African violet

African violet

The African Violet is an extremely common houseplant. The African Violet is characterized by low-growing, heart shaped hairy leafed foliage remaining fairly oval in overall shape. African Violets are available in many varieties with flowers ranging from pink to blue to the traditional violet. Foliage can range from dark green to variegated.

African Violets prefer moderate to bright indirect sunlight. Keep them near an east or west window for best results. Aim to provide your African Violet with at least 8 hours of sunlight a day. If your African Violets foliage begins to yellow and the plant seems to be reaching, it is probably not getting enough light. On the reverse side, if the foliage begins to have brown spots or the foliage curls, the plant may be receiving too much light.

African Violets prefer their soil semi-moist. Allow the soil to slightly dry out in-between watering for best results. One trick with watering African Violets is you want to avoid getting water on the foliage. Water either from the bottom, such as a water tray in which the water can be seeped up or directly on the dirt. Either way the goal is to avoid getting the foliage wet. If water does get on the leaves it will usually leave white spots. Be sure to try and use room temperature or warm water instead of cold.

African Violets prefer higher humidity levels and usually do well in temperatures between 62° and 75°. Try not to let the temperature drop below 60°. Also, as with most houseplants, keep them away from vents and entry ways.

This houseplant also prefers its own special soil mix. Most garden centers have African Violet soil mixtures already pre-packaged for you. This houseplant also prefers some root for its roots, so make sure it has enough space to prevent becoming root bound.

As like their soil, there are also special fertilizer and plant food mixtures for this plant. I have always just used my normal Miracle Gro houseplant food but that's just me.

To encourage new blooms, pinch off dead blossoms and their stems.

This houseplant is known to have some pest problems. Mealybugs and red spiders are the most common pests. If you begin to see a problem on your plant, I would suggest using specific insecticides labeled for African Violets. I personally haven’t had a pest problem with this plant so I cannot say if my homemade soapy dishwater mixture works or not. If you have solutions, please post comments below and share with other readers.


Temperature Requirements

One reason the African Violet is such an ideal houseplant is that it likes the same temperatures as people do. I keep my house about 20 degrees C. during the day and lower the temperature to about 15 degrees C. at night and the Saintpaulia are thriving. African Violets will tolerate day temperatures up to about 85 degrees F, but like cooler temperatures at night. Sixty-five degrees F. is ideal. According to the University of Nebraska's Nebguide on African Violets, however, the plants will become stunted at temperatures lower than this and will be slow to recover even when put into a warm place.

Light Requirements

These plants are also easygoing houseguests because they don't need direct sunlight. They do need good light, but hot, direct sunlight can scorch them and cause unsightly leave blemishes. My aunt always said that an East-facing windowsill was best.

In African Violets, H. C. Jones and C. A. Conover state that African Violets need about 1000 foot-candles of light for 8 to 12 hours per day for best growth and flowering, and explain how to tell from the appearance of the plants whether or not the light level is satisfactory. If the light is too low, the leaves are usually deeper in color and thinner than leaves on plants receiving higher levels of diffused light. The plants may grow well but will flower poorly or not at all. If the plants are getting too much light, the leaves become pale or yellowish green, are much lighter than normal, and some leaves may show dark areas where they have been shaded by other leaves. Growth at high light levels is slowed and although flowering may continue freely for a while it will eventually decrease due to chlorophyll destruction.

You can test the intensity of the light your African Violets are receiving by putting your hand between the plant and the window, with the back of your hand toward the light. The light should be bright enough to cast a shadow but not so bright as to feel hot on the back of your hand. If the light levels are insufficient, you may want to invest in artificial lighting.

Watering

The fastest way to kill African Violets is to overwater them. For this reason, watering them on a fixed schedule, such as every Saturday, is a bad idea. Instead, feel the soil around your plants, and water if the top is dry. You want to avoid getting the leaves wet when you water (which will also cause unsightly blemishes), so the best way to water is from the bottom. When the time is right, I just fill the saucers beneath my African Violet pots. Once the plant has absorbed the water, (sometimes in seconds), I refill the saucer. Be sure to use tepid water rather than cold as the plants don't like water that is too hot or too cold.

