episcia plant
Episcias
are native to tropical South America and belong to the large family of gesneriads which include African violets, gloxinias, achimenes and many others.

They are unusual and popular as exotic houseplants grown mostly for their beautiful velvety and colorfully variegated foliage.

The original species has vivid orange-red blossoms of modest size. Many new cultivars have been developed with richly colored leaves from pale pearly silver through darkest chocolate brown. Most of the new hybrids also have larger flowers including shades of orange, yellow, violet and white. Flowers have no noticeable scent.

Episcias, if left to themselves, will develop a trailing habit due to the formation of stolons which are above-ground shoots or runners. These stolons develop plantlets on their tips and spill down over the pot in a cascading effect.

Episcias may bloom intermittently at any time of the year but the main blooming season is from March through August. The individual blossoms consist of  tubular trumpet shaped flowers about an inch long and from 1/4 to one inch across, depending on the variety.


Care and Requirements
episcia bloom
All gesneriads including episcias are ideal houseplants because they thrive in conditions found in most homes. Ideal temperature requirements are 65 to 80 degrees with average humidity. They need good light, but not direct sunlight. You can grow them on a windowsill or even under lights.

Episcias benefit greatly from a summer vacation outdoors. They should be in a protected area without direct sunlight. Put them on a sheltered screen porch or hang from a tree limb where they can benefit from natural rain.

Warmth, humidity and filtered light conditions are essential to healthy growth and flowers. Maintain minimum temperatures for your episcias above 55 degrees at all times. Temperatures 50 degrees or lower will damage plant tissue. If exposed longer than a few hours the plants will die.

Episcias make wonderful subjects for hanging baskets. For those who prefer traditional pot plants, more tailored and uniform bushy growth with much larger foliage can be obtained by removing most stolons.

Repotting should be done about once a year or sooner if soil breaks down or becomes depleted. The best time for repotting is in the spring. Plants have a shallow root system and do well in so-called azalea pots which are not as deep as regular pots. For best results, use a light weight potting medium such as African violet mix which is readily available in garden centers.

Keep soil moist but never soggy. Episcias as well as other gesneriads respond well and flower profusely if fertilized during the growing season. Use a weak solution of soluble fertilizer - a quarter tablespoon per gallon of water. About once a month use plain water to flush accumulated salts from the root system.


Propagation
episcia stolon
Propagate episcias by removing and planting runners as you would a cutting. Let the plantlet at the end of the runner develop 6 to 8 healthy leaves and then cut it off the mother plant, leaving about an inch of the runner. Remove the bottom 2 or 3 leaves and insert the cut end into moist seedling mix up to the base of the lowest leaf.

Cuttings or stolons will generate new roots within 2 to 3 weeks. Soil should be kept moist at all times until plants are established. Faster results are obtained when loosely covered with clear plastic to provide additional humidity.

You can also increase your collection or rejuvenate older straggly plants by taking tip cuttings. Strip lower leaves to obtain a bare trunk about two inches long with at least 4 to 6 leaves remaining. Remove any stolons and root the same way you would do with runners.


Pests and Problems large cascading episcia in hanging basket
Insect pests are rarely encountered when grown indoors. The most common of those are mealy bugs. If there are only a few, they can easily be eradicated by squashing them with a q-tip soaked in alcohol. For more severe infestations, or other pests such as spider mites or aphids, use a houseplant insecticide that is safe for gesneriads.

The most prevalent disease is root and crown rot which is directly related to over watering. The damage is plain to see as leaves become limp and the plants develop soggy dark brown spots. There is no cure - discard infected plants.

Another problem you may encounter is botrytis. This is evidenced by a gray mold which infects flowers and leaves. Botrytis is caused by high humidity, cool temperatures and lack of air movement. Space plants so that air can circulate and avoid wetting flowers and foliage.

In addition to good basic care, keep your episcias looking their best by removing spent flowers and faded leaves.

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