Updated 1/29/2013

'Growing and Exhibiting African Violet Show Plants'


Reading List


Allegro Nocturne
by Janet

Falling Snow
by Janet

UltraViolet Saturn
by JoAnn

Golden Plume
by Shantel

Rob's Fuzzy Navel by JoAnn

Thanks to JoAnn, Shantel and Janet for the above photos.

'Who, What, Why and How'

  • WHO should study the techniques used to grow blue ribbon quality African violets?

Anyone who wants to learn more about the saintpaulia/gesneriad family and the plants growing on their windowsill. 

  • WHAT is 'growing to show'? 

The specialized techniques are nothing more than understanding the needs and habits of the African violet, supplying those needs, and encouraging those habits to allow each plant to achieve its best foliage and bloom.

  • WHY should you learn these methods if you never intend to enter a show?

Do you remember the moment you realized there were thousands of different African violets? Remember the rush when your first babies sprouted up around a mama leaf?
In the same way, learning how show plants are grown will add to your understanding of how and why an African violet grows and blooms. Your 'normal' plants will begin to show the benefits of your increased knowledge.

  • HOW do we begin?

     I think most people think 'growing to show' is complicated, time consuming, and uses 'unnatural operations' that produce a stiff, artificial plant.
     The plants on a showroom table ARE different than our windowsill friends at home. Yes, a show grower 'takes things a bit more seriously'. 
The main difference between a casual hobby grower and a show grower is 'expectations'. An average grower who has a row of healthy plants blooming on a windowsill is happy; the plants have reached the grower's goal of 'growing and blooming', with shiny leaves and fresh blooms. We water them when they are dry, repot them when they need it, and change the fertilizer occasionally.
     A show grower also wants a plant that grows and blooms, but he/she expects the plant to grow steadily and at a constant rate, producing evenly spaced foliage, and with the energy and maturity to produce a massive amount of blossoms. Watching and observing how the plant is growing, he/she will change fertilizers, pot up or down to encourage growth or bloom, increase the light, and disbud to allow the plant to put its energy into growing perfectly spaced leaves.
     We, as casual growers, are familiar with the terms: fertilizer, potting mix, and light. Learning to 'grow to show' is simply learning how to use these items.
     Show plants are judged by a point system on merit. In other words, each plant is compared to how that variety should look if grown perfectly. A show grower's goal is to coax and encourage each plant to become its very best.
    There is nothing artificial about producing a plant that is as near to perfectly healthy and beautiful as it can be. And in the same way, there is nothing wrong with a row of violets growing wildly and mildly along. 

    By now, I hope you are saying: "This might be fun", "I can do this", and "Where do I start?"

Three Essential Tools

     There are three essential tools to acquire. The first is a basic understanding of good culture habits. Keep in mind: what works for one person may not work in another person's house or plant room. Be prepared to ask questions, to read books and other literature, to experiment, to learn why a soil ingredient is included in your potting mix. Nothing creative can be done with a plant that is unhappy and unhealthy.
     Good culture habits need the second tool: observation. Watch your plants. Do they like their new shelf in the bedroom or have they stopped growing new leaves? Did you notice any change when you began using the new fertilizer? What happens to your windowsill plants when the seasons change? Observation cannot be stressed enough.
     The third tool is respect for the plants themselves. Each variety has individual traits; you can't grow a miniature into a giant, and you can't contain a large standard in a water glass. One variety will send out new leaves and blooms overnight, and another will grow at a snail's pace. Some blossoms are tiny single bells; others are huge 3 inch triple balls. The best a grower can do is to encourage a plant's good habits and discourage any bad traits. Above all, remember: without this fascinating little plant that traveled from deep Africa, we could do nothing.
    Keep these tools by your side; learn to use them.

Three Step Plan

    This African violet Show Class will include three stages; a three step plan, if you will, to growing and enjoying African violets. They are culture, grooming, and exhibiting.
   Culture simply means the day to day care provided to the plants. This involves basic requirements for a plant to live, such as food, water, light, and heat. It also includes special techniques such as alternating fertilizer types, and regulating the day length.
   Grooming also includes things with which you are familiar, such as removing dead blossoms and brushing the dirt off leaves. Show growers have developed special methods, such as disbudding and leaf training, to improve the growth pattern of foliage and blossoms.
   Exhibiting is defined as displaying a plant without entering into the show. For our purposes, exhibiting will include both enjoying our beautiful 'show' plants both in our home and as an entry in a violet show. The joy of sharing our violets with our neighbors is every bit as satisfying as the pride of a show ribbon.

'The Schedule Will Keep Us Together'

     The old song lyrics are running through my head: 'Love will keep us together'. All the new terms and new methods will fit together, and be easy to finish correctly, with a schedule. A plant schedule does indeed, keep everything together.
     Several decades of improvements in pots, soil mix, and plant hybridizing have given all African violet growers an endless variety of materials to use in their hobby. From plants that naturally form perfect foliage to insecticides that will kill bugs without marring a blossom petal, there are many advantages a modern grower has over a person attempting to grow perfect plants thirty years ago. Artificial light had done much to make growing African violets possible in any room and house.
    But even more significant are the advancement in knowledge of how and why a violet grows and blooms. If you don't think there is anything new about a plant living on soil and water, read Montague Free's All About African Violets, 1949 edition, and you will be amazed at the questions African violet growers were asking at that time!
Show growers have developed a basic schedule, which lists and includes the necessary methods and the times at which each should be completed. Of course, each show grower will adapt this basic schedule to fit their growing conditions, and preferences. So if someone says: You HAVE to do it this way, remember THEY may have to do it that way... but your plants may need something a bit different. The many growers who enter prize winning plants in the National Conventions all use different soils, fertilizers, pot sizes, etc.; each has learned to adapt the basic schedule as a result of watching and observing their plants.

That Makes Four.....

    Combining the three tools of good culture habits, observation, respect for the plant, with a fourth, the plant schedule, we have the main tools with which to create something beautiful! As much fun as you have had watching your violets grow and bloom, I dare to promise you will have so much more satisfaction from having a hand in helping them grow to their ultimate best.

Goals of Lesson One

     Lesson One will introduce you to the subject of growing a prize-winning plant.  First, let’s take a quick look at several African violet shows.  Then, we will review the basic culture of African violets needed to encourage strong, healthy growth and bloom.  Finally, we will explore the ‘show schedules’; there are two different schedules that go by the name of ‘show schedule’!  The Reading List has more details.

    Read the included material, and familiarize yourself with the terms. Take a look at yourself and your plants while completing the assignments. Learn to recognize and use the four tools to 'growing and showing African violets'.