Behind the Scenes – HOW to Limit Your Collection, Part I

Hi Everyone! For the past couple of episodes we’ve talked in-depth about limiting one’s collection.

You know that I talk a lot here about limiting one’s collection. I’m well aware that it’s not always a popular choice, but it is always a valid one. Something my friend, Joyce Stork, often says resonates with me very much: once you get past that “I have to have them all” feeling and can begin to let go of all the ones that don’t grow well for you, you will be on your way to being a champion grower (if that’s your focus).

And if show growing is not your focus, learning to limit your collection gives you the ability to truly learn to grow well and also to enjoy yourself and your plants.

So, here are the notes I’ve been promising!

The first thing to clarify for yourself is Why you might want to limit your collection. There are plenty of reasons:

  • You have run out of shelf space
  • You have run out of time
  • Your significant other is jealous of the amount of time you spend on “those plants”
  • Your children are tired of “helping”
  • Everyone in your affiliate already has one (or more . . . ) of whatever varieties you grow
  • Your dog wants to go for a walk
  • YOU want to go for a walk
  • You NEED to go for a walk
  • You are tired of spending every waking moment putting down leaves, repotting, and watering
  • OMG there are just Too. Many. Plants.
  • It’s just not fun any more . . .

Who among us hasn’t come to that point where it’s no longer fun? It’s a chore to water everything and it doesn’t always get done in a timely manner; the stands are so crowded that nothing looks quite right; nothing is growing well; and you finally throw up your hands and say, “Enough!” Somewhere in there you’ve found your Why.

Once you’ve found your Why, it’s time to figure out How to limit your collection. And it’s not always as easy as you might think.

Many, many growers, when they are first starting out fall into the trap (and yes, it’s a trap) of putting down every leaf they groom off. After all, it’s super fun to be successful at propagation. Who doesn’t get a thrill seeing those little mouse ears pop up?! I still do, for sure! But if you put down every leaf you groom off a plant, you will soon have a LOT of the same plant, and unless it’s a rare vintage variety or the hottest new one that all your friends are going to want, what are you going to do with all those plants of the same type? Well, if you are mentoring a new grower, you could share a few leaves with them and teach them how to put them down. More probably, however, you need to make friends with the late Kent Stork’s favorite plant room tool: The Trash Can.

The Inside of Annie's Trash Can
The Inside of Annie’s Trash Can

Yes, I’m telling you to toss out those leaves that you groom off. “But Annie,, I couldn’t possibly . . . ” Oh yes. Yes you absolutely can. Take a breath. You can throw them out. And the more you do it, the easier it will become.

Next, what all about all those leaves you brought home from convention or your local show? Well, you’re most certainly going to put down the leaves to propagate, because who doesn’t like to grow something new?

Leaves put down in tray to Propagate
Leaves put down in tray to Propagate

And then, when the babies are big enough to separate off the momma leaf, you are only going to keep the best one or possibly two plantlets to grow out. The rest of those babies you’re not even going to waste time potting up.

Leaves with babies ready to be separated and potted up
Leaves with babies ready to be separated and potted up

That’s right. It’s the trash can, again. And as those plantlets grow out and bloom, if they do not bloom true to their description, you’re going to have your trusty trash can at the ready again, because unless the plant has sported to some amazing fantasy/chimera blossom, it won’t be an improvement over the original plant and you’re going to need to toss it out.

I know that some of you are angry just reading these first few paragraphs. “Annie! You could donate those plants to a nursing home! You could donate those plants and leaves to a school classroom! You could sell them online!”

The list goes on, and on, but let’s be real here. Certainly you can check with a senior living facility, there might be some residents who would like an African violet – but, for the most part you will find that they don’t, and unless you yourself are willing to set up a program with a classroom at your local school, it’s not likely that a teacher will have built a unit on plant propagation into his or her lesson plan. And do you really have enough room on your already crowded shelves to be growing out four and five of the same variety?? (The exception to this is if you happen to be growing something new out for a hybrizer – testing it in your growing conditions for them. In that case, you will want to have two or three of each plantlet.)

As for selling online . . . it is an option, of course, but most people do not have the wherewithal to pack plantlets or leaves properly, and if they work outside their homes all week long they also likely don’t have time to spend their Friday nights packing plantlets and leaves for shipment, and their Saturday mornings standing in line at the post office.

I repeat: Make friends with your trusty trash can.

A side view of Annie's Trash Can
A side view of Annie’s Trash Can

That takes us to the plants on your shelves, and here is where we are going to stop for today.

OK! Before we go: Let’s recap!

Step 1: Make friends with the trash can.
Step 2: Let go of putting down every leaf you groom off.
Step 3: Be selective about the plantlets you choose to grow on after propagation.
Step 4: If the plantlets do not bloom true to their description, throw them out.

In Part II, we’ll go over how I make decisions on which plants in my collection to let go.