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England: Keep delicate purple flowers in right light for continuous blooms
Streptocarpella is a tender plant related to the African violet. - photo by Russ England

Question: A friend gave me a streptocarpella plant from her mother’s estate, but neither of us knows much about it. How should I care for it?

Answer: Streptocarpella saxorum (pronounced Strep-toe-car-pella) is a tender plant from southern Africa that grows about 10 inches tall and 18 inches across. It has delicate blue flowers and soft velvety gray-green fleshy leaves less than two inches long.

Streptocarpella is sometimes described as a sub-genus of a larger group of plants known as Streptocarpus. For those interested in precision naming, the two groups are distinguished by their growth habits; Streptocarpus grows in an unbranched basal whorl of leaves while Streptocarpella is a multi-branched plant.

The Latin name Streptocarpus means "twisted fruit," which refers to the slender twisted seed capsule that the plant produces. The name Streptocarpella means "Streptocarpus-like."

In the wild, Streptocarpella grows in rocky areas, often in crevices of rock cliffs. To my knowledge, this plant has no common English name, but it is often known just as Streptocarpus.

These plants are related to African violets and gloxinias and look somewhat like a cross between the two. They are generally not as particular about their growing conditions as African violets, and thus are easier to grow.Grow Streptocarpella in a well-drained organic potting mix in a window box or hanging basket. They do great outdoors for much of the year in zone seven, but must be brought indoors to protect them from frost.

Streptocarpella prefers bright light, but can be damaged by too much direct sunlight. The leaves may also be damaged by near-frost conditions, or very cold rain, if left outdoors too late in the fall.

Streptocarpella blooms almost continuously, even through the winter as a houseplant if given plenty of light, as in a south or east-facing window. Although not a heavy feeder, it will grow and flower best if fertilized periodically.

Q: I have a steep bank where the natural hillside was cut to grade my lot, and I am having trouble getting any vegetation established because of erosion and drought. Any ideas?

A: This may be a very difficult situation, depending on the steepness of the slope, amount of runoff you need to control and total area that you have to rehabilitate. The first step is to do whatever you can to reduce the runoff from above that is eroding your bank.

If the runoff is from ongoing development or impervious surfaces above your lot, talk to the owner(s) of that property to see if you can get them to help manage the excess runoff. You may also be able to divert water by digging a ditch just above the top of the cut to divert water to each side of it.

If you can get the off-site runoff under control, and the gullies in the bank filled in, try to establish a layer of mulch on the slope. Use fine organic mulch such as shredded leaves, grass clippings, wheat straw or pine straw applied to a depth of at least three inches.

This approach will only work if you can keep the mulch in place. Do this with some fine netting, such as that sold to put over berry bushes to exclude birds, and stake the netting down with landscape fabric pins or homemade wooden or wire stakes.

The next step is to plant some groundcover. Consider a spreading grass such as mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus), creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) or one of the low-growing, spreading junipers.

Russ England is a Master Gardener trained and certified in horticulture and related areas through by the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service.