If you've just bought an African Violet, you may want to repot it as soon as possible. The African Violet Society of America warns that the potting mix most commercially sold violets are grown in, which consists primarily of peat moss, can easily drown your plant in water. These prepared mixes have been sprayed with a chemical that causes the peat moss to absorb water, and then release it slowly to the plant. The problem is that the chemical only lasts three to six months, and once it loses its effectiveness the peat moss will tend to either hold too much water or none at all. So if you don't want to lose your African Violet after six months, repot it to save it from drowning.

Feeding

African Violets, like many houseplants, need to be fertilized regularly; in fact, if you're using a soilless potting mix, you should feed them every time you water them. You can buy special African Violet fertilizer or follow the recommendation of the African Violet Society of America and use a 20-20-20 fertilizer at half the suggested dosage. The Society also recommends letting the bottle of fertilizer you've mixed stand at least overnight to let the chlorine in the water evaporate, and bring the water to room temperature, a handy tip as African Violets do not like chlorine either.

Potting

Whether potting your new African Violet guests or repotting your old friends, the first consideration is the preparation of the potting medium as drainage is critical. If you're using soil, a mixture composed of about two parts fertile loam, one part leaf mold or peat, and one part sand or perlite is ideal according to Donald H. Steinegger, Extension Horticulturist for the University of Nebraska. The African Violet Society of America recommends using a mix of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 perlite. You can also buy pre-packaged African Violet soil mixes.

The second consideration is the size of the pot you're going to use, as Saintpaulia must be potbound to bloom. Choose a pot that is 1/3 the diameter of the plant. A pot of the proper size also helps prevent root rot.

To keep your African Violets healthy, they need to be repotted every six months or so. (I repot mine once a year and they don't seem to mind the delay.) This gives the plants new nutrients through having fresh soil, and helps get rid of fertilizer salts that may have built up. If one of your African Violets has developed a neck, a bare place where the leaves have been taken off, you should repot it as soon as possible so the neck is covered with soil and can grow new roots.

Propagation

Propagation is often the downfall of African Violet collectors; it's so easy they end up with a roomful of plants before they know it. The most common method of propagation is by leaf cutting in spring. Any healthy, firm leaf will do. Remove the entire leaf with petiole (leaf stem) by snapping or cutting it off at the stem of the plant and trim the petiole to about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Then make a hole in the growing medium (such as a half sand, half vermiculite mix) with a pencil, insert the leaf stem into the hole, and water thoroughly. According to Jones and Conover, roots normally appear at the petiole base in 3 to 4 weeks under good conditions and leaves of the new plants appear at the medium surface 3 to 4 weeks after root formation. In two to six months, young plants start from the bases of the stalks, which you'll be able to repot once they've formed two to three leaves.

African Violets may also be propagated by division. Simply cut each crown away from the plant carefully so that each plant has its portion of the root system, and plant each division in whatever African Violet potting mix you're using.

Flowers.  A good plant will bloom for nine months, and rest for three.  They get tired too.  If your beautiful flowers fall off for no reason, you might have aphids.  Aphids are little white to light green dust looking insects.   They like the soft part in the middle of the flowers.  Unfortunately, that is the part that holds the flower on.  Mix a light mixture of "approved insecticide" and water and spray the entire plant.  The mixture must be at room temperature and follow the directions on the bottle!  If you find any ladybugs, take them inside and give them your plants.  They love to eat aphids and they won't hurt anything.  Pick off dying flowers, if dead flowers stay on the plant new flowers will not form as you would like.

Common Name: African Violet
Scientific Name: Saintpaulia ionantha
Lighting: Moderate to Bright
Watering: Moderate


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