Why I quarantine new African Violets and you should, too

In early 2019 I found soil mealybugs on a couple of my plants. The infected violets came out of the quarantine three months before that and were considered healthy by me. Obviously, my quarantine failed and was not enough.

Soil mealies are disgusting and can destroy a collection quickly. What’s more important, we have lots of pesticides restrictions in New Zealand and can not use most of the products widely used overseas. We also have a very limited number of named varieties in the country, so pest-destroyed collection can be irreplaceable.

The affected plants came from the same reliable source, were quarantined for five weeks, and happily bloomed for a couple of months. I think they had a bug or two on their roots when arrived, and it took a few months for the bugs to breed. After that outbreak, I added a few more steps to my pest-control procedure.

My current quarantine routine for new plants

  • I quarantine longer now. New Zealand biosecurity rules require at least three months quarantine for plants coming to the country for a reason. I aim for the same period now for any leaves and plants.
  • I handle quarantined plants separately, wash my hands and tools with hot soapy water after and use hand sanitizer and methyl spirit for tools before I touch plants from my collection.
  • In summer, newcomers live in the downstairs toilet – the light on the windowsill there is perfect. In winter, the ‘toilet quarantine facility’ is too cold, so I have to keep new plants with the rest of the collection: on the domed tray, or in a deli container with lid, or in a ziplock bag. Lower shelf is preferable because the potential pest would rather travel down than crawl up.
  • Plants from different sources are quarantined separately to avoid possible cross-contamination. For example, I have a domed tray of leaves from one collector, and just one plant in a ziplock bag from another.
  • I write the quarantine start date on the pot label – so I won’t forget.
  • I take any new plant out of its pot and check the roots very thoroughly. I am not afraid to disturb the roots – they grow back quickly. I often get rid of most of the potting mix and roots in the process to make sure there are no soil mealybugs hiding there.
  • Newcomers are not getting fancy pots privileges – their first home is a transparent plastic container. This way, I can see the roots during and after the quarantine.

It doesn’t end after the quarantine

  • Wick-watered plants never share water reservoir to avoid bugs travel.
  • I cover my potting bench with newspapers when repotting any plants (even ‘clean’ ones from my collection). Every plant is handled on its own paper sheet. I carefully fold it and discard after each plant.
  • Tools go to 70% methyl spirit after each plant. I wear vinyl gloves when pot and repot, so use the same product on my gloved hands after each repotted plant.
  • I soak all used pots and water reservoirs in hot soapy water, wash them, soak in a bleach solution overnight, rinse and dry.
  • Totally unhappy plants land in a rubbish bin. I am well past ‘I am not able to get rid of a violet’ stage. I am perfectly able now and have no regrets.
  • I don’t bring any bouquets home – they are a pest bus.
  • I don’t buy harassed-looking plants, victims of garden detention centres, even if I feel sorry for them. Nursing them back to health takes at least six months and not worth the risk of contaminating my other plants.
  • I don’t go near violets in my gardening clothes – it goes to the washing immediately after I am coming inside after working in the garden.

But… isn’t it overkill? Especially when you have just a few plants on your window and not do African Violets ‘professionally’? I am sure that quarantine and post-quarantine policies are not just for ‘pros’, it is a good practice for any indoor plants lover. When in doubt what to do, go for ‘better safe than sorry’.

Do I need to quarantine plants that came from a reliable source?

Absolutely. Even if you bought from that source before, and everything was fine. Even if it is a grower with a great reputation. Even if the plant looks healthy. It is not a matter of (not) trusting someone. It is a matter of taking reasonable preventive measures.

Quarantine plants that came from me, please. I do it with plants coming from the best growers. No one shares sick plants on purpose – sellers can not know yet, and the bug can be under the radar for a while.

Do I need to quarantine plants if I have a small collection?

Yes, you do. Every experienced African Violets grower who takes this hobby seriously, quarantines new plants. And I strongly encourage you to learn from their experience. It doesn’t matter how big or small your collection is, and whether you are a ‘pro’ or ‘just a hobbyist’.

Isolating new plants for a while is free, safe, doesn’t require toxic pesticides use, works for households with kids or pets, and for people with allergies. You don’t need a separate room for every new plant – just a ziplock bag will work. Not pretty, but effective.

Does quarantine guarantee that pests will never attack my violets?

I wish I could say ‘yes’. But if you grow any plants, you will eventually have to deal with pests. It is just a matter of time. However, with a strict quarantine regimen, you significantly reduce the risk of infestation.

Pests can ride on fruit, Christmas trees, flower arrangements, garden clothes and pets. Thrips can just get in through an open window at summertime.

There are so many potential points of entry for pests, there is no reason for issuing them a special invitation and giving them a ride right to your violet shelf by ignoring quarantine routine.

Do you quarantine your plants? Share your tips in the comments section below – there is always so much to learn!

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2 Comments. Leave new

    02/08/2020 20:17

    Wow, Maria, thank this great info on AF, your methods of pest control are formidable! I’ve enjoyed learning that I can bath my African violets! I used to spray them on hot days, and they seemed to enjoy it, and now it’s under the tap! Thanks again, Maria, keep up good breeding!

  • Glenda Fox
    07/12/2020 14:45

    I have lots of pot plants which I love. Have grown pot plants since I was a child – I remember getting my first one. My first African violet was grown from a leaf my grandmother sent me – I still have it, 55 years later!
    I have never quarantined new plants – but reading this post, I will be more careful in future. It must take lots of space though. I like your comments about being realistic about pests just happening; we have to be realistic. Thanks for this. Very helpful.


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