Wednesday, February 15, 2017

African Violets



African Violets have a special place in my heart. As newlyweds, I had a row of them along the one and only window in our first apartment. The ones with pink, purple and maroon flowers were my absolute favourites, but all my violets did really well despite the lack of ideal growing conditions. Always there seemed to be a least a few plants with flowers.


African Violets were a very affordable purchase for a newlywed. Even today, you should still be able to find a plant for $5 or less.

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.

Care Basics:


African Violets do have a few quirks, but they are pretty easy to grow.

Light: African violets like bright, indirect sunlight. Full sun will scorch their foliage. A north or east facing window is the perfect choice.

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).



Watering:

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.)

Ongoing Care:


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:


Not enough light–If an African Violet does not get enough light, it will stop flowering and its leaves may become elongated or turn yellow.

Too big a pot–African Violets bloom better when they are slightly pot bound.

Other Possible Problems:


Overwatering is one of the most common problems associated with African Violets. They like moist soil, but don't like it when the soil is soggy and wet.

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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10 comments:

  1. It is so sweet that you have such fond memories of African Violets and still enjoy them today, and your post provides a wealth of good information. For some reason, I have not had much luck with these lovely indoor flowers. I have learned that watering from the bottom and using a smaller pot are crucial, but they only seem to last a short time for me. I think I will have to give them another chance using your advice! Your plants and blooms are beautiful!

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    1. You have such a green thumb Lee I can't imagine it is any lack of care on your part. Perhaps it is a matter of finding the perfect spot in the house for them.

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  2. African violets were the first plants that I kept as a young teenager.
    I always had really good luck with them, and I'm not sure why, but I have not had one in many years. This post and these beautiful photographs bring back wonderful memories (I was always so proud of myself when they bloomed!).
    Time to look for some African Violets!
    Thank you, Jennifer!
    xo.

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    1. I am sure those violets helped make you into the gardener you are Lisa. Hope you can find a few nice plants.

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  3. I've always loved them and had many of them around the house. Until Max that is. Max the flower eating cat. The moment a bud appears on my violets, he notices and eats it. Why do I have pets again???! Thanks for all the tips. :)

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    1. I guess I should be grateful that the dogs ignore plants both inside and out. Piper is turning out to be a digger though, so I can appreciate your frustration Anne.

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  4. African Violets make me think of my mom--she had quite a collection.

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    1. African Violets were part of my childhood too. My Mom always had a big collection of houseplants including a couple of African Violets.

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  5. OMG that variety with the pink margins is a wonderful beautiful one. I haven't seen it here, if i do i might be tempted to try it again. It also reminds me of Hippeastrum 'Picotee', which i still cannot hold of yet. When still in undergrad days i also have some african violet collections, sometimes we just exchange the leaves and they become plants soonest than we realize. Thanks.

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  6. Great post on the African violets. I have three very large ones and they bloom all the time. I have them in my kitchen window that faces north/east and they love it there.
    They never disappoint me. Your are beautiful.
    Mary

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