Houseplant Spotlight: African Violet
A true flowering houseplant that will bloom again and again year round.
Like many houseplants African Violets want moderate to bright but indirect sunlight. A North or West facing windowsill could be perfect. A brighter window from a South or East facing window can also work if sheer curtains or blinds are provided to help filter the light. An African violet receiving too much sunlight will develop brown spots on the leaves similar to a sunburn however not receiving enough light will stop blooming and the leaves will turn yellow. They can also thrive under artificial lights using two tube fluorescent lights places 12”-18” above the plants for 12-13 hours a day. African Violets have a tendency to grow towards the light so care should be taken to rotate the plant ¼ turn every week (or when watering) to keep them centered.
Correctly watering African Violets is key to keeping them happy and flowering. They don’t like to dry out so aim to keep the soil moist without being soggy. For best results use filtered room temperature water that is at least 24 hours old to allow a chance for chlorine to dissipate. Cold water can shock the roots and cause the leaves to curl in and if the cold water splashes on the leaves it can damage the plant tissue and cause spotting. Warm water won’t damage the leaves unless sunlight hits it and through the magnification of the water droplet causes a sunburn. I like to use a plastic watering bottle with a long narrow spout that can get poke under the leaves directly onto the soil.
Some African violets can benefit from self watering container or bottom watering devices which allow the plant to suck up water from the bottom as needed. This can be very handy for keeping the plant in a constant state of hydration but you don’t want them sitting constantly in water.
African violets will wilt if too dry. This doesn’t hurt the plant but it can cause premature bud loss. If the violets are allowed to dry out for too long the soil can become hydrophobic which means it will repel water and be slow to suck it up. Simply fill a bowl or saucer with an inch of room temperature water and allow the African violet to soak for 10 minutes or so until it stops bubbling.
Fertilize African Violets twice a month year round with a 20-20-20 balanced fertilizer go half strength if the plant is bone dry or the plant may suck up too many nutrients. With the constant cycle of blooming and growing African violets really benefit from a quality fertilizer.
The best soil for African Violets is loose and airy with room for drainage. Good mixes are generally composed of peat moss, vermiculite and perlite
Native to Africa, African violets are members of the Gesneriaceae family and found in the foothills to about 7,000 feet in elevation in the tropical Eastern African Mountains in Tanzania
Some might consider African Violets to be fussy and high maintenance and indeed they aren’t a set-it-and-forget-it type of plant. However, these plants can thrive in a house setting because what’s pleasant habitat for them (bright indirect light, constant temperature between 65 and 75 degrees, tepid water, regular water) is pleasant habitat for most people so it’s likely you already have the perfect habitat ready for them.
Repotting and reblooming:
Many Gesneriaceae growers swear by repotting the plants every 6 months to a year. As the plants grow they continue developing new leaves and buds from the top of the plant while older leaves lower on the trunk or ‘neck’ of the plant begin to die off leaving a bare spots while the leaves begin to lift higher and higher from the base. Repotting means taking the plant out of the pot, cutting off the bottom portion of the root ball so the plant can be pushed further down into the pot covering up the ‘neck’ portion of the plant. New soil is added to the top of the pot so the ‘neck’ can begin developing roots and the lowest ring of leaves are even with the pot rim. Mature violets are replanted back into their original pot while young violets may size up into larger pots.
African Violets have a few specific care requirements but if properly cared for will bloom year round for 50 years or more.