By Sandy Vanno, Master Gardener Warren County CCE
Bringing beauty to the indoors is a goal of any gardener in the winter months. African violets have a reputation of being fussy plants, but with just a little care and the right conditions, they can thrive, bloom, and enhance any home! The most difficult part of growing this plant might be choosing which one to grow, They come in literally thousands of named varieties. Plants are available with pink, blue, purple, white, and bio color blooms. There are single and double flowering varieties with smooth, ruffled, or frilled petals. Leaves can range from green to bronze or have a pink to white variegation. Miniature and trailing cultivars are also available.
African violets prefer soils that are evenly moist. Improper watering, especially overwatering, is a primary cause of problems. Allow the soil to dry out only slightly before watering, then water from below. Flush out fertilizer salts with a thorough watering from the top at least once a month. Avoid getting the leaves wet during watering; keep wet foliage out of the sun as the heat can leave marks. If water remains in the bottom saucer an hour after watering, drain this off. Otherwise, the roots may begin to rot. Violets are sensitive to extremes in water temperature. Water that's too hot or too cold will cause white rings on the leaves. Allow water to stand overnight to bring it to room temperature and dissipate any chlorine present.
To produce constant blooms, apply fertilizer on a monthly basis using a specific compound formulated for them. Phosphorus levels need to be high in order to get the beautiful blooms, so use something like a 12-36-14 fertilizer.
Violets need strong, bright light (at least six hours is ideal), but not direct sun. Lack of light curtails blooming and causes leaves to grow upright. Too much light results in leaves that are brittle, scorched, and yellow.Under natural light, an east window is often the best in winter. Northern exposures are better during hot summer months. They also thrive under fluorescent lights turned on for 12-16 hours a day. Use a single fixture with two 20-watt or two 40-watt lamps placed 10-12 inches above the plants.
The optimum temperature for African violets is between 65°-75°F. Temperatures below 60°F or above 80°F will result in reduced bloom. Keep violets away from frosty window panes or cold drafts during cold winter months. If your house is dry, place the plants on trays filled with wet pebbles to increase the humidity.
Removing suckers from the center of plants will allow more light to penetrate, resulting in more flowers. Tight, bunched centers are often caused by too much fertilizer. Check the soil surface for white salt deposits.
African violets should be repotted annually. Choose a commercially prepared soil specifically mixed for them, or make a mixture of equal parts (by volume) of soil, peat, and vermiculite. Make sure when potting the plant to put the crown just above the soil line to prevent crown rot.
African violets do have a few pests, including several kinds of mealybugs, thrips, and cyclamen mites. Treatments for these pest problems include insecticidal soap. Always read and follow the instructions on the pesticide label fully and carefully. Keep African violets watered and sunny, keep any stray dead leaves pulled off, and the pests will be minimal.
African violets are a joy! Once you understand their growing requirements and some of their challenges, you may be giving propagated cuttings from your collection to friends and family!
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Last updated November 9, 2021