend to go above 80 during the day and below 70 at night. It spreads by spores that are in the air. Having fought the disease myself, I have found that the best cure is to discard all the plants that show symptoms and to treat the rest with a fungicide like Physan 27 which is specifically effective on botrytis blight. Once the disease is established, it can take a while to get rid of it. Be prepared to continue discarding plants that show signs of the disease. You should also take steps to maintain humidity at 40- 50% and no higher (day or night), as well as to maintain the temperature in the growing area between 68 and 75 degrees (day or night). It is also wise to keep a fan running day and night in the area so that the air is continually stirred and humid pockets of air are dispersed. Finally, I would suggest wiping down the area and the outside of your pots with bleach water or with Lysol disinfectant to kill any spores that might be on surfaces. If you think I'm on the wrong track, please send a photo of the affected plants and I'll think this through again. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork



Diagnosis - Flowers

Question: I have a standard African violet. the first time it flowered the flowers were normal size, now when ever it re-flowers, the flowers are small and stunted there not even close to the original size of the first time they blossomed..it almost appears like on the petals of these stunted flowers they almost looked like there cupped inwards a bit what is causing every time they bloom now for the flowers to all be so stunted?

Answer: There are two diseases that seem most likely as the cause. A fungus called botrytis blossom blight may occur in humid situations especially if the temperatures fluctuate a lot. Technically it is curable, but realistically it would cost hundreds of dollars to buy the products that are recommended. Discarding the plant is a better choice. BBB is contagious, so you should watch other plants for similar symptoms. A second viral disease is called Impatiens Necrotic Spot Virus (INSV) and it is completely incurable. It usually follows an outbreak of thrips (which feed on the pollen in the blossoms) because thrips are a vector for the disease. Often there will be other symptoms of malaise including distorted foliage or center growth. Again the solution is to discard the affected plant and to watch other plants closely. A third less likely possibility is that you have broad mites which feed on the underside of the leaves. The first symptom is more likely to be that the leaves are curling under or that the leaves are brittle and cracking. Broad mites can be eradicated with a miticide or with a spray application of Neem oil, being careful to spray the underside of the leaves where the pest lives. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: I wonder if you might answer a question for a friend--an avid African violet grower and my mentor). She said that all her African violet flowers and buds have suddenly dried up; otherwise, the plants look perfectly healthy. She said it happened right after she turned on the gas heat for the season. Have you ever heard of this before?

Answer: You gave me some great detail and I can give you a fairly certain answer. The dried up flowers and buds probably occurred because of the suddenly much drier air when the heat came on. If it happened when the soil was also a bit dry, there was no way for the roots to replace the evaporating water quickly enough. The best way to correct the problem is to provide more humidity... many growers water by wick-watering from open reservoirs of water which provides more humidity as well as a continuous supply of water for the wick to draw into the potting mix when needed. Note that the bottom of the pot is not down in the water. If you are unfamiliar with this watering method, I would be happy to explain it in more detail. A second alternative explanation (but less likely) is that she allowed some gas pollution into her growing area when the gas was turned on. Normally this would cause the center growth of the plant to stunt as though it had a cyclamen mite infestation. The center leaves would be very tight and grey. If she saw this result, she would want to contact her gas company immediately and ask them to check for leaks. And she should be persistent because very tiny leaks can do enormous damage to African violets. I experienced this years ago and we only rarely got a tiny whiff of gas but we had a shelf of African violets growing next to a line that showed symptoms. The gas company had a hard time finding it, but they finally did and the African violets grew out rather quickly. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: I purchased two African violets, one with solid purple flowers, the other with ruffled white and purple flowers. Both bloomed regular and the next time they started to bloom the flowers were both solid purple. What causes this?

Answer: African violets that have bi-color blossoms, especially those that are white with another color, have a tendency to revert (sport) to a single color. When this happens, it is commonly accompanied by a change in the foliage also. Probably the original purple and white variety had leaves that had little or no red coloring on the underside. When they sport to a solid color blossom, the red blotches become more prominent or completely cover the underside of the leaf. Experienced growers have learned to take a leaf with no blotches to propagate, because those will produce plantlets that have the bi-color blossoms. They do this as soon as they see any evidence of the "birthmark" of red splotches on the underside of the leaf. If you can find a leaf with no birthmarks you may be able to get back to your original. For your convenience, an article for leaf propagation exists on the site. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork


Diagnosis - Leaves

Question: The leaves on my African violets are all turning from dark green to a lighter green around the edges. Any suggestions?

