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African violets are some of the most beautiful houseplants you can grow. While they're not quite as simple to care for as the easiest flowering houseplants, they're possible to care for and propagate once you've got the right conditions and a few basic growing tips. In addition to the wide range of varieties available, the African violet offers another perk: It's one of the few indoor plants that has at least some blooms all year-round. At times, it'll experience a flush of flowers, while, at others, it may have only a few.
- Botanical Name: Saintpaulia ionantha
- Common Name: African violet
- Plant Type: Perennial flowering plant
- Mature Size: 5–8 inches high
- Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light
- Soil Type: Loose, porous, well-draining potting soil
- Soil pH: 5.8–6.2
Watering tends to be what trips up first-time African violet parents. Because your plant has very delicate roots that will be damaged if they dry out, it's important to keep the soil just barely moist at all times. However, it's also easy to overwater your violet, which can rot its roots or its crown.
A good guide is to water your African violet when the surface of the soil is dry. When you first get your plant home, check on it daily to establish how often you should water it.
You can water from the top or from the bottom of the plant. If you water from the top, be sure to water the soil directly to avoid getting the leaves wet. If you decide to water from the bottom, place the pot in a saucer of water for four hours or so–just don't forget to remove it from the water so the pot can drain when it's time.
Always use tepid water to give your African violet a drink because cold water can cause unattractive spots to form.
Fertilize your African violet every month with a balanced houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength. Check the label, and look for one that doesn't contain urea nitrogen, which can damage the plant's roots. When fertilizing, be sure to water from the top.
Best Growing Conditions for African Violet
African violets need bright, indirect light to thrive. If you keep your plant in a shady area, don't expect too many flowers. A north- or east-facing windowsill is a great spot for them, or you can put them in a bright, sunny south- or west-facing window with a sheer curtain to diffuse the stronger light.
These tropical plants grow best with temperatures no lower than the high 60s at night. Temperatures below 55 degrees will kill your plant, so be sure to avoid cold or drafty spaces.
African violets thrive in high humidity. If your space or climate is especially dry, it's a good idea to place your plant's pot on top of a tray of pebbles with water added to just below the top of the pebbles (make sure that the water doesn't come into contact with the pot). This will boost the humidity in the air around your plant as the water evaporates.
In terms of soil, use commercially produced African violet potting mixes. Since these plants have very delicate roots, some growers will lighten up commercial mixes by combining equal parts African violet mix and perlite or vermiculite.
If you notice that your African violet isn't flowering, it’s a good idea to take stock of your growing conditions. An overcrowded pot and night temperatures in your space that fall below 65 degrees can prevent flowering. Dim light could also be causing the issue. African violet leaves typically grow flat against the soil. If you see them straining to grow upward, that's a sign that they're not getting enough light.
If your African violet isn't flowering, the leaves are curled and twisted, and the center of the plant's crown looks hairy, your plant may be infested with cyclamen mites. Bag the plant, and throw it in the trash (never the compost) to keep the pest infestation from spreading to your other specimens. Start over with a healthy new plant.
African Violet Varieties
There are thousands of African violet varieties in the Saintpaulia genus. These tropical houseplants are known for violet-like flowers in shades of purple, pink, blue, white, red, or lavender as well as fuzzy, oval-shaped green leaves.
Some cultivars feature different-colored flowers on the same plant, petals or leaves with attractive ruffles, or leaves with colorful variegation. Some stay small and compact, while others have a long, trailing growth habit, well-suited to hanging planters.
The two main varieties are rosette African violet plants and trailing African violet plants. Both have large leaves that grow outward in a circular, layered formation. However, the former is considered a single-stalk plant, meaning it has one stem. The latter has multiple stems growing from the plant's roots. Also, rosette African violets generally grow upward, and trailing African violets appear to grow sideways, which, if placed on a high shelf, can create the illusion that they're cascading downward.
How to Propagate African Violet
Though African violets with multiple crowns in one pot can be divided, the process can be more challenging than with many houseplants. The easiest way to propagate African violets is by leaf cuttings. Try doing this in springtime, at the start of the growing season.
Step 1: Prepare a small container with sand, perlite, or vermiculite. You can also blend equal parts of these to make your own soilless rooting medium. Moisten the medium so that it's uniformly damp.
Step 2: Using a chopstick or pencil, poke a one-inch-deep hole in the growing medium at a 45-degree angle.
Step 3: Select a healthy, medium-growth leaf from the mother plant. Gently reach into the crown, and snap the petiole off from the base of the crown using your fingers.
Step 4: Using clean, sharp shears or pruners, trim the petiole so that it's one to one-and-a-half inches in length, not counting the leaf. If you have rooting hormone, apply some to the cut end of the petiole to help speed the rooting process.
Step 5: Set the cut end of the petiole into the hole at a 45-degree angle so that half an inch of the stem is beneath the soil. Gently press the soil around the cutting. (Leaf cuttings can be rooted in water in a similar manner.)
Step 6: Create a humid environment for your cutting by tenting a clear plastic bag over the pot, securing it around the bottom of the container with a rubber band (make sure the cutting isn't touching the plastic). Place the cutting in a spot with bright, indirect light, and keep the soil evenly moist. Remove the plastic every once in a while to let the cutting air out.
Step 7: After about three months, you should see tiny plants growing on the soil. Once the leaves on the new plants are about half an inch long, you can dig them up, rinse the roots, and replant them in African violet soil mix. In the right conditions, you should see flowers on the new plants after about five months.
Common Growing Problems
African violets are prone to fungal infections, which, luckily, are easy to spot. If your plant is suffering from a fungal infection, the leaves and flowers will appear either chalky and white or will have dark spots all over them. If you notice either of these symptoms, cut off the infected parts, and then use an anti-fungal spray. Another issue you may face with your African violet may be a lack of sunlight. If your plant isn't getting enough light, it won't produce many flowers. Try moving it to a sunnier area.