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How to Grow and Care for African Violets

African violets in pots

Christina Schmidhofer / Getty Images

African violets are some of the most beautiful houseplants you can grow. While they're not quite as simple to care for as many beginner plants, this attractive flowering houseplant can thrive in your space with the right growing conditions and a few basic care 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 a few blooms year-round.

  • 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

Plant Care

Watering tends to be the challenging part of caring for African violets for first-time 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 feels dry. When you first bring your plant home, check the soil moisture 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 it from the top, be sure to water the soil directly to avoid getting the leaves wet. If you decide to water it from the bottom, place the pot in a saucer of water for about four hours—just don't forget to remove it from the water so the pot can drain when it's time. 

Fertilize your African violet every month with a balanced houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength. Check the label to ensure it doesn't contain urea nitrogen, which can damage the plant's roots. Always water from the top when adding fertilizer.

Always use lukewarm water to give your African violet a drink, because cold water can cause unattractive spots to form on its foliage.

Best Growing Conditions for African Violets

African violets need bright, indirect light to thrive, so growing yours as a window plant is best. 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, but windows on the south or west sides of your home can also be suitable if used with a sheer curtain to diffuse the stronger light.

African violets thrive in high humidity. If the climate in your space 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 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. You can also run a humidifier nearby or grow it as a bathroom plant to offer extra moisture from the shower.

The best way to tell if your plant is underwatered is by feeling the soil to see if it's dry, but you might also notice signs like frail, crisped leaves that curl on the ends. On the other hand, leaves can appear mushy and stems may lean down and feel soft when this plant has too much water in its pot.

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. 

African violets grow best with temperatures no lower than the high 60s at night. Temperatures below 55 degrees can kill these tropical plants, so be sure to avoid cold or drafty spaces.

Types of African Violets

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 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. Rosette African violets generally grow upward, while 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 Violets

It's best to propagate African violets during the springtime at the start of the growing season. Though plants with multiple crowns in one pot can be divided, the process can be more challenging than with many houseplants. The easiest way to propagate your plant is by leaf cuttings. Here's how:

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 1-inch 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, then snap the petiole off from the base of the crown using your fingers. 

Step 4: Using clean, sharp gardening shears or pruners, trim the petiole so that it's 1 to 1.5 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 Problems With African Violets

African violets are known for being finicky when it comes to watering, but you can also run into a few more common growing problems with this species. Improper light exposure, fungal infections, and pest infestations can cause African violets to appear unhealthy or impede flowering. Here's how to diagnose and treat your plant:

Yellowing Leaves and Stunted Flowering

Watering the plant directly on the leaves can cause them to yellow, so this is a great place to start if you notice the changing colors. Change your watering practices to ensure only the soil is moistened.

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, and its leaves will also begin to yellow. Try moving it to a sunnier area, still taking care to avoid any harsh, direct rays from the sun.

Fungal Infections

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 use an anti-fungal spray.

Pest Infestations

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. When dealing with these mites, it's best to start fresh with a healthy new plant. Bag the affected plant in plastic and throw it in the trash to keep the infestation from spreading to your other specimens (never compost plants with pests).

Potting and Repotting African Violets

This species is known for dropping its older leaves about twice per year, meaning that it's time for a new pot to discourage leggy, top-heavy growth. When repotting for the purpose of keeping your plant full and healthy, use the same size container.

While African violets are generally slow growers, they can also live for decades, so your plant will eventually outgrow its pot. If the foliage is obviously becoming too large for its container, roots are growing at the surface, or roots are growing from the pot's drainage holes, it's time to use a larger pot.

It's best to repot this plant when it is not actively growing, so plan to transplant your African violets in the fall and right before the spring season begins to encourage healthy growth year-round. Use a commercial African violet mix or combine equal parts African violet mix with perlite or vermiculite. Be careful not to damage your plant's delicate root ball when repotting, gently removing it from its pot and shaking away excess soil before placing it in its new container.

How to Get African Violets to Bloom

A healthy African violet plant will readily flower throughout the year, producing fewer blooms in the winter than during the growing season. Pinch (or deadhead) dying flowers from the plant periodically to encourage new growth.

If you notice that your African violet isn't flowering, it’s a good idea to take note of your growing conditions: Dim light is usually the cause of this issue. African violet leaves typically grow flat against the soil, so if you see them straining to grow upward, that's a sign that they're not getting enough light.

An overcrowded pot or night temperatures in your space that fall below 65 degrees can also prevent flowering. Rootbound plants have a harder time soaking in moisture from the soil, so gently lift the plant from its pot to check its roots. Ensure the soil stays consistently moist (but not soggy) and fertilize once per month. If the temperatures aren't warm enough for your plant, try moving it to an area that stays warmer and receives enough indirect sunlight for blooming to take place.


Do African Violets Need Direct Sunlight?

African violets grow best with bright, indirect sunlight. Direct sunlight can damage these plants and burn their leaves. Opt for a north- or east-facing window when growing your African violets for best results.

Are African Violets Hard to Care For?

While they're known for being finicky, African violets are relatively simple to care for when provided with the right light and water requirements. It's also helpful to fertilize these plants once per month (diluting the fertilizer to half-strength) to keep them healthy.

How Often Should African Violets Be Watered?

African violets should be watered based on soil moisture rather than using a dedicated schedule. It's important to ensure this plant has consistently moist soil at all times, adding water when the surface begins to feel dry. However, too much water can also cause growing problems. Use a pot with plenty of drainage holes in the bottom to help prevent water from pooling around your African violet's roots.

How Long Can African Violets Live?

When grown in the best conditions, African violets can live upwards of 50 years. Since this species regularly drops its old leaves, it's necessary to repot it twice per year and prune (or deadhead) any dying flowers to encourage healthy growth over long periods of time.