By: Anne Baley
If you love the look of African violets but find them a bit too difficult to grow, try a pot or two of their hardier cousins, the Streptocarpus or cape primrose. It’s said that growing Streptocarpus plants is good training for African violets because their requirements are similar, but cape primrose isn’t as delicate.
Their blooms look very similar to African violets with their purple, pink and white hues, but cape primroses also possess red varieties in brilliant colors. The leaves are wrinkled and thick with a fuzzy texture and make an attractive houseplant all by themselves. Streptocarpus information is readily available, making these plants a good choice for novice growers.
Learning how to care for Streptocarpus is a matter of matching the plant to the environment. The cape primrose is very similar to humans when it comes to finding a comfortable home. They like the air around them to be relatively cool, around 70 F. (21 C.) during the day and about 10 degrees cooler at night.
This plant loves light, but direct sunlight can burn the foliage. A home in an east- or west-facing window is perfect, but if a southern view is all you have, you can slip a sheer curtain between the plant and the windowpane to diffuse the worst of the glare.
The easiest way to kill off your Streptocarpus plant is by over-watering it. Give your Streptocarpus care and attention, but offer it a little bit of neglect when it comes to moisture. Make sure the planting medium has very good drainage, and allow it to dry out between watering.
Propagating Streptocarpus can be a simple and enjoyable hobby. It’s very easy to create dozens of baby plants, increasing your collection and creating new plants for gifts. Cut off a large, healthy leaf with a clean razor blade and slice out the central vein, leaving two leaf halves. Plant the halves in rich potting soil by standing them up with the cut side down.
Keep the leaf halves moist until they start to sprout. After a few weeks, you will see baby plants forming along the cut edges of the leaves, sometimes as many as a couple of dozen from each leaf. Separate the plantlets once they are growing and healthy, and plant each one in an individual pot.
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Care Instructions for a Streptocarpus
These care instructions are written specifically for our streptocarpus plants. Other growers may have different care requirements for their plants based on how they have grown their streps. But if you have a Brennan’s Orchids strep, these rules will help you keep it happy and robust.
Rule No. 1: Let the planting medium lightly dry between waterings. Streps can survive a short drought, but they don’t recover from drowning. Use lukewarm or tepid water when watering because cold water can cause unsightly marks to appear on the leaves. Nobody enjoys a cold shower. Do not let the plant sit in water, it must be well drained.
Rule No. 2: Give the plant the proper light. Morning or soft late afternoon light is best. That means an East, West, or shaded South-facing window. Avoid direct sun during the harsh “skin cancer” hours of the day.
Rule No. 3: Regular meals during the growing season, please. From March through October fertilize every other watering. Use a fertilizer with a balanced formula (10-10-10 or 20-20-20) mixed at ¼ to ½ the usual strength. Strep roots burn easily from too much fertilizer, so it is prudent to underfeed rather than overfeed.
Rule No. 4: Your plant is potted in a peat potting mix but any soil-less mix will be fine. You can repot your strep every nine months or so. Increase the pot size only if you must and then by the smallest increment possible. Avoid deep pots they will hold too much moisture. Avoid terra cotta pots the roots will glue themselves to the porous pot and suffer too much damage when you repot. Moisten the mix prior to removing the plant from the old pot. It will just be that much easier to remove the plant without ripping the roots. Moisten the new mix before planting. Pot the strep so that the mix is firmly in the pot but still airy. Remember to pot the plant so that the crown of leaves sits just above the potting mix surface.
Rule No. 5: Remove spent flowers. In particular, do not let spent blossoms drop onto the leaves and lay there. This will invite rot and disease. Remove old, yellowed, or unhealthy leaves. A clean plant is better able to remain pest and disease free. Your strep will get brown leaf tips, particularly in the fall. This is natural, but I would still remove the brown tips. If you use anything to cut leaves or stems, please sterilize the instrument first.
Rule No. 6: Keep the plant in its comfort zone. It is happy in the temperature range between 50 and 80 degrees. It is well suited to normal house temperatures.
