If you’ve ever tried to grow African Violets, or if you have friends who have, then you’ve probably heard or even told tales of frustration. African Violets have something of a reputation for being finicky and sensitive.
As summer winds down here in Iowa, you might be shifting your focus back to the care of your houseplants. Right now those pretty African violet blossoms on our garden center shelves are looking particularly lovely, and yet their reputation has some folks hesitating. Many of us have bought a plant with beautiful blooms, only to get it home and never see it bloom again. In reality, this is simply a symptom of being unfamiliar with that plant’s quirks and preferences. African violets may be particular, but caring for one is not quite rocket science.
That said, if you prefer houseplants that flourish under a bit of neglect, then they may not be the right houseplant for you. They require a little more attentive care than other plants, but we think their beautiful blossoms are worth the extra effort.
If you’re up for the challenge, we’ve prepared a guide to help you keep your treasured African violets blooming. We’ve noted their peculiarities, and if you follow these guidelines, yours should reward you with plenty of blossoms.
8 Simple Guidelines for Thriving African Violets
1. It’s best if they are watered from the bottom
If water gets on the leaves of African Violet, it will cause burns. Rather than trying to be careful with a watering can, its easier to water them from below. If you keep a saucer under your pot, you can fill it up with room temperature water. Let the pot soak in the water for an hour, and dump any excess water after the hour is up. Or, set the pot in the bottom of your sink or in a baking dish with about one inch of room temperature water. Don’t use cold water; it shocks them. African violets like to dry out between drinks, so feel the soil before you water. It should be dry to the touch within a half-inch of the soil surface.
2. They need air around their roots
African violets need soil that is light and airy, allowing them to breathe well. The soil should contain plenty of sphagnum peat moss (this is different than regular peat moss, which is usually rotted down, which would retain too much water) and perlite to help it drain well. Don’t mess around on this; get a specific African Violet soil mix.
3. They like breathable, shallow pots
Terra Cotta is ideal for African violets because the porous material allows the roots to breath better and prevents the soil from staying too wet. African Violet roots don’t go very deep; they like to go sideways, so don’t use a deep pot. Your pot must have suitable drainage holes so you can water from underneath. You can also get African Violet specific pots that have a terra cotta sleeve you plant in, and a water reservoir. Just remember not to leave them sitting in water for more than an hour.
4. They like to be a bit rootbound
African violets bloom best if they’re a little bit rootbound, but not too much. Ideally, the diameter of your pot should be about 1/3 of the width of the leaf spread of your violet. So if your violet is 12′ across, you’ll want about a 4″ pot. They should only be repotted about once a year or less depending on how much they’ve grown.
5. They like bright, indirect light
A north or east-facing window is best for an African violet in summer, in winter they may need to move nearer to a south window. Make sure its leaves don’t touch the glass—this may transfer the outdoor chill to the plant. A plant stand a few feet away from a window is best. In the winter, you may want to use a grow light to ensure your violet gets enough light. If you do use a grow light, make sure its 12-15″ above the plant, and on for about 14 hours a day. They do need a good 8 hours of darkness per day to keep blooming.
6. They need rotation
To make sure all the leaves get equal sunlight, you’ll want to turn your African violet a quarter turn once a week.
7. They need snacks
African violets need to be fed regularly with African violet-specific fertilizer to keep blooming. Every two weeks in the spring and summer, 3-weeks to once a month in fall and winter.
8. They like to be reasonably warm
If you keep the temperature in your house around 70˚F during the day and 65˚F at night, they should be happy.
African violets are particular, but it’s not that complicated to get them growing well. Their delicate fuzzy leaves and pretty purple, pink, or white blossoms are worth the trouble. For things like watering, fertilizing, and rotating, you can set alerts on your mobile phone calendar to remind you when to water, when to feed, and even when to turn them.
Fun Fact: Did you know that you can propagate African violets from leaves? Once you’ve got your African violet collection thriving, you can gift them to friends and pass on your expertise.
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Here’s a simplified recap for how to care for your African Violet:
- Don’t get the leaves wet
- Turn it a quarter turn every week (set a reminder on your phone!)
- Keep it warm, 65-70 degrees
- Water from the bottom when the soil is dry (set the pot in 1″ room temperature water for 1 hour)
- The pot size should be 1/3 plant width
- Use African Violet specific soil
- Feed every 2-3 weeks with African Violet fertilizer (set a reminder on your phone!)
- Terra-cotta pots are the best option
Have you picked up an African violet yet? Stop by our garden center to browse our beautiful selection of African violet varieties and supplies. We can get you set up with the right plant and the right tools to make caring for your African violet as fun, easy and convenient as possible.