Though they are commonly available in an array of stores, it is worth a bit of extra effort to shop for a healthy plant that will get you off to a good start. I was in Walmart the other day and saw cheap, but bedraggled looking plants with blooms that were well past their prime. Don't buy one of those violets!
It's so much better to take the time to find a plant with healthy, undamaged foliage that is covered in half-opened flower buds.
African Violets do have a few quirks, but they are pretty easy to grow.
To help your plant keep a nice round shape, rotate your African Violet every time you water it. That way all the leaves will get the same amount of light.
Cold and Humidity: African violets don't like cold drafts, so don't place them up against the cold glass of a window or near an entrance door. The temperature around your plants should never drop below 65 degrees F.
The native habitat of an African Violet is the mountains of East Africa. It's a lot more humid there than it is in the average home! To increase the humidity around your plants, you can group them together (but not so close that their leaves are touching. You still want to have some air circulation to prevent fungi like Botrytis and Powdery Mildew).
Water droplets can damage the soft, velvety foliage of an African Violet, so watering requires a little bit of extra care.
The water should always be room temperature and never cold. If the water is too cold, it will cause the leaves to curl down as the water is absorbed.
You can try to gently move the leaves aside and water around the base of the plant, but you have to be super careful not to snap off the leaves or splash the foliage. (If you do splash the foliage, mop it up immediately with a tissue and cross your fingers.)
If you can find one at a garage sale or charity shop, an old fashioned watering can with a long, pencil-thin spout would be a much safer way to water.
The tried and true way to water your African Violets is to water from the bottom. Place the plant into a saucer or tray with about an inch of room temperature water. Allow the violet to absorb the water up from the base of the plant. Remove it from the water when the soil in the pot feels moist, but not soggy (about thirty or forty minutes).
How often should you water? Water when the plant feels light when you lift it up and when the soil just below the surface of the pot feels dry to the touch (about once a week).
Soil: Ordinary potting soil is too heavy and holds too much moisture for African Violets. They like good drainage and lots of aeration around their roots. Look for one of the potting mixes made especially for African Violets that are a blend of sphagnum peat moss and perlite. (There are many brands available. This is just one example.)
If any suckers (new growth on the main stem of your plant) develop, remove them as they can lead to misshapen plants.
Pinch off spent blooms and flower stems to encourage the development of new blooms.
Fertilizer: To keep your plant healthy, it is a good idea to feed it with some fertilizer (following the label's instructions) when you water.
Repotting: Experts recommend that you repot an African Violet with fresh soil once a year and/or when your African Violet becomes root bound.
African Violets grow out from the centre rather than down, so they prefer a wide, shallow pot rather than a deep one. If you use a deep container, the roots won't reach the bottom of the pot. Devoid of roots, the soil will stay soggy. That is when root rot or a fungal disease are likely to develop.
The size of the new pot should be about one-third the diameter of the leaves. For example, if the plant is 12", the perfect container will be 4" wide and 3" deep. A porous clay pot will absorb extra moisture, so it is a better and more attractive option than a plastic pot.
Make sure that the repotted plant is at the same depth in the soil as it was in the original container.Water the plant thoroughly and allow it to drain.
Dealing with a plant that has developed a "neck"
As the outer circle of leaves on your violet mature and get damaged, you'll want to remove them to keep the plant looking its best. The only problem with snapping off old foliage, is the plant can end up with a "neck". If your African Violet has developed this problem, you'll want to repot it and rebury the neck.
To do this, remove the plant from its pot. Strip the leaves back to a healthy centre and remove any flowers. Scrap off the scale that covers the neck with a clean knife. Work some of the soil loose from the root ball. (If the root ball is really compacted, cut off the bottom third of the root ball with a knife.)
Add some fresh soil into the bottom of the original pot and then place plant back inside. Working your way around the circumference of pot, continue to add fresh soil. Don't compact the soil with your fingers. Leave it nice and loose.
Finally, brush away any soil that may fallen on the leaves. Water the plant thoroughly.
Possible reasons your plant isn't flowering:
Too big a pot–African Violets bloom better when they are slightly pot bound.
Other Possible Problems:
Root Rot or Crown Rot: Here is a video from the African Violet Society of American that demonstrates how to repot a plant suffering from root rot.
With all these tips and suggestions, I worry that I have made African Violets seem fussy. Honestly, once you get to know them, they are the most easy-going of plants. And they bloom for ages!
My husband and I have come along way since that first apartment. We've been married for over thirty years now, but some things never change. There are still African Violets lined up on my windowsill.
What's your experiences with African Violets? Please share!
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