The Q&A Archives: African violets

Question: Where should they be placed in the house? Window or table? I live in a wooded area & not much sunlight.

Answer: African violets are one of America's most popular houseplants. Under the right growing conditions, they are able to bloom almost continuously indoors. They are also available in a wide range of flower colors, leaf types, and growth habits (trailing, miniature, standard, etc.).

No matter which flower color, leaf type, or habit you select, the care for all types of African violets is similar. While these are relatively easy to grow houseplants, they do require consistent care.

Proper light is essential for good bloom. African violets require more light than most growers first realize. Thin, dark, blue-green leaves with long petioles indicate insufficient light levels. While moderate light is needed, direct light for long periods can be damaging as well. Too much light produces leaves that are small, crinkled, leathery, and yellow with short petioles on stunted plants. Generally, north and eastern exposures are best for African violets. However, if these exposures are not possible, African violets perform beautifully under artificial lights as well. Fluorescent lights suspended approximately 8 inches above the plants for 12 to 16 hours per day will produce sufficient light to initiate blooms in African violets.

African violets require temperatures between 65 and 80F. Typically, temperatures below 50 F will cause leaves to darken, become water-soaked, and wither. Temperatures above 85F will slow growth and flowering of African violets and may injure the leaves as well. Water temperature becomes important during the winter months, as cold water directly on the leaves will damage them quickly.

Watering African violets is often the most difficult part of their care. They require a moist, well-drained soil. If the soils are too wet, the plants may rot. If plants are too dry, they will not grow or flower well. Many people sub-irrigate African violets. This means placing the plant in a saucer of water and allowing the plant to soak up water from the bottom of the pot. This prevents injury from cold water on the leaves and insures the entire soil profile is moist. However, care must be taken not to allow the plants to sit for long periods in water as they may rot quickly. Allow the top inch of the soil to dry before sub-irrigating again. African violets can also be watered from the top if room temperature water is used and the foliage remains dry. In fact, it is recommended to irrigate from the top occasionally to prevent salt accumulation.

Regular fertilization is needed to encourage plants to bloom throughout the year. A complete fertilizer at a low rate is recommended. Excessive fertilization leads to vigorous vegetative growth, poor flowering, and the accumulation of salts