Many years ago violet growers thought division of the clumps a good way to propagate, and I can recall instances where that method produced good violets for several successive years. But one trouble or another overtook them and the bad luck was attributed to some other cause. All growers, especially of the Marie Louise variety, propagate entirely by true cuttings. They are really runners, and start from the plant in quantity in the early spring months. If they have made any roots into the soil, or air roots, remove them entirely, and put the cuttings into the propagating bed in the ordinary way. No bottom heat in the sand is necessary, therefore if you are short of room in the bed you can fill flats with two inches of sand and they will do just as well. Don't crowd them in the sand, let them be so that the foliage will become dry after a watering. Shade only from bright sunlight. In four or five weeks they will be rooted and should not long remain in the sand after being rooted.
For years we potted the cuttings into 2-ineh pots and of course that did very well, but they are in much greater danger of drying out in the little pots, and now we think a well drained flat of two and one-half or three inches of soil a decided advantage over pots. See that the bottom of the flat has ample drainage to let water freely pass through, and let the compost be finely sifted loam and one-third well rotted horse or cattle manure. In place of manure we have used thoroughly rotted leaves, and the young violets delight in it. We thought once that a coldframe was the only place for the flats till the young violets were put into the permanent beds, and it is a good place, but there is the great danger of neglect, not ventilating at proper time, neglect of syringing, etc. One year we placed the flats beneath the shade of "the old apple tree." A long, wet, showery time came on and ninety per cent of our plants perished with spot. So the greenhouse which you can ventilate and where the plants are always under your eye is the safest and best place. I am writing for the man who grows many other things besides violets, and not the specialist who will have a house for the special care of his young stock. Cuttings are usually plentiful from early February on, and that is the time to propagate. The plants are transferred to the beds from the first part of May till the middle of June. I think the earlier date the better.
Planting should be done on a cloudy or dull day if possible, or it will be necessary to apply shading to the glass, and some shading will be necessary through the summer, or till the end of September. This shading problem is a difficult one. It is easy to put on a heavy coat of white lead and naphtha (a good medium for shading). When the temperature outside was 90 degrees and the sun's rays fierce you would realize that the shaded glass was a blessing, and then again on a rainy, dull day it would be gloomy, damp and lifeless, the reverse of what any growing plant enjoys or thrives in.
I must still believe that in an even-span detached house with a sashbar twelve feet long, a light pine pole perfectly round and twelve feet long by three inches in diameter, on which cheesecloth was tacked sufficient when unrolled to cover ten or more lineal feet of your roof, is the thing. One end of this pole would roll along the ridge, the lower end on a strip of wood nailed over the top of the bars a foot from the plate. To roll up and unroll these poles appears like labor and time, but it would pay. In 10-foot or 12-foot houses where the sashbars are not over six or seven feet then lath shading on frames is preferable to permanent shade of the whitewash type, which is there when you want it and a nuisance and injury when you don't want it.
The principal attention during summer is syringing on all fine mornings to keep down red spider. Always do this in the morning, so that by night the foliage is dry. Look sharp for absolute cleanliness. Decayed leaves, abortive flowers, weeds, etc., should constantly be removed, and don't pull decayed leaves, but cut them off and see that all cleanings from your beds are burned, not allowed to lie around on the paths.
Watering is of first importance, but no set rule can be laid down. Hundreds of times during the year we are asked by amiable ladies, " How often shall I water my palm," or some other plant. It is tempting, and we feel like it every time, to reply, "Whenever it wants water," but that would not do and might be taken as flippant and an attempt to be smart. Yet it ought to do for a gardener attempting to grow violets. If the watering passes quickly away it is not likely you will err on the side of too much water. I admire the idea of Prof. Galloway on the subject of watering, although it is contrary to what I have heard from expert rose growers, whose theory was to keep their beds in a continual, uniform degree of moisture. A plant either in a pot or bed I like to see occasionally on the dry side. Instinct seems to teach me that the plant is not suffering but that it is going to enjoy it and thrive greatly when refreshed with water; so while anything like wilting dryness must be avoided let the beds get occasionally on what florists call the dry side. When November's dark days set in be still more careful not to allow the bed to get overwet. Evaporation is slow at that time.