Answer: This is most likely a nutritional issue. Two thoughts come to mind: 1) The pH of the potting medium may have drifted from the ideal 6.8. If you wish to check the pH, choose a violet which has had moist potting mix for several days in a row and add water to the top of the plant, collecting a sample of the first run-off which then can be tested. Aquarium stores have relatively inexpensive pH testing kits. The easiest way to repair poor pH is to repot into fresh potting mix. 2) If you have not been fertilizing at all, you should consider doing so. If you have been, you may want to consider changing to one that may be better suited to your environment. Without knowing your growing conditions, however, I can't really make a suggestion of which product to try. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: Several of my violets are growing flowers that are stunted. Nothing else seems wrong with the plant, but on all varieties of violets where this occurs, the flowers look the same. They are real small and tight. The petals really aren't there at all. A couple plants had those kind of stunted flowers and I took all of the flowers off and some newer flowers were okay. I have read lots of articles about mites and thrips but nothing seems to fit and I can't find a photo that shows violet flowers like the ones I have.

Answer: Cyclamen mites can cause distorted flowers but the center of the plant would also be distorted and stunted. In your other message you mention leaves curling under which may be a symptom of broad mites which feed on the underside of leaves... as the infestation increases, the leaves become brittle and will crack but I would not expect to see the distortion in the flowers. Here are the other most common causes of distorted flowers. 1) A heavy infestation of thrips (which are hyphen-sized insects that feed on the pollen sacs in the center of the flowers) may result in distortion like you describe. 2) A virus called INSV (Impatiens Necrotic Spot Virus) can definitely result in distorted blossoms. If this is your problem, you would see a random pattern of plants that seem to lack vigor... they don't quite die but they are not thriving. Over time the plants become more and more ragged-looking. The virus is spread by thrips, so if you have had a thrips outbreak in recent years, it is a possibility. There is no cure and disposal is the best treatment. 3) Repotting and disturbing the root system can also cause blossom distortion. When repotting, it is best not to disturb the root system at all, if possible. Growers who have raked through the roots (as gardeners recommend when repotting trees and shrubs) will find that the flowers that were just budding during the repotting will become distorted. When it is necessary to cut off or to remove roots during repotting, we recommend that you remove all of the flowers and buds, partly so you don't have to see this negative result. Once the roots are reestablished the flowers will return to a normal form. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

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.

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 

Question: I have been having a problem for approximately the last year with my African violets. The new leaves which form in the center of the plant are growing in very tight with short stems. I have been growing violets and have never had this problem before. I did replace my previous flourescent bulbs with 2 grow lights which are each 6500K suspended 12 inches above the shelf in my plant table which is 48" wide and 26" deep. I water my violets approx. once a week with a 7-7-7 African violet plant food diluted to the recommended amount for feeding with every watering. What can be causing the leaves to grow in so tightly? The plants have also not bloomed in several months. What am I doing wrong?

Answer: There are several possible solutions.

1) I am not familiar with the specific grow lights that you describe, however, too much light can result in very tight center growth. Typically you would see worse symptoms in the very center of the light tubes and fewer problems near the edge of the shelf. Usually we would also see some bleaching of the leaves. If this is the cause, the problems would improve if a plant were placed in a dimmer location.

2) If the tight growth is actually stunted and the center of the plant is developing twisted or deformed looking leaves, that may also be grayish, then cyclamen mite would be suspected. Lack of bloom is consistent with the presence of cyclamen mite. A miticide may be used to treat, but it will take a full year for the plants to recover. Many growers opt to take a healthy leaf to propagate and discard the main plant.

3) The presence of gas, such as natural gas or propane can cause a similar stunting. If you have any gas appliances or lines in the nearby area, you might wish to have it checked for leaks. Very minute amounts have been known to cause significant damage.

4) This may be a micro-nutrient toxicity issue if the center leaves look like a miniature plant growing in the center of a plant that previously grew large. This may be related to an incorrect pH level (it should be about 6.8) or an overdose of one of the trace elements in your fertilizer. The latter may appear, for example, when the water also has a significant amount of the same trace element. Unfortunately such plants do not seem to improve and are best discarded.

5) We have also been hearing that this same 'miniaturization' has been linked to a virus. The research data is still in the laboratory, but if it is a virus, it cannot be cured at this time. Again, the plants are best discarded. Hoping your growing will be happier soon! Joyce Stork

Question: Why are some of my violets getting brown spots on the leaves?

