If you're looking for a striking flowering houseplant, consider the African violet. Not only do they adapt to just about every environment, but they are also intriguing to cultivate.
Caring for this colorful plant isn’t difficult. By understanding a few basic guidelines, you can successfully grow healthy, vibrant African violets.
On the way home with your new houseplant, keep it shielded from drafts or blasts of air from air conditioning or heating vents in your vehicle and away from hot, direct sunlight from car windows. Most online stores send violets to you only after securely wrapping them so that they incur no damage during shipment.
If your new plant isn't already in the pot you want, you'll need to replant it. Ideally, place it in its original container in its new permanent home for a few weeks first, to minimize the changes right away.
Once you're ready, find a potting mix that is slightly acidic and drains well. The dirt should enable free root development and also allow for the passage of water and air. Because soil can harbor pests, weed seeds, and diseases, many African violet growers sterilize their growing medium before planting. The proper medium for African violets consists primarily of peat and doesn’t actually contain soil. It can be 30% to 50% vermiculite or perlite.
Without proper light, African violets won’t bloom. Bright. indirect light, not hot sunlight, will produce beautiful blooms amid healthy green stems and leaves. These plants can sit on a windowsill that faces south, east, or west, as long as they aren't directly in the rays.
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 12 to 18 inches above the plant for 12 to 14 hours each day. Keep in mind that African violets 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; if, when you pick up the pot, it feels light, give your plant a thorough soak. Room-temperature water is best. Never use cold water, as this can shock the roots. Focus the water on the soil and away from the leaves. Whether you water from the top or leave the plant in sitting water for about 30 minutes is up to you.
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.
Humidity levels are just as important to African violets as proper watering. If the air tends to be on the drier side, keep a small pot of water near your plants. As it evaporates, the water will add humidity to the air. You can also add small pebbles onto a saucer you've filled with water, then place the violet pot on top of the saucer to increase humidity around the plant.
A fertilizer that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium will encourage root development and lots of blooms on your African violet.
Some other considerations: Dust the leaves regularly with a small, stiff paintbrush, supporting it from underneath so it doesn't break off. You can also flush the plant’s soil with clear water every six weeks to prevent harmful salts from building up.
Pruning your plant is simple and doesn't require any special tools. Routinely remove any spent flowers and dead or damaged leaves using your fingernails or finely tipped, sterilized scissors. Remove three or four leaves from the bottom of the plant each month to maintain balance and make way for new growth.
One way to ensure a long and happy life for your African violet is repotting it between one and two times each year. But, avoid transplanting them into another pot while it is actively growing or is blooming with new flowers.
Carefully turn the plant and pot upside down, and push the plant out through the drainage holes. Cradle the plant in your hands as it falls from the pot to prevent any damage. Make a hole in the soil you placed in the new container and place the plant's root ball into it. Cover the root ball with soil.
One of the benefits of raising African violets is that you can easily propagate them with leaf cuttings.
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 required. Cut the leaf stem at a 45-degree angle to about ½ inch in length. Push the stem into a small pot filled with a moist mixture of soil-less potting mix and vermiculite. Label the pot and cover it with a clear plastic baggie, then place it in a well-lit area with no direct sun.
In about 12 weeks, you should see good new growth from your cutting.
The most common disease for this plant isn't actually a disease at all. African violet ring is the most likely culprit if you see spots on the leaves. This issue occurs when the droplets of water land on the leaves, so avoid the issue by sticking to the soil or soak-up method.
Another issue — powdery mildew — occurs when humidity levels are high, temperatures are warm, and there isn't enough air circulation around the plant.
Spraying your African violet with soapy water is an effective method to control Cyclamen mites and mealybugs, two common pests. 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. If possible, isolate new plants for two weeks and observe them for any signs of a pest infestation before allowing them to live too near your existing plants.
African violets are well-suited for unique displays that show them off. The massive selection of colors and bloom types produce a gorgeous arrangement on their own, without added decor.
However, they are also suited to wreaths, centerpieces, and whatever else you can envision. Create a beautiful centerpiece arrangement using a large wooden bowl and potted miniature violets in an array of colors. Add sheet moss around the plants to hide the pots.
Many other plants provide the same colorful blooms and dense, fuzzy foliage as African violets. Gloxinias are closely related and easily found through florist shops and garden retailers. They erupt in trumpet-shaped blooms in a massive range of colors.
If you prefer a cascading plant, try the strawberry begonia. These perform best in hanging baskets, blooming in the spring and into the early summer months with tiny white flowers.
African violets are safe, non-poisonous plants to have in your home. While they're non-toxic to humans and most pets, they may cause health issues for rabbits and goats that eat them. And, some younger children and pets may experience an allergic reaction if they consume the plant's sap or foliage.
Trailing violets are great for novice indoor gardeners because 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 explode with colorful flowers, which leaves their final size up to you.
If you can imagine a color, there’s probably an African violet in it. In addition to a vast array of hues, some blooms have ruffled, frilly edges, others have smooth ones. There are single blooms, double blooms, semi-double, and triples. Some varieties have a bell shape. Even the leaves are unique to the subspecies: variegated options may have tinges of white or cream, and they may be ruffled, serrated, or quilted.