How to grow and care for African Violet Indoors

Houseplant, African Violet

Botanical name: Saintpaulia

African Violets are a popular houseplants due to their ability to flower almost any time of the year. Their compact size allows them to fit in the small spaces. The major requirements for this plant are steady warmth, careful watering, good light, high humidity and regular feeding. To keep the plant thriving; keep the leaves off the windowpane, remove dead flowers and damaged leaves immediately, don't leave a stalk. Remove side shoots on older plants as soon as they develop to promote flowering. Keep the plant moderately pot-bound to promote flowering. Use a plastic pot to reduce water loss as they like the soil to be consistently moist.

Saintpaulias are of two types; the trailing types and the standard and miniature types. The trailing types have a main stem which divides into a multicrown plant. The leaves are more widely spaced than the foliage of the standard varieties. The flowers are usually smaller than those produced by the standard varieties. There are thousands of varieties for the standard types with a bewildering assortment of flower forms and colors. The parentage of these hybrids is complex; Saintpaulia ionatha and Saintpaulia confusa are the original species.

How to Grow African Violets

Light

African Violets prefer bright filtered light; 3 ft from a south- or west-facing window is ideal. Keep them away from direct sunlight. Regularly turn the pot to ensure the plant gets adequate light on all sides and thereby preventing it from becoming leggy as it reaches the light. African Violets will also thrive under flourescent light. Learn how to ensure your plant receives the correct light in this guide on understanding light for houseplants

Water

Keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy. Allow the top 1-2 in. of soil to dry out between waterings. Reduce watering during the cold period. Use tepid, chlorine-free water; African Violets are sensitive to chlorine and other chemicals dissolved in water. Avoid wetting the foliage; water from the bottom or use the immersion method. Wetting the foliage can lead to crown and stem rot. Learn more on how to water houseplants.

Temperature

African Violets prefer average warmth with a minimum of 150C. Protect them from cold and hot draughts. Find out more on temperature for houseplants.

Humidity

African Violets have no need for high humidity. However, for lush growth and to reduce pest infestation, set the pot on a wet pebble tray to raise humidity. Occasionally clean the leaves by gently brushing off the dust with a soft brush. Do not wash or mist the leaves as it can lead to crown and stem rot.

Feeding

Feed African Violets monthly with a phosphorous-rich fertilizer during the growing season to promote flowering. Withhold feeding during the cold season. Find out more on how to feed houseplants.

Repotting

Keep African Violets pot-bound to promote flowering. Repot during the growing period when the soil becomes compacted. Use a pot which is half as wide as the plant and free-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. Ensure the pot has a drainage hole to prevent waterlogging.

Pruning

Pruning African Violets is easy. Remove spent blooms and any side shoots to encourage development of more flowers. Get rid of dead leaves to keep the plant neat and tidy. Remove the bottom 2-4 leaves monthly to balance out the appearance and to encourage growth of new leaves. The leaves can be used to propagate new plants. The plants can be cut back at any time of the year to rejuvenate growth. Find out more on how to prune houseplants.

How to Propagate African Violets

African Violets can be propagated at the beginning of the growing season from leaf cuttings, seeds, offshoots or by division.

Propagating African Violets from leaf cuttings
Take an African Violet leaf cutting with the petiole still attached. Insert the leaf petiole in moist free-draining soil. Cover with a plastic bag to create a greenhouse effect. Place the set up in a warm brightly-lit place and maintain the soil moist through out. New plants should develop at the base of the petiole in about 5-8 weeks. Carefully seperate the new plants and plant them in individual pots. Place the set up in cool brightly-lit place and maintain the soil moist through out. Allow the plants to be well established before transplanting.

Propagating African Violets from seeds
Spread African Violet seeds evenly on moist free-draining soil and do not cover with any soil. Cover the set up with a plastic sheet to create a greenhouse effect. Place the set up in a warm brightly-lit place. Maintain the soil moist through out by gently misting the soil surface. Transplant the plants when the largest leaf is about 0.5 in. wide. Thinning of crowded seedlings can be done when the leaves are about 1/4 in. wide.

Propagating African Violets from offshoots
Carefully seperate the offshoot from the mother African Violet plant while ensuring it has enough roots. Pot it up in moist free-draining soil. Cover the set up with clear plastic to create a greenhouse effect. Place the set up in a warm brightly-lit place. Maintain the soil moist until the plant is well established. Occasionally open the plastic cover to allow air circulation and to prevent water condensation. Gradually remove the cover after 4 weeks to acclimatize the plant to ordinary growing conditions.

Propagating African Violets by division
Carefully divide a large African Violet plant into sections while ensuring each section has enough roots. Pot up these sections into individual pots in moist free-draining soil. Place the set up in a warm brightly-lit place. Maintain the soil moist until the plant is well established.

Common Problems in Growing African Violets

  • No flowers
  • There are several reasons for no flowers in African Violets. One reason is insufficient light; bright filtered light for about 12 hrs a day is necessary to coax African Violets to bloom. The second reason is improper feeding; African Violets need to be fed with a phosphorous-rich fertilizer every month to promote flowering. The third reason is very dry air; set the plant on a wet pebble tray to raise humidity. The fourth reason is too frequent repotting; African Violets bloom best when they are pot-bound. The fifth reason is failure to remove the side shoots; this causes the plant to divert energy to developing the shoots rather than the flowers. The sixth reason is very cold air; protect African Violets from cold draughts as average warmth is necessary for optimum growth and flowering.

  • Brown leaf spots
  • The cause of brown leaf spots in African Violets is water droplets during watering; avoid wetting the leaves or water from the bottom only.

  • Yellowing leaves
  • There are four reasons for yellowing leaves in African Violets. One reason is dry air; set the pot on a wet pebble tray to raise himidity. The second reason is too much sunlight; do not expose African Violets to direct sunlight. The third reason is incorrect watering; maintain the soil consitently moist and do not allow the soil ball to dry out completely. The fourth reason is overfeeding; feed African Violets monthly with a phosphorous-rich fertilizer.

  • Straw-colored patches on leaves
  • The reason for straw-colored patches on leaves in African Violets is too much direct sunlight. The leaf edges may also turn yellow and holes may develop on the leaves. Do expose African Violets to direct sunlight; the best light for African Violets is bright filtered light.

  • Pale green leaves with long stalks and curled leaf edges
  • The reason for pale green leaves with long stalks and curled leaf edges is too cold temperature; maintain average warmth for African Violets and protect them from cold draughts.

  • Limp leaves and rotten crown center
  • Limp leaves and a rotten crown center in African Violets is an indication of Crown Rot Disease due to overwatering and wide fluctuations in temperature. The disease is infectious and difficult to control, remove and destroy the plant as soon as possible.

  • Mouldy leaves and flowers
  • Mouldy leaves and flowers in African Violets is an indication of Botrytis or Powdery Mildew. Do not mist African Violets as moisture on the foliage creates suitable conditions for these diseases. Cut off diseased parts and keep the plant warm while ensuring good air circulation

  • Pests
  • Common pests in African Violets are Mealy Bugs, Fungus Gnats and Cyclamen Mites.

Toxicity

African Violets (Saintpaulia) are non-toxic to both humans and pets. They are safe to grow indoors.

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