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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Growing roses from seed, caring for African violets

Discolored leaves on an African violet.

Discolored leaves on an African violet. Photo Credit: Gisela Hunermund

DEAR JESSICA: I have a packet of rose seeds I would like to plant indoors and possibly have a rose bush in the house. I know they need a lot of light and water, and I have both of those. I wondered if an attempt of this sort would be successful. When the bush got large enough, I could put it in a huge clay pot and set it near a window that gets about eight hours of light a day. Do you think this might work?

— Frances Cammisa,

Bay Shore

DEAR FRANCES: Roses can, indeed, be grown from seed, although it isn’t a practice I hear about often from home gardeners. As with many plants, pollinated flowers give way to fruit after blooming, and with rose plants, the fruits are called hips. Hips can be brewed into tea, made into jam or split open when ripe (yellow, red or orange) to reveal seeds.

Rinse pulp off seeds and soak them in 8 ounces of water, to which you’ve added two teaspoons of chlorine bleach. Rinse them well and then soak overnight in a 50-50 water-hydrogen peroxide solution. Remove any seeds that float; they are likely duds.

Seeds require a moist cooling period in order to germinate, so they should be stored in the refrigerator, away from fruit, for four to eight weeks. Wrap them in a paper towel, dampen with the 50-50 water-peroxide mixture and place into a zippered plastic storage bag. The peroxide will discourage mold.

Check seeds periodically and remoisten the towel as needed. After four weeks, it’s possible some seeds will have sprouted. If so, plant those in a container under a 1/4 inch of sterile potting mix and keep watered and at room temperature indoors. Take care not to break the delicate sprouts (use tweezers, if necessary) and don’t overwater, as young seedlings are highly susceptible to mildew and “damping off,” a fungal disease.

Leave the remaining seeds in the refrigerator for another four weeks (for a total of eight weeks), continuing to check every few days and immediately planting any that germinate. After eight weeks have passed, you can also pot up any remaining unsprouted seeds.

For outdoor plants, when growth pokes up through the soil, you can set the pots outdoors for one hour the first day, two hours the second day and three hours the third day, as long as temperatures are above 70 degrees, then leave them outside until the first true leaves form. You can then plant them in the ground.

This process is best started in early spring, of course, which would place planting time in May, and give plants the entire summer to settle in before frost hits. And you should know that hip-harvested seeds will not typically produce plants that are true to their parent. Colors — even varieties — will likely differ greatly.

To answer your question — can roses be grown indoors successfully? To be honest, I’ve never heard of growing full-size rose bushes as houseplants, but under the right conditions, it can be done. Miniature roses, which grow to a height of 6 to 36 inches, are usually chosen for indoor growing. Either will thrive, as long as they receive a minimum of six hours of sunlight daily, which yours would, and are kept no warmer than 75 degrees during the day and no cooler than 40 degrees overnight. Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer (20-20-20) every two weeks during spring and summer and monthly during fall and winter. And water thoroughly when the soil is dry 1 inch below the surface.

DEAR JESSICA: We have been growing African violets for the past 35 years, under lights, on a north- and also south-facing windowsill and have had much success. But now we have a problem in that the lower leaves are turning sort of brown. It happened to all of our plants, about 30 in all. We are stumped and have no idea why this is happening. There do not seem to be any insects or fungus on any of the plants.

— Gisela Hunermund,

Cold Spring Harbor

DEAR GISELA: The leaf discoloration you see could be due to your plants outgrowing their pots. But this would be an odd coincidence since you report all 30 of your plants are showing symptoms. (If you see roots growing out of drainage holes, that’s your cue to replant into a larger container.)

It’s also possible the plants are suffering from a nutritional deficiency. Have you changed fertilizer or altered your fertilization schedule? You should be applying a fertilizer specifically formulated for African violets, following the regimen and directions on the package carefully. In addition, I recommend you check the soil’s pH because plants cannot absorb sufficient nutrients if the soil’s pH is outside their optimum range. African violets thrive best when the pH is on the acidic side, ideally between 6.0 and 6.8 — and absolutely no higher than 7.0. Test kits are available at many area nurseries, online and even at pool supply stores. If the pH tests above 7.0, you can lower it by adding 1 to 2 teaspoons of white vinegar to a gallon of water, and using it to water your plant. This is a slow process and can take weeks, so test the pH every week or two and switch back to fresh water when levels fall below 7.0.

Root rot, caused by overwatering, is another possibility. Have you altered your watering schedule or had a plant sitter who might have overwatered in your absence? You can check for rot by gently slipping plants out of their pots and examining their roots. If they are brown, slimy or mushy, they are rotting. Your best course of action would be to clip away unhealthy roots and, as long as sufficient healthy roots remain, repot the plant in a sterilized container with fresh potting mix.

And whenever you water African violets, be careful not to allow water to touch leaves. They do not take kindly to it.

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