I love the way the foliage on a trailing African violet fills and spills over the edges of its pot. For an introduction to this wonderful African violet form, see "Trailing African Violets: Flowing Foliage and Bountiful Blooms." Although many trailing varieties will do their thing with little or no help from you, an occasional grooming session can be useful in shaping up your plant for maximum impact. As a bonus, grooming your plant generally provides leaves and cuttings for propagation.
Not all plants of trailing varieties sucker readily at first. You want to encourage your plant to produce suckers, because the suckers turn into desirable additional crowns and runners. The more crowns your plant develops, the more blooms it'll be able to produce.If your trailer remains stubbornly single-crowned as it grows, you'll have to screw up your courage and remove the crown of the plant.
To remove a crown, use a very sharp knife, and slice into the stem at an angle on either side to separate the crown from the base of the plant. Removing a row of two of outer leaves from the crown (leaving at least the center two pairs of leaves) creates a stub of stem for sticking into barely moist potting mix. Firm up the potting mix around the stem and place in a high-humidity environment, just as for rooting a leaf. After a few weeks, the crown should develop new roots and start growing.
Another way to encourage a trailing habit is to give new suckers more light for rapid growth. Removing larger, older leaves can let a lot of light down into the plant. You may be able to remove larger crowns as well, allowing several new suckers and crowns to form in the resulting gaps. Your goal doesn't have to be perfect symmetry, but try for some balance in the overall shape of the plant.
Pruning and training Saintpaulia pendula
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The Violet Barn's "Rob" Robinson says, "ugly now means beautiful later!" For the most beautifully shaped plants, Rob suggests leaving only the crowns at the tips of the stems and pruning all other foliage. Repot the plant, and arrange the runners evenly along the surface of the potting mix, pinning them in place if necessary. You'll end up will fuller foliage than before, as well as a bounty of blooms. Flower stalks originate near an African violet's crown, so the more crowns on your trailer the greater its bloom potential.
Trailing African violets often go through an awkward adolescence. Grooming and pruning a trailer can result in a half-naked, scraggly plant that makes you wonder just what you've done to it. One of my favorite plants needed to have its crown pinched out before it began suckering. Then, the plant spent a year looking like a tall totem-pole of suckers. Finally, the plant started putting on some lateral growth, eventually filling out and spilling over the sides of its pot.
I got some wonderful advice on dealing with overgrown trailers during a visit to The Violet Gallery, where Barb was kind enough to gift me with an overgrown ‘Allegro Appalachian Trail' to play with. When a trailing violet gets leggy, she suggests taking a large crown cutting. A long, trailing stem can be chopped into several individual cuttings. For a fuller effect, combine several rooted cuttings in a pot, unless growing for show.
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Trailers grown for show must be single plants with a minimum of three crowns. In a show plant, the trailing branches may spread across the surface of the soil and root themselves as they go along, but the runners must all be connected as a single plant. Trailing African violets would be fun to enter in a show, both because they're more unusual and because their multiple crowns help ensure lots of blooms for the big day.
Whether you're growing for show or growing for fun, occasional grooming and pruning will help you get the most from your trailing African violets.
Photos by Jill M. Nicolaus.