The Lady Home Campbell Violet.
House 35x200, Planted to Marie Louise Violets.
Some growers put on a mulch in early August. It keeps down weeds and prevents too rapid a drying out of the soil, and is also a cleaner resting place for the recumbent blossoms of Marie Louise. Sifted decayed refuse hops make a nice clean mulch, but there are few fertilizing qualities about them, and sifted dry horse manure is generally used for the purpose. Unless your plants are making a strong, healthy, vigorous growth there is no need of any mulching.
Temperature must be guided by common sense and judgment; 40 to 45 degrees for night temperature after firing commences is known to give best results, but that can be varied some without harm. For instance, if it was 20 degrees outside, then 45 inside the house would be all right. If it was down to zero outside and took much fire heat to keep the house above 40, then be satisfied with 40, and if a few degrees lower no harm. A very good rule for day temperature would be to let the sun raise the temperature 10 degrees higher than night temperature. But if it is to be raised purely by fire heat then don't try to get it over 45 degrees, and very seldom by sun heat over 60 degrees.
When Easter has come at the middle of April or later we have more than once been much disappointed in our violets. We looked for a pick of many thousand blue beauties, but when the great day came our violets were a mass of leaves with but a few small and poorly colored flowers. The cause of this was that for some weeks in March we were unable to keep the temperature down and started them into an unnatural growth. There is no plant we grow that needs and delights more in abundance of fresh, pure air, yet a cutting draught is to be avoided. Better let the temperature go above the rule by sun heat than subject the plants to cold draughts; here is where judgment comes in, and never-ceasing watchfulness is the only sure road to success.
The diseases of the violet are not considered numerous or formidable, yet if we consider the effects of aphis and other insects as disease they are bad enough. I must beg of the reader who is interested in violet culture to obtain Prof. Galloway's splendid little book. There he will find correct descriptions with causes and best known antidotes or cures for all the troubles that the violet is heir to. The Plant Bureau of the Department of Agriculture has done great work with some of our commercial plants and it will do much more in the future with its widely scattered stations for observation and experiments. It has done good work with the violet and it would be impossible for me to give you such scientific but explicit information on this subject as will be found in Mr. Galloway's excellent work.
Then there is another most valuable contribution to violet literature, "How to Make Money Growing Violets," by George Saltford. Mr. Saltford is almost the father of that great industry, violet growing, along the Hudson river, and is not one of that great army who have dropped out of the industry due to bad luck (?), but with good common sense and the exercise of a big brain he is still at the front as a violet grower. Both books are indispensable to all interested in violet culture and are sold at a nominal price, out of all proportion to their value.
I am going to conclude this long but important chapter by saying that it is proverbial that men by the hundreds have started into violet growing with all kinds and shapes of houses and the majority met with success for a few years. We have heard of scores, we know intimately a dozen such cases. The collapse or entire failure does not come suddenly. There is a decreasing crop of several years, till at last there is no revenue at all and the violet growing is given up in disgust. Perhaps the houses have become so infested with the spores of fungoid diseases and the eggs of injurious insects that they want a thorough cleansing, but the failure we must more often attribute to a relaxing of vigilance. You were successful for a few years; you became master of the profession of violet growing and became careless. Many little attentions that in the early days you would not dream of neglecting became in your opinion of slight consequence. This I believe is why so many men drop out of the business. An incident that occurred in my own neighborhood may illustrate. Two young men in my neighborhood added to their glass about twelve years ago two small violet houses, each 10x100, and grew their plants on shallow-benches. One of the houses was much shaded by the high north wall of a long-span-to-the-south carnation house, but it seemed to make no difference. In every spot in those houses they grew good violets of fine quality, and lots of them. They made money. They admit it. For several years past I knew their violet growing was less successful, but a few weeks ago I had a chat with one of them and my question was, " How are your violets this year?" The reply was about this, "Oh, we have thrown them all out, not a violet on the place. Perhaps in two or three years our houses will be free of fungus and aphis and we will start in again with the same close attention we gave them years ago and I hope again to make a success." That was an admission that they had not fought their enemies and had let up on close attention. Eternal vigilance is the price of a good violet crop.