Question: In the "Watering" section of FAQ, I note the use of the term "Wicking". I couldn't find any other reference to the meaning of the term. Could you please describe what the term means?
Answer: The wicking method of watering involves stringing a wick made of man-made fiber (such as rayon cording or acrylic yarn) through the potting mix so that it dangles out the bottom of the pot. The plant is then set above a reservoir of water so that the bottom end of the wick is in the water. The wick then draws water out of the reservoir and into the potting mix using capillary action.
There are several keys to making this work correctly:
1) The potting mix and the wick must be moist at all times, since capillary action depends on water molecules sticking to one another (sort of like a line of children holding hands). If the reservoir should go dry, the potting mix and wick must be moistened again to start the action.
2) The potting mix must be quite porous with lots of air pockets. Many commercial African violet mixes are too heavy for wicking and will allow the soil to become saturated, which leads to root rot. We recommend that you mix your own potting mix using equal parts of Canadian sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite.
3)Similarly, do not pack the soil when repotting... simply pile the potting mix in around the plants allow it to settle on its own. You want lots of space so that air can move through the mix.
4) Inserting the wick may be done during repotting by putting the wick in place before adding any mix. It may also be poked in (the least good way to do it) or drawn through the soil using a hook (crochet hook or homemade stiff wire hook) or long darning needle that is poked into a hole in the bottom of the pot and pushed up to the top of the soil (watch out not to poke a hole in a leaf as it goes through.
5) The reservoir may be a large tray with screening over it or a single food container (like a margarine tub) with a lid. In the latter, a hole is cut in the lid so that the wick can dangle through. Please note that the bottom of the pot never touches the surface of the water... only the wick connects the pot and the water. There are several commercially marketed pots such as the Dandy pot which use this principle. 6) Fertilizer may be added to the water but it should be a reduced amount over the package directions. This is because there will be some evaporation over time, resulting in a concentration of the fertilizer. We suggest that you use a fertilizer recommended for weekly use and cut the measure of fertilizer in half (e.g.. the package recommends 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of water per week and you would use only 1/8 teaspoon to the gallon.)
Wicking is a good choice of watering African violets (once all the details are worked out). It keeps the African violets evenly moist at all times, which results in more constant blooming. It can allow the grower to water less often or to be gone occasionally. It also tends to raise the humidity around the plant, which also allows free blooming. There are problems too. It is much easier not to pay attention to the plants, and insects or disease can escape your notice. Algae tends to build up in the reservoir requiring that you wash the reservoir with bleach periodically or that you purchase an algaecide to use in the water. Nonetheless, many growers, especially those in arid climates, find that wicking makes African violet growing a lot more fun. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork
Question: I'm fixing pots to wick. To hold tight the yarn, I'm running it up from the bottom hole on the inside over the outside rim and scotch taping it to the outside rim. However, after a couple of days it seems to be dry when I feel the yarn on top where it goes over the rim from the inside. Is that OK? Or am I just being to fussy?
Answer: Capillary action (which is what makes wicking work) works because water molecules have an attraction for other water molecules. They behave almost like a string of pearls when in a liquid state, with molecules sticking together pulling each other along as they travel up the wick, into the potting mix and through the plant. Once the water reaches the top of the potting mix however the molecules are more exposed to the air and they quickly evaporate. This evaporation is one of the "tugs" that pulls the water molecules up through the soil and plant. The exposed yarn at the top of the pot will not stay moist because of this evaporation, but below soil level, the capillary action is probably working just fine. When I am potting plants, I usually try to pull the top end of the wick down just enough so that it is covered by potting mix, but that is mainly because I don't like seeing the wick at the top. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork
Watering - Chloramine
Question: My public water supplier uses chloramine in its treatment process. I have learned that this could have an adverse effect on my African violets. What symptoms would the plants exhibit? I am arranging for an alternate source in the future but this treatment method has been used for awhile. Thank you for any information you can provide.
Answer: We have had a lot of discussion about the effects of chloramine in the water on African violets but no definitive scientific studies have been done, or if they have, they have not come to our attention. A number of growers have anecdotal evidence that chloramines have a negative effect, but the symptoms seem to vary, probably because growers who have other problems are simply speculating that chloramine is at fault.
Symptoms that have been described include:
1) failure to thrive... plants just don't grow,
2) tight center growth, and
3) yellowed foliage.
Some of these growers reported that their plants improved when they amended the water by adding an aquarium store product that neutralizes chloramine. Ammonia is also a part of this puzzle because it is often present in the water when chloramine are being used.
Toxic levels of ammonia result in plants with symptoms remarkably similar to those listed above. Using a fertilizer that contains no ammonia might be a solution. As you might guess, this is a chemistry question that is not easily solved. Each area of the country and each grower has a different situation depending on what their water contains, what is in their potting mix, and the fertilizers and other chemicals that are used.
Generally I recommend that you not worry about the chloramines unless you are having problems with your African violets. If you are having problems, chloramines might be a cause to consider. Using rain water is one of the easier ways to test if the water is actually causing the problem or if you should look elsewhere for your solution. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork
Question: I see on your site that you recommend eliminating the chlorine from water, before giving it to the African violets. I am wondering--I have water treatment (designed for treating tap water used in aquariums) that not only removes chlorine, but also, chloramine and metals from the water. Could I use this in the water that I use on my African violet, or would this remove helpful nutrients from the water? It is Top Fin Water Conditioner, but all these water treatments for aquariums are pretty much the same.
Answer: Water that is safe for aquarium life should also be safe for African violets. Some of our growers consistently use aquarium products to remove chloramine and have found it to be very helpful. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork
Watering - Hydroponic
Question: If one was to grow African violet in hydroponics, can they later be transferred to soil? What about starting leaves in hydro? Would fertilizer requirements be different than what you should do to potted? Would fish emulsion base be suitable for base feeding? Are there pot versions (small) of hydro for African violets?
Answer: African violets are not commonly grown in a truly hydroponic way, but they certainly can be. Wick-watering is a modified hydroponic system that allows more flexibility to move the plant or use it decoratively. Dandy pots would be one example of a pot designed for wick watering. Many growers choose to start leaves in water. We have discovered that the roots that develop that way are very white and plump, but usually die back when moved into potting mix. Usually a milder fertilizer ratio (1/8 teaspoon per gallon) is needed and certainly fish emulsion could be used. It contains only nitrogren however, so a more balanced formulation would be preferred.