Answer: If the brown spots are small and consistently around the edge of the leaves (especially outside leaves) you likely have a problem with too much fertilizer salt in the leaf. Some varieties are very sensitive to this and require little or no fertilizer. The problem can get worse if violets are allowed to get too dry between watering. It can't be reversed once it's present, but leaching the soil with clear room temperature water will help remove excess salts from the potting mix and reduce the amount of future damage. If the brown spots are increasing in size, if the leaf tissue becomes a thin brown membrane, and it appears irregularly on the leaves, you may have a bacterial disease. Erwinia can be very aggressive and can be hard to control. Disposing of infected plants is the best cure. If there are many pin-head sized brown spots scattered across the leaves, you may have red spider mite or aphids. Either can be controlled with Neem Oil or with common insecticides that list African violets on their label. Be sure to apply under the leaf surface where they commonly feed. If the spots are greenish brown and have a web-like pattern, you may have watered with too cold or too hot water, damaging the roots. Or you may have had droplets of water that stood for a length of time on the leaf surface. These cannot be reversed, but the violets typically do not become worse if the conditions improve. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork 

Question: I really need help with my African violets. The leaves suddenly become soft and kind of watery. My African Violets have been in front of a bright window for almost a year but it is the first time I see something like that.

Answer: It appears to me that your plants are suffering from heat shock. This can happen this time of year when the sunlight comes straight into windows that face either directly east or west. At the same time, you may not have the fully-leafed-out trees or shrubs to filter the light. If you get just one brilliant very warm day this time of year, a lot of damage can happen quickly. You should remove all of the soft watery leaves immediately, making sure to get the entire leaf cleanly away from the main stem. Leaving them provides a pathway for bacteria to enter the plant. Over the next month, you will want to continue to remove leaves that are showing any damage. If you can spread out the removal of the leaves over many days you will be stimulating the plants to grow more quickly and make a faster recovery. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: My African violets bloom and look healthy but grow up and are never spread out or level like they are in pictures.

Answer: It sounds like they are not getting enough light. If you grow at the window, you may want to find a brighter window. East- or south-facing windows are often best, and the violets need to be right in the window. They may get an hour or so of direct light during the day without harm, providing the air temperature doesn't get hot during that time. If that is not possible, then consider using a fluorescent light fixture that is positioned about twelve inches above the plants and turned on for about twelve hours a day. This will not only cause the foliage to lay down, but it will grow more compactly and flowers will be more prolific. To help the foliage lay down (once the light is improved) apply gentle pressure to the whole plant (using outspread fingers) once or twice a day for several weeks or until they stay put. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: My leaves are turning yellow & spotted. I am following the instructions for proper watering care. What am I missing?

Answer: If the yellowing and spotting are primarily found around the edges of the leaves, especially older leaves, then I would guess that there is a problem with fertilizer or salts. Violets need fertilizer to grow and bloom but there are a number of hybrids that are sensitive to it in heavy doses. I would suggest first that you leach the plant by pouring a quart or more of room temperature clear or distilled water into the top of the soil (turning the plant so that water is added from all sides) and allowing the excess to drain away. This will remove any fertilizer/salt build-up from the soil. Then decrease the amount of fertilizer you give this plant. It may be advisable even to skip fertilizing for a month or so. The spotted leaves will not improve, so you should remove them over the next few weeks. Doing so gradually will help the plant grow faster. If the spotting is across the leaves in a general scattered pattern, examine the back of the leaves, looking for tiny bodies and/or fine webbing in the plant. Sometimes wiping the underside of the leaf will produce a red or yellow smear on a tissue. Spider mites don't attack violets as their first choice, but when they do, they suck juice from the underside of the leaf leaving a small chlorotic spot on the upper surface. A miticide is often required to rid them, although you may have good results using Neem oil which works more gradually by preventing the young from maturing to a reproductive stage. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: (Why are) the outer leaves (of my African violet) are turning yellow.

Answer: Outer leaves can turn yellow just because of natural old age. It is pretty normal to lose a leaf or two every month. If you are losing them faster than that, then you need to analyze your culture. 1) Too much fertilizer can result in a salt buildup in the plant tissue. The leaves develop yellow spots about the size of pebbles around the leaf edges. 2) An absence of nitrogen can also cause yellowing called chlorosis. This can happen if you are not fertilizing, but also if you have a pH problem that is preventing the absorption of nitrogen. Repotting into fresh potting mix is usually the easiest way to solve the problem if you suspect pH. 3) Plants that are stressed by drying out will often react by sacrificing leaves, which often yellow as they die. If you allow your violets to get completely dry between watering, you would be wise to consider this. Keeping the potting mix moist at all times, but never fully saturated is best for violets. Hopefully one of these will fit your situation and your violets will be better soon. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: What causes my African violet plant to have the leaves suddenly droop and become limp and lifeless? Answer:Something bad is happening to the roots. It may be soil mealy bug or root rot. Soil mealy bugs are very slow moving and gray-white. They leave nests of white webbing around the outside of the root ball, so if you lift the plant out of the pot and see filmy white streaks you can be certain the bugs are present. If you know that the violet has been left standing in water for long periods of time, or if you tend to allow the soil to dry completely and then water thoroughly, it is most likely root rot. The solution to either one is to repot aggressively. The process of repotting is intimidating and often growers try to do it the "safe way" which is actually why they die. You have to be fairly aggressive in transplanting but then provide the safety net that gets them growing again. Please find the article on repotting for step by step directions. Happy Growing! 

