A few days ago, I was lucky enough to spend some time with Donna Turner of Starznstreps. Donna, with her husband Steve, grows the most beautiful African violets and streps (Steptocarpus), both plants in the gesneriad family. I wanted to see, and show you, what growing these beautiful plants, entails.

Going to their home

They grow their plants in their home, so I met Donna there. She started the tour by showing me the plants she may be entering in the National African Violet Convention. The convention is in Albuquerque, New Mexico, May 29-June 5, 2016. These show plants are primped and preened, coddled and pampered! The plants need to be perfectly symmetrical and are very large and so are grown resting on rings made especially for violets. No droopy leaves allowed! I’m sure they are blue ribbon winners.

African violet

This African violet is gorgeous

African violet

Light blue flowers

Basement growing

Next, we proceed to the basement where the plants are growing that will be sold. Every flower is more beautiful than the next. My violets do NOT compare in any way, shape, or form other than the fact that they are African violets.

Getting the “dirt” on growing

So, what are the secrets to growing these beautiful, prize-winning plants? I’ve got the “dirt” on the process!

The first question I asked was how many plants on average they take care of. The answer-1000+. Wow! They consider themselves boutique growers. They only grow a couple of plants of each variety. They have an online presence, but only take orders to be delivered to the shows they are attending. No mail order is available. They sell at approximately 8 shows a year but are moving, and next year will only sell at 3-4 shows. Bummer.

A typical day

I asked Donna what her typical day looked like. She told me it depends on the time of year. After the national show, she has to put plants up (which means she has to pot up small violets) for the next show. None of the small plants can move up into bigger pots until there is room. This happens when they empty the shelves to take the plants to the shows. The pictures below show the leaves that are in small “greenhouses” that are growing babies. These are the plants that will take the places the show plants have left empty. These will be the plants they will be selling at the fall show for the Michigan African Violet Show and Sale in Ann Arbor.

Everyday tasks

So what are her everyday tasks? Daily, she makes sure the lights are on and the fan is turned on. They use T-8 lights which are on 8 hours a day but moved up to 9 hours before the show to make sure the plants have plenty of blooms. She checks to make sure all the plants don’t need water. Some may need a drink more or less often than others.

Air circulation and temperature

The violets need air circulation to prevent diseases such as powdery mildew. Consequently, there is one fan going 24/7 and another, stronger fan gets turned on daily. The temperature is 70+ degrees during the day and 68 degrees through the night. These are the temperatures at which they find the plants grow best.

Disbudding

Donna has to time the disbudding of the plants to make sure they are ready and blooming for the shows. This means they aren’t allowed to set blooms until she wants them to. Donna and Steve do not sell the plants unless they are blooming.

Taking off leaves

She peels leaves every month (which means she takes the bottom row of leaves or more off). This allows the plant to put its energy into the crown and to making flower buds.

Re-potting

They re-pot every plant every four months. This entails replacing all the soil after washing the old soil off the roots. If they need to be up-potted, then they move it from a 3″ to a 4″ pot or if it is a larger plant, they may move it to a 5″ pot. Of course, every plant receives a label that has the variety name on it as well the date it was potted up. Imagine keeping track of over 1000 plants and making sure they are getting leaves stripped at the right time and re-potted in the right month and de-budded until its the right time to let them bloom?! It’s mind-boggling to me. Donna is organized though, and it is done right on time. It’s obvious from the way her plants look, she has it down to an art form.

To be continued

I’m going to reveal some more growing tips and their soil recipe in another post. I will have more pictures of gorgeous African violets and Streptocarpus, too. Thank you, Donna, for letting me spend a few hours with you. I learned so much and your plants are absolutely perfect!

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