One of the most beautiful indoor plants you can choose is an African violet. Millions of people around the world raise these blooming plants in their homes. Not only do African violets adapt to just about every type of environment, but they are also an intriguing and interesting plant to grow. African violet care isn’t difficult. By understanding a few basic guidelines, you can successfully grow a variety of healthy, vibrant African violets in a wide array of colors, sizes, and leaf types.
African violets are not true violets. They belong to a species of blooming plants within the Gesneriad family. They are tropical plants that grow in eastern tropical Africa. Today, African violets mostly grow in the mountains of Tanzania and Kenya under the cover of other plants in isolated areas. They risk extinction with increased farming and logging practices that are diminishing their forest habitats. The African violets grown in homes today are mostly clones and hybrids of these tropical species.
African violets are easy to care for, but they do require a routine. Careful watering, no direct sunlight, good air circulation, and temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees are the basic rules. Experts recommend specific steps for African violets that gardeners don’t usually extend to their other plants. Flush the plant’s soil with clear water every six weeks to prevent harmful salts from building up. An African violet also requires a fertilizer that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to encourage root development and lots of blooms. The leaves of these plants also do best with regular dusting. A small, stiff paintbrush works well, but remember to support the leaf from underneath while dusting, so you don’t break it off.
You’ll have greater success growing African violets that you purchase from a supplier who specializes in them. Some areas have African violet clubs or shows, which are great resources for novices and experienced growers alike. The varieties found in grocery or chain stores are generally not superior plants. Several online suppliers provide catalogs offering a wide variety of healthy African violets and a greater selection of colors, sizes, and foliage. Unlike garden flowers, African violets are strictly houseplants and bloom year-round so there’s no specific planting season to plan around.
Some enthusiasts grow African violets for exhibition and showing purposes. These beauties sometimes exceed 18 to 24 inches in diameter. Large African violets usually grow to about 8 inches in diameter, but may grow to 10 to 12 inches. Semiminiatures are smaller. Expect these plants to grow to about 8 inches in diameter. Miniatures seldom exceed a diameter of 6 inches. Trailing violets are great plants for the novice grower. They naturally spread and grow. You can hang them in baskets or plant them in shallow pots. The more you pinch or prune them, the more they grow. You determine how big you want them to grow.
If you could imagine a color, there’s probably an African violet that matches it. Colors include an array of whites, creams, pinks, blues, purples, reds, and greens. Some blooms have ruffled, frilly edges, others have smooth ones. There are single blooms, double blooms, semi-double, and triple blooms to choose from. Some varieties of African violet flowers have a bell shape. The fuzzy leaves on an African violet plant also add to its showiness and are available in varying shades of green. Variegated leaves may have tinges of white or cream colors. Some are ruffled, others are serrated or quilted.
Without proper light, African violets won’t bloom. Bright light, not hot sunlight, will produce beautiful blooms with healthy green stems and leaves. These plants can sit on a windowsill that faces south, east, or west if there is no direct sunlight. If you don’t have a window that provides great light without the heat, no problem. You can also grow luxurious African violets under artificial fluorescent or grow lights. Situate the lights about 12 to 18 inches above the plant for 12 to 14 hours each day. African violets also require at least 8 hours of darkness each day to produce flowers.
African violets need moisture, but you should only water them when the soil surface feels dry. Soak thoroughly. When you pick up the pot, it should feel light, not heavy. Tepid, room-temperature water is best. Never use cold water. It can shock the plant’s roots. Avoid getting water on the leaves, which can leave water spots. You can water from the top or allow the plant to sit in water for no more than 30 minutes. A saucer works nicely. Some growers prefer the wick method to prevent overwatering. Insert one end of a wick created from a man-made fiber into the pot’s drainage hole. Place the plant above a reservoir of water and submerge the other end of the wick in the water. The wick draws the water from the reservoir into the potting mix.
Planting soil that drains well is crucial for a healthy African violet. Not only should the soil enable free root development, but it should also allow for the passage of water and air and be slightly acidic. Because soil can harbor pests, weed seeds, and diseases, many African violet growers sterilize soil before planting. You can purchase sterile soil mixes, but sterilizing soil is easy, and there are two methods. Steam the soil over water for 30 minutes or heat the soil in the oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes or until the soil reaches 180 degrees. In a microwave, heat the soil for 90 seconds on full power. Proper soil mix for African violets consists primarily of peat, doesn’t contain soil, and is 30% to 50% vermiculite or perlite.
Spraying your African violet with soapy water can be an effective method to control Cyclamen mites and mealybugs. There are natural bug sprays available on the market as well. If you see mealybugs on your plants, try dipping a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and removing the pests with it. Remember to isolate new plants for two weeks and observe them for any signs of a pest infestation before allowing them to come in contact with your existing plants.
One of the great features of raising African violets is that you can easily propagate them from the leaf of an existing plant. Remove a fresh, healthy leaf from the center of the plant. If you trim away the top of the leaf, it will propagate faster, but this isn’t a necessary step. Cut the leaf stem at a 45-degree angle to about ½ inch in length. Push the leaf into a small pot filled with a mixture of soil-less potting soil and vermiculite. The soil should be moist. Label the pot and cover it with a clear plastic baggie and place in a well-lit area with no direct sun. You should see a new plant in about 12 weeks.
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