Thrips, Mildew, Fertilizer, in winter!

catseye_1978March 8, 2014

Hello friendly African Violet people!

I have been reading and enjoying your posts for a while now. I have been fairly obsessed with violets for about 6 months. I have so many stories I could share, but currently am dealing with something I need help with.

I have thrips. So, I get that I have to disbud and spray, but my questions is: where (in my house) should I spray? It's winter here in NH, and I live in an apartment, and I have pets. I have a back room that can be shut off for a while, which is probably my best bet, but is that safe?

Also, a couple of my plants (and rooted leaves) have powdery mildew. Should I spray them as well? Is that safe inside?

I have Sevin and Daconil (fungicide), and was thinking about getting some neem oil.

I had gotten some terrible advice from the local african violet "expert" at my local Agway, which is so unexpected. I love their business and the people, but this woman was miserable, and told me I should stop fertilizing my plants except for a strong dose (full strength) every few weeks, which led me to overfertilize. I should have just kept doing what I was doing (1/4 strength or less, every watering). So, now I realize that not only have I been overfertilizing, but using crummy fertilizer. Ok. So, I have a few packets of Optimara fert that I can start using, and I understand that I need to leech some of my plants. Though I do top water, with a small spout, not getting water on the leaves, etc....

So, I was having these gray patches on the flowers that looked like mildew, but I guess could be Botrytis. Upon inspecting, I definitely had thrips, which I've now found of 6 or 7 plants. The thing is, I could see the yellow pollen, but there is still that patchy gray.

I also have yellow spots on the leaves. Initially, I believed this to be because of the water being too cold. I always water with warmish water now. I definitely think overfertilizing, but I just checked, and Manchester uses Chloramine! It's like the stars are aligned and don't want me to grow these plants!!! I've been letting the water sit for days, but apparently that didn't matter a bit!!

I came home today to find one of my smaller plants that has been slowly getting less healthy had two totally rotten leaves! Pretty sure that plant is dying now, so I plan to root a couple of leaves first.

If I buy a strong, blooming plant, I can keep it in bloom for months. But many of my smaller plants that I've ordered are not thriving. A couple are, but many are not. I have a new order that arrived a few weeks ago, and I'd love to see some more success with those.

I will be leeching, using better fertilizer, and filtering the water from now on, so hopefully I will see improvement soon. But, I am super concerned about the thrips, and whatever bugs I might have. I'm paranoid I have some kind of mite, but while some of my plants aren't growing a ton, they have normal looking centers. I take that as a good sign. The only visible insects are the thrips. Blech.

Any suggestions on how I should treat, realistically, in my apartment (which is large) in the winter, please let me know!!! Thanks!!!

Nice to meet you all, thanks for reading, and I look forward to talking more soon!


Picture is of Ma's Paris Affair. I bought it in September of 2013 from Rob's. Picture is from December 27th, my birthday. :)

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A couple of thoughts: try not to get discouraged. The first months of learning to grow a plant are challenging but it will get easier.

The powdery mildew can be controlled by putting a small pan of sulfur among your plants. If you do a search, you can see where I recommended this to another grower and it worked quite well for her. You can get the sulfur at HD or Lowe's.

It does not hurt to get water on the leaves. What you want to avoid is cold water on the leaves. Many growers, myself included, routinely wash their plants.

Usually a violet that develops mushy leaves is showing signs of over watering. This could be a result of too much water or a pot that is too large. It also could be from soil that is too heavy. The violet in the picture is over-potted. Your pots should be 1/3 the size of your plant. You didn't mention your soil. What do you use? I suspect your soil may be a big part of your problem.

The advice you got about fertilizing was indeed wrong. Weakly, weekly is the rule-of-thumb. So you were doing it correctly in the first place.

What do you plan on using for your thrips? Where and how you spray depends on what you are planning to use. Do you know what to use?

Chloramine does not dissipate. I don't have this problem so I will let someone else address this one.

If your centers are normal you do not have mites.

I hope this helps!


    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 11:23PM
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Hi Jessica
welcome and a shout-out to Manchester New Hampshire!
I learned on this forum that Chloramine can be neutralized by using a product available in pet stores in the aquarium section. It is inexpensive and lasts a long time. A few drops are added to a gallon of tap water. I have been using it for a few months, it works fine. If you use a filtration system, make sure it specifically addresses chloramine. I have been told that filtration systems can only get rid of the chlorine, not the ammonia. But my info might not be up to date.)
I will defer the discussion on thrips to those with more experience, except to say that a search on this forum using the word will reveal a wealth of info.
Thrips hide, so always assume more than you see.
Did you bring in a bunch of plants, by any chance, from a "big box" store? Sometimes they can be carriers.