Question: I recently transplanted my African violets into clay pots. They now have curled under leaves...nothing else just curled leaves...what do I do?

Answer: 1) It may just be that the plants are dry, especially if the curled edges are limp. Clay pots evaporate off a lot more water than plastic pots. If you were growing in plastic pots previously, you need to water about twice as often when growing violets in clay pots. 2) If the edges are firm and curling under, then it is possible that you are growing them a little cooler than they like...interestingly that can also be related to clay pots because all of that evaporation has a cooling effect on the root system. In the cool winter months, one shouldn't be overly surprised to see some curling. 3) If the edges are rolling under and are very firm and almost brittle (especially if the leaves show cracks) then you may have a pest called broad mite. These feed on the underside of the leaves and suck juices out. They are not terribly hard to get rid of using a miticide that must be applied to the underside of the plant as well as the top. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: My African violet leaves are turning white. When the leaves turn white they get hard and waxy. They are still fuzzy but it is like the plant is losing chlorophyll. At this point in time the plant I am looking at has 15 or 20 leaves on it and does not appear like it is dying but 11 of the leaves are completely white in color leaving 5 or 6 leaves in the crown a pale green. All the leaves a thick and hard to the touch.

Answer: It would seem that the plants aren't able to produce chlorophyll. There are a number of things needed for good chlorophyll production. 1) Fertilizer with an adequate dose of nitrogen is needed as a key component for making chlorophyll. I'd recommend a 20-20-20. 2) Soil bacteria processes nitrogen into a usable form for the plant to absorb. To promote soil bacteria, you need temperatures that are consistently 68 degrees or warmer so the bacteria remains active. Below 60 degrees there is almost no activity. 3) The pH needs to be in the 6.8 to 7 range for nitrogen to be absorbed properly. If the pH is very acid or very alkaline there is little to no nitrogen that the plant can access. Testing pH is a good idea, but simply repotting into fresh soil will often do wonders. 4) Sometimes the violet is in a location that is so bright that the chlorophyll is used up (by photosynthesis) faster than the violet can replace it. A dimmer location can make a big difference. 5) Magnesium sulfate may be in short supply. This is yet another core element of chlorophyll. It is usually a trace element in fertilizers, but growers sometimes find that adding 1/4 teaspoon of Epsom salt to a gallon of water can "green up" the foliage of many plants in fairly short order. Hopefully one of those will bring back the green for you! Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: My African violet started off with green leaves and they are slowly turning pink in color. The leaves are all plump and healthy looking and the plant has just finished blooming. Is this a variety or does it do this because it is not getting enough sunlight or is it sick?

Answer: Probably your violet is receiving more light than it can handle because the symptom you are describing is called bleaching. Normally bleaching makes leaves white, but if your variety has red on the underside of the leaf, the bleaching will look pink. It happens because chlorophyll (the green color in the leaves) is used up during the process of photosynthesis. If the plant is receiving adequate nutrition (especially nitrogen) it will be able to make more chlorophyll fairly easily. To solve the problem of bleaching, you can reduce the intensity of the light or the length of the day (if you grow under fluorescent lights), or you can increase the amount of nitrogen the plant receives in the fertilizer. Ideally violets like to have twelve hours of fairly bright light in an east window or a south window with some filtering. They should be fed with a balanced fertilizer weekly, following package directions. If you have been doing this, then we have to figure out why the nitrogen isn't getting into the plant. It may be because the soil pH is not in the 6.5-7 range where nitrogen is most available for the roots to absorb. Repotting into fresh potting mix will often solve the problem. It may be because the soil temperature is too cool for the soil bacteria to process the nitrogen efficiently. 72 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal. Happy growing! Joyce Stork

Question: What is wrong when the center of African violets become real tight?

