by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
African violets are one of my favorite houseplants. Their care takes little effort, they do not take up a lot of space and they bless me during the winter with beautiful blooms.
A pleasing temperature for these houseplants is 65 to 80 degrees. Anything above or below this will reduce blooming. They like strong, bright light, but keep them away from direct sunlight as this can cause scorching of the leaves. I keep mine near an east and south facing window.
African violets are a bit picky when it comes to how they like their water. Not too cold or too hot, room temperature is best. They are not fond of chlorine either. If your tap water is chlorinated, let it stand at least 24 hours to allow the chlorine gases to evaporate. This will also allow the water to come to room temperature. Let the soil dry out slightly before watering, then water them from the bottom by setting the pot into a tray or bowl of water. I can tell by lifting my African violet when it needs to be watered. It is much lighter when the soil is dry than when it is wet. They can be watered from the soil line too but be very careful not to splash water on the leaves.
Use African Violet food or a food with a higher phosphorus number, which is the middle number in a fertilizer ratio. Reduced flowering and paler leaf color are indications that your African Violet is not getting enough fertilizer. Follow label directions for frequency of use.
A light, airy soil texture is important to a vigorous root system in African violets. In their native habitat they grow with much air reaching their roots. Equal parts of peat moss, vermiculite and perlite is ideal. African violets do not like to be placed in a too large pot. In most cases roots only grow one third the diameter of the leaves and they do not grow very deep.
African Violets grow from the plant tip. As new growth grows from the top, a lot of energy is used, and the old leaves around the bottom tend to die off. After some time this can leave you with a long necked plant. For plants that have up to an inch of bare stem, remove it from the pot and cut off any dead or damaged foliage. With a knife, gently scrape away the top layer of the stem. Exposing the inner cambium layer promotes growth. Dust the scraped area with a rooting hormone, then replant it deeply enough so the neck is under the soil and the foliage is just above the soil line.
Remove spent flowers to encourage more blooms.
Thrips and mealybugs are their main pests to keep a watch for. They are both very small, about the size of a printed dash. If you spot any pests, a rinse with lukewarm, soapy water may help or dab them with a cotton swab soaked with alcohol.
There are so many different kinds of African violets to choose from with many different leaf shapes and flower colors and combinations. For more information about the classes and cultivars visit the African Violet Society of America’s website at www.avsa.org.
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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