Perhaps check the can of spray to see if it is safe for use around pets. Irina has pets, cats and possibly dogs. It is she who provides the most advice on this forum on thrips. So if you do a search using the key words "Irina" and "thrips" you should get a lot of info.

I also did an on-line search and found an Agricultural website for the Univ of Florida that had some suggestions.


This post was edited by fortyseven on Thu, Mar 13, 14 at 1:06

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 12:09AM
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I'll defer to Irina because she is the 'insect guru' here but here is a bare bones on thrips. Many of us use AVID for thrips. It is non-toxic to mammals but harmful to aquatics. It loses its killing power in 24 hours so it would be safe to spray in a closed room. AVID is available in small quantities from Cape Cod Violetry. If you decide to go this route, John at CCV will give you any help you need. He is great to deal with.

Neem Oil has never worked for me for anything although some have great success with it. It may be worth a try as it is inexpensive and non-toxic.

Please-anyone, correct me if I'm wrong!


    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 12:51AM
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Hi Joanne and Linda - thanks so much for your replies!

I have been reading fervently about thrips, including Irina's good advice. I was nosing around this site for a while before I joined... ;) You are all familiar names to me, so it's really nice to meet you both!

I usually buy my violets at the local Agway or this other garden store that is very posh. They both tend to have very healthy plants, (totally different than HD, Lowe's or the grocery store), but I do believe the thrips came from a couple plants that I got over a month ago, hence the fact that they have spread. I have plants on different window sills and tables around the window, so there's a chance that one or two areas haven't been affected, but I've read Irina's note that thrips can fly well, and I should assume that they are all infected.

Linda - I totally get all your advice about the soil, overwatering, and overpotting, but I have to disagree, only because I have already killed many plants because of these factors, and these are the ones I have control over now! The Agway is better about stocking good products, so I have a light fluffy AV soil (Black Gold), which already had a good amount of perlite. I add equal amount of coarse vermiculite (not the fine stuff). Many of my plants haven't been potted out of Rob's soil since I haven't had them longer than a few months. Some of them are due to be potted up, but with them not being super healthy, and spring just around the corner, I've been holding off. My soil mixture drains well, and since I water from the top, the plants don't sit with wet feet.

Regarding overpotting, that picture shows a plant in a 2 1/2 inch pot. It is not overpotted, but it definitely looks it in the picture, so I understand why you would think that! It is in a self watering clay pot with a large reservoir that I never keep full, and let dry out between fillings. I seem to have a good balance with that, and that plant is one of two that have that type of pot. All my other plants are in 2 1/4 square pots, or 4in pots if they are fully developed and blooming, plastic pots.

The picture I am attaching shows a different angle of the pot, the actual pot is small sitting inside the larger section. I know some people don't like those kind of pots, but this plant is very happy in it! I read somewhere that eventually (when it's time to repot) I will have to soak the clay part in vinegar to remove the salts.

My crowns do look good, except for a couple of variegateds that are sort of pale, but not stunted or anything. I think that less fertilizer will help that.

Thank you for the advice about the sulfur! I will get right on that!!!

The leaves didn't rot into black. What's been happening is yellow spotting, but when I came home yesterday it was like the leaves had gone yellow and patchy, were obviously dying. It may have gotten too cold. That plant is getting repotted today. I'm going to look at the soil and roots, take a couple of cuttings, and hope for the best. This is Frosty Spring, fyi.

I definitely don't mind getting water on the leaves since it's warm water, and I don't let it sit in the light with water, but some of my violets have gotten baths and been fine. :) I do like the grooming part....

About me: I am an avid researcher. If someone's written it, chances are I've read it. (Definitely will take a look at the Florida articles, Joanne!) However, sometimes it's hard to know what "too much" or "looks like this" means without a picture or someone to explain it. For instance, I used to overwater, but then I underwatered and didn't know it for a while. Lost a few plants to root rot because of that. Now I mostly have a good balance (unless I have to work too much). If I underwater, I'm gentle with the watering for a little while, etc.... I haven't lost a plant (or shown signs of) rot in months. I'm totally fine with trial and error. I initially bought a dozen plants from the garden store, figuring I'd kill at least half of them. That was in August, and they are all dead. However, the ones I bought a couple of weeks later are doing well still. A couple plants I almost killed back in October, recovered to full bloom all winter! So, I know I'm doing something right. I have great light (perhaps too much?) and now that I'm aware of the overfertilizing and chloromine I think I'll see some improvement. Perhaps I'll return the fungicide and buy the sulfur.