Answer: The symptom you are describing is often called stunting. Stunting can be the result of a fungus (blossom botrytis blight), an insect (cyclamen mite), of pollution (natural gas leak), or because of a cultural problem (micro-nutrient toxicity). In addition there is a possibility that a virus might also cause stunting. Deciding which one of these is causing your particular case can be difficult. It requires that we look for other symptoms as well as cultural factors which might favor a specific problem. If you have blossom botrytis blight, you would probably also be seeing tannish or greyish flowers and you might be growing in a humid atmosphere with little air circulation where fungus disease thrives. If you have cyclamen mite, you would probably see some twisting or gnarling in the center growth and any flowers might be similarly twisted and misshapen. If you have a natural gas appliance or line in the area of the affected plants, it is wise to have it checked. If you have what looks like a miniaturized plant with perfectly formed healthy leaves that are very tiny growing in the center of a formerly large growing violet, then you may have micro-nutrient toxicity. This would most likely occur in situations where the available water source duplicates one of the trace elements in the fertilizer. The unfortunate cure for nearly all of these is to discard the affected plant(s). Curing the problem can be expensive or impossible. Discarding sick ones and  purchasing new plants is generally a better way to go. If you wish to send a photo for a more definitive answer, I would be happy to take a look. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: I just received my new mini African violet yesterday. Today the leaves are limp. I watered it when I got it and re-potted it into a 2" pot. It did not sit in water because the water drains right out. What’s wrong with it?

Answer: The wilting leaves tell you that the roots are not able to get water to the plant. There are several possible causes. You may have shocked the roots when you repotted by trimming the roots back, cutting some away, or tearing roots away, or by working away a lot of potting mix from the roots, seriously disturbing them and possibly tearing them. If you believe that you may have done this, then you will probably find that placing the plant inside a clear plastic bag (to increase the humidity) for a couple of weeks will help the plant recover and grow more roots. You may have packed the potting mix down too tightly around the roots. If you think you packed the soil, you should repot it again, simply piling the potting mix into the pot around the plant, and then enclosing the plant in a clear plastic bag should help. You may have used bone-dry potting mix that never absorbed water at all, leaving the roots in a very dry environment. Peat moss, which is the main component of most potting mixes, will often resist water when it is very dry. When you add water to the top of the pot, the water will flush right through with no absorption at all, leaving the roots completely dry and withering. There are several ways to get potting mix to absorb water: stirring, using hot water, or adding a wetting agent. If this is your problem, I would suggest removing the plant from the pot and adding water to the potting mix in a container that allows you to stir until the water is absorbed and the mix is damp, then repotting. Because the plant was wilted, I would also place it inside a clear plastic bag or domed container for at least a few days while it recovers. If you choose to use hot water, you must allow the soil mix to cool before repotting. Then, keep the plant a little moist at all times, to prevent future drying. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork


Diagnosis - Pests

Question: I have white cottony things on my African violets. What is it?

Answer: It's likely that you have foliar mealy bug. These pests (grey and the size and shape of sesame seeds) love to build the white cottony nests for their eggs on the surface of leaves (between the hairs) or in the center of plant where the leaves attach to the main stem. They are nearly impossible to eradicate on African violets and we usually recommend that you discard any plant with foliar mealy bugs as quickly as possible. They often are found on other green plants first, where it is possible to control them with a three-pronged attack.

1) Swab the nests and any pests you can find with alcohol-soaked Q-tips, checking daily.

2) Use an aerosol insecticide once a week until no further evidence is seen for two weeks.

3) Use a soil systemic that lists mealy bugs on the label. The reason we don't recommend this for African violets is that the combination of the three treatments often kills the plant before the insects are gone. There are just too many places on a violet for them to hide and defend themselves. If you decide to try to treat, isolate any healthy plants so they are not infested. If you wish to take some leaves to propagate, be sure to place each leaf in it's own plastic bag while rooting using the directions found in the article on leaf propagation on this website and be sure the leaves that you take have no trace of cottony masses or of the insect. If the mealy bugs are still present and more cotton is visible on the rooting leaf, you'll be able to discard the bag without exposing the rest of your collection. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork


Diagnosis - Repotting

Question: I cut off the roots of two of my African violets and repotted them according to your directions. One of them appears to be doing well, and I removed it from its bag today. The other got fluffy moldy-looking stuff, and I threw it out. I did the same thing to both of them, so why did only one make it? What did I do wrong?

Answer: It is hard to know for certain, but I suspect that botrytis attacked the one plant. It is a very common fungus that is often seen on cut flower stems. It is somewhat helpful in breaking down plant material into decayed mulch, but undesirable when it gets into something that you wanted to continue growing. The fungus may have been present on the one plant (bag or pot) and not the other, or you may have somehow introduced it as you did the repotting. It is always wise to use clean pots and bags, and to clean tools before cutting the plant tissue. The excellent thing is that you bagged them separately so that the fungus didn't spread. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork


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