Many cultivars are now on the market including:
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Even as a beginner, there is no need to worry too much about growing cape primrose. You do not need to be an expert gardener to yield a high level of success. Remember the tips below and it will be a lot easier for you to succeed in growing this indoor plant:
Streptocarpus is a beautiful houseplant or spring-blooming annual flower. Related to gloxinias and African violets, it features lovely trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of white, pink, purple, and blue. The blooms rise gracefully above flat, textured green leaves. Indoors, it thrives in a bright spot and can bloom for months. Outdoors, it thrives in partial shaded spots in planters or in garden beds and borders.
Grow streptocarpus as a flowering indoor plant by keeping it in a bright spot, such as a north- or east-facing window. In Southern areas, avoid exposing the houseplant to too much direct sun in the afternoon hours. Streptocarpus also thrives under artificial lights. Water this houseplant just enough to keep the soil slightly moist, but never wet or soggy. Too much water will kill a streptocarpus. If you can grow African violets, you can grow streptocarpus -- these cousins like the same conditions.
Outdoors, grow streptocarpus as a shade plant or in a spot that gets some morning sun and shade in the afternoon. Avoid too much sun, otherwise the leaves can get sunburned and look unsightly. Water when the soil starts to dry out. It thrives in soil that has a lot of organic matter, so adding compost or peat moss to the soil will help. Streptocarpus thrives in garden beds, borders, and planters.
Indoors: Medium light
Outside: Part sun
Blue, Pink, Purple, Variegated, White
Chinese evergreen is a can't-go-wrong houseplant. It grows practically everywhere, from low to bright light and doesn't mind if you forget to water from time to time.
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How to Take Care of Your Streptocarpus Plants
( Taken from the introduction to our Catalogue)
Knowing their geographical distribution helps in understanding their care. Remember, they come from the wooded areas in mountains, so they do not want full sunshine, but they do want a bright position. Too much sun burns the leaves and fades the flowers. Keep them in a shaded greenhouse or indoors in an East or West window.
When you receive your plants, pot them into 3 1/2" pots as soon as possible using a good peat or fibre based potting compost. Shading is especially important for the first few days. Within a few weeks the plants should begin flowering. Water regularly from either above or below only when the plant requires it. It is important not to overwater Streptocarpus, wait until the compost feels dry to the touch. Overwatering, in particular regular overwatering, will cause harm to the root system. The first symptom of overwatering is exactly the same as underwatering i.e., the plant will wilt. So make sure the compost is actually dry in between watering. A month after potting up commence feeding with a high potash fertiliser. The most convenient way is to insert a Dibleys Streptocarpus fertiliser tablet each month. Please remember every lant is a separate individual and should be treated as such.
Always cut off dead flowers. Excessive or incorrect feed and poor light make the plants produce very large leaves and few flowers. It is quite natural as plants age for the old leaves to die back, and the ends should be trimmed off, especially in winter. In winter, water less often, do not feed and keep the plants in a place free from frost. In March or April gradually start watering more often and commence feeding. Plants should be potted into a slightly larger pot each spring. Do not over-pot you will get more flower by keeping on the pot bound side. Using half of three quarter depth pots is a good idea.
Given this treatment you will be rewarded by a continuous display of flowers from about May until well into winter. You will also find the flowers are good for cutting.
Streptocarpus are easily grown plants which are remarkably free from pests and diseases. Greenfly occasionally attack plants and can be spotted from their white discarded skins on the flower stalks and leaf bases. A spray with a proprietary insecticide either as an aerosol or mixed with water will soon cure the problem.
We largely use biological control of pests on our nursery and have found the method very successful. It must be noted however that biological methods alone may only control pests but not eradicate them. Biological control can be done on an amateur scale in a glasshouse or conservatory. Supplies are available in the UK from from: Green Gardener, 41 Stumpshaw Road, Brundall, Norfolk, NR13 5PG.
Rot can occur at the base of the leaves causing the leaves to wilt. Remove the damaged leaf and check that the growing conditions are correct, taking special care to see that overwatering is not occurring.
Please do not send diseased material to us, we do not want to run the risk of introducing pests or diseases into our nursery.