I was going to use Sevin for the thrips. It seems to have the same success rate as Avid, similar type of stuff maybe?

I do love my violets, and I want so badly for them to do well!

I wonder if they get too much light, but it's winter, so I don't think that's likely. I want to get tables so I can move them off the sills as the days get longer. In the northeast, I don't think we have to worry about the direct sunlight thing as much until summertime. I have them in eastern windows, a few in slightly more southern windows, but in the city a lot of light is blocked by the neighbors.

Just for fun, here's my list:

Ma's Paris Affair - very happy

Rebel's Restless Heart - not as happy, not flowering, but growing. I think thrips.

Ma's Taffy Swirl - lovely flowers! This plant was super happy, less so now. I think thrips and needs to be repotted or potted up.

Sunkissed Rose - I initially overpotted terribly. Corrected the problem and the plant is much happier now. Hasn't flowered yet (because of the repotting torture, I'm sure), but healthy and growing. I found a thrip (even with no flowers), so this one will get treated.

Ruffles and Lace - this plant is terrible. Was overpotted initially, but has been hanging on by a thread for months!! I keep waiting for it to start to grow better. The crown is healthy, but it doesn't want to do anything. Should I toss it?

Pretty Miss Kelly - shows sign of overfertilizing, but otherwise is doing...ok.

Frosty Spring - mentioned above. :(

LE Adagio - looks healthy, but small. Not doing much.

Rob's Shadow Magic - healthy and growing, but not flowering.

Rob's Kitten Caboodle - lots of yellow spots on lower leaves. Overfert I think. Still wants to flower!

Allegro Peaches and Green - weirdest thing. The crown died, and many (3?) plantlets are growing from the center. I'm planning on treating like suckers when they are bigger and trashing the mother plant.

Tommi Lou - healthy crown, healthy growth, but not doing much. I think it wasn't happy in the window I had it in initially. I moved it several weeks ago and she has been happier since.

Sagitarius Elite - this plant is small, doing nothing and looks ugly. I switched windows, hoping that will help. Shows signs of overfertilizing.

My newest order from Rob's was:

Warm Sunshine
Rob's Gundaroo (trailer)
Rob's Vanilla Trail
Sunrise Waltz (trailer)
EK Scarab
Ma's Fat Froggie (just found a thrip... ARRRRGGGGHHHH!)
Jersey Girl (trailer)
Spring Rose
Rob's Cotton Ball
Jolly Jubilee
Ma's Heartbreaker
Optical Illusion

Plus I have about a dozen Noid's that are healthy (with thrips). Most of those are months old and still covered in blooms (which are going to be pulled off any day now, as soon as I can bear to do it...) Some of them have suckers that I removed and potted, and those are doing well. I have lots of leaves (far too many) going, about half have plantlets growing, will be separated come springtime, and the other half are rooted and should have plants in the next month or so. Some are Noid;s or plants that already died, some are named and labeled. Most of these are in greenhouses (baggies or lettuce containers), so I'm not too worried about the thrips. I think I won't treat them (what would Irina say?).

Ok, you deserve a medal if you are still reading. I'm sorry! It's nice to be able to go on about it, since my mother is tired of hearing about them!

Thanks so much, guys!


    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 2:02PM
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Just because they are so pretty.... these I had gotten a few weeks earlier. I love them! The big one is in a large pot, but has two plants in it, plus suckers. I'm leaving it alone for now, but I think eventually I will have to split it and pot down. Hard to see in the pic, but the flowers are lovely green and yellow. Love them!

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 2:12PM
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Ohh, I left off Rob's Cool Fruit, Rob's Chilly Willy, Rob's Love bite, and Irish Flirt. Irish Flirt is doing terrible, in the greenhouse right now, the other are doing well.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 2:16PM
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Hi Jessica
It can take a month for thrips to show up in plants that you brought in from a store. they don't show up until the plant is blooming. Even if you disbud and spray, they might show up again when they bloom again.

But go by what Irina and Linda advise.
All I can do is relay my limited experience.

I also posted about another ag school website,
The name of the chloramine neutralization product I got at Petco is AmQuel, the manufacturer is kordan.

It is good that you got your plants at Agway. Your photos are beautiful. However, in my experience, thrips can come in from any local grower.

(I aggressively wash off the plant and remove as much soil as possible, put it in a fresh pot with fresh soil, spray, and
put in a big plastic bag that is sealed overnight. I use a spray
I got that has the main ingredient that Irina refers to. I am not sure if this is the best method. After 24 hours, the plant is removed and goes into isolation.
t the level of the licensed local greenhouses.

a florist suggested to me warm water and vinegar spray. however, your thrips issue might need something more aggressive than that.


This post was edited by fortyseven on Thu, Mar 13, 14 at 1:02

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 6:47PM
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I suspect that Optimaras aren't especially thrips-prone. The issue is more likely that many of us buy Optimaras where they sell a variety of plants, any of which may have thrips and infest the Optimaras. It would be the same for any violet sold under such circumstances. Many such venues even have an outdoor area in good weather and there's nothing keeping thrips out of the open air. I follow the advice to remove all blossoms and buds immediately when I bring these plants home and, of course, follow isolation procedures. No thrips yet.

I've seen many warnings about bringing cut (florist or garden) flowers into the house because of their potential to contaminate a collection.

Also, it is not unheard of for growers to come home from a national convention with one pest or another that they've picked up there on plant material. The rule is to be very cautious.

I haven't tried it yet, but I have Spectracide Immunox in case I get powdery mildew. There are apparently various types of this disease. I used to use Fung-Away and it was great stuff but they discontinued it.

I hope you get over the bumps and back to enjoying your plants.


    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 7:30PM
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Just a few thoughts as I read your post.

Your variegated violets may be helped with a dose of fish emulsion and magnesium (found in Epsom salts). My variegates this year are very pale probably due to the cold weather and I just used this combo on them about three days ago. This will usually help them to green up fairly quickly.

If you are sure you're watering is good the other thought that is rattling in my head is pH. pH that is off can do strange things to plants. Last year I had several plants whose leaves were turning brown around the edges. I tried different things and then hit on the ph idea. I corrected that and they have been fine ever since.

Are the leaves that are yellowing the older ones? That could just be natural senescence.

Some violets are not robust growers and will never perform well. Some will not like your conditions. Some individual plants are not strong enough to grow well.

As for thrips-treat all of your plants. Thrips can fly and will infest all of your violets. They will come in on your pets and through your window screens.

An eastern exposure is fine in summer as morning sun is not strong. Just make sure they are not getting sunburned from the glass windows. I grew in an eastern window for years before I started under lights. I keep a few mini's in my breakfast nook window now and it is a southern exposure. They do just fine there.

You're right about your A. Peaches and Cream. Treat it as suckers when they get some size to them. Sometimes violets will lose their crowns when they change environments. I had this happen a lot last year but only once this year.

I have Ruffles and Lace. It grows awkwardly for me. I think it is just that variety. If I were you, I would move it around and just play with it and see what happens. Sometimes a small change can make a difference. Sometimes nothing helps.

You can also root leaves from your non-performers. Violets that are grown from leaves in your conditions will often do better than those brought in as mature plants. Plants are like people in that the younger ones adapt more easily to change than do the older ones!

If I were you, I would address your chloramine and thrips issues first. They can both cause a lot of trouble. Then I would see how things are growing and take it from there.

Whew! I think I addressed everything!


    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 1:31AM
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Thanks everyone!
Linda - thanks so much for your suggestions! As for Peaches and Green - when the "suckers" in the center get bigger, do I divide them without roots? It seems that they wouldn't have roots like a regular sucker or baby plant.

I definitely think that the PH is an issue. After a conversation with a friend who is a grower (not AV's) he suggested that the chloramine might be affecting the Ph, and that could be the underlining problem of a lot of things. After searching this forum, a lot of people suggest the same - that many problems clear up when the Ph is consistent and the plants get flushed semi-regularly.

I flushed my plants with warm water, and they seem to be perkier now. Good start. I'm going to go get some sulfur for the mildew/blight (it could be either or both), and some bottled water and testing strips. For now, I'll water with Poland Springs, and with testing, some vinegar and baking soda, etc..., I'll start using my water again when I figure it out. Or perhaps I'll just stick to bottled water, since I don't have a huge collection. IDK - it's tough to say which one is more expensive or more of a pain.

I don't think I should treat the plants. Not inside in the winter. Not with chemicals. I'm disbudding and waiting. I'll keep them disbudded for a while, and in the spring I'll treat them when I can take them outside. I threw out the 3 plants (Noid's) that had more than the others, took cuttings of some of the more "important" plants, and I have to continue and finish up this weekend. Obviously, I am learning the all important lesson about ISOLATION!!! lol

It just sucks not having any flowers. That's kind of the point of these plants!

Ruffles and Lace is totally stunted. I think I may have to take it totally down to the crown and try to re-root it. Perhaps the leaf to root ratio is way off now. That would make sense.

I believe my Tommi Lou is perking up, could do well still. I'd like to take cuttings of LE Adagio and Sagitarius Elite, but the leaves are so unhealthy, I'd be taking down the plant, and I have no idea if the leaves will take. The plants are small, so there's not a lot of selection of leaves. These are starters that haven't done well, so I don't think the yellowing is "natural". Any suggestions? Should I take a couple of leaves and toss the plants? Probably....

I'm posting some pictures of the problems I'm having. I'm think overfertilizing with bad fertilizer (MG), but I'll be switching to the Optimara packets I have. they should last me a while. I think I have 4 or 5 packets. I have some fish emulsion, so thank you for the advice about the variegateds! I think the ph or chloramine (or both) is really an issue.

I saw someone (Korina I think ) sign off as an "expert plant murderer". I am totally comforted. In 6 months, I've killed so many, and now I watch them suffer. But, there's nothing like a good hobby! I am hooked. I would order a hundred more if I could! I'm sure I will when I manage to kill these ones.... lol!

My new batch from Rob's look so lovely! It was sad to trim the new buds forming. Vanilla Trail, Gundaroo, and Warm Sunshine all had several buds forming. But, alas, I want no more thrips!!!

Thanks again, everyone!!! So good to get to know people!


    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 2:19PM
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It is hard having plants with no flowers. I neglected mine terribly for a few years and finally started what was left over from the crowns. It was so odd having plants but no blossoms; however in 4-5 mos., they started coming back.

Tommie Lou lived for at least a couple of years as a plantlet on the mother leaf in vermiculite/perlite and is now blooming away. She's a tough old girl.

Good luck with things.


    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 3:53PM
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Thanks, Diana! It is discouraging, and patience has never been one of my virtues. I find comfort in all my little babies that are growing little mouse ears. Springtime is going to be fun!

I have not brought myself to take down all the blooms yet. They are isolated, but I can't do it! I will, I will, probably tonight. Or tomorrow. lol

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 4:05PM
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Plants teach us patience. They will grow as they will and there is nothing that we can really do about it! If it makes you feel better, I can tell you that some of my orchids take up to seven years to bloom and then only bloom once a year. Better!!??

Wait until the suckers on your P and C get big enough to handle comfortably. When you remove them from the main plant they will probably have no roots. pot these up in your regular soil, pushing the crowns into the soil. Sometimes I have to pin them down if they keep popping up.I use floral wire but hairpins, etc. will work. Put these in a baggie after you have watered them well and let drain. Close the baggie tight. No holes. Put in a well-lit area. If the bag gets very wet inside, open for a while and then re-seal. In about two weeks or so, your suckers will have rooted. A gentle tug on the leaves will tell you if you have roots. If there are no roots, re-seal and wait a while longer. Patience!!!

If your R and L is awkward, I would take leaves and start over. You will have a nicer plant sooner than if you try to nurse your maladjusted one. You can also try to take your not so healthy violets and put them under a dome of some kind or take leaves and re-start. This may help them while you get your water and pH figured out.

Don't worry about killing plants. It's a learning process and we've all killed more than we care to think about. The trick is to figure out your mistakes and learn from them which it sounds like you're doing. Carry on!


    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 1:41AM
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irina_co(z5 CO)

Just do not buy more until you get a better handle. Plus you drag in new thrips with new plants.

Relax, read literature, get to see people in a club - join the club - Derry NH - has one. You can always stop attending later if you move or do not have time.

It is easier to learn on 10 plants, than on 110.

The best advice you can get - is from local growers. They already figured out how to neutralize chloramine etc.

Good Luck

Have fun - and right now - collect AV friends - not plants. You need some hands on demonstrations.


Here is a link that might be useful: clubs

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 12:03AM
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Ok, thanks. No more plants, just make friends. Got it.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 10:42PM
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Hi Jessica
There is a club in Boston, too, that some folks from NH used
to travel to. they used to post on this list. Now that the weather is
looking better in your neck of the woods, you might find some local buddies. People on this Forum do love to share with you and help, also.
Keep posting!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 11:26PM
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Linda - I have a question about the dish of sulfur for the mildew. I got the sulfur, but I haven't opened it yet. It is labeled as being harmful to inhale or get on the skin, plus harmful to animals. How do you get around this for leaving some in a dish around the plants? Isn't it always at risk of being knocked over or breathed in?

Haven't decided if I should hold onto it or return it yet.... :)


    Bookmark   March 16, 2014 at 12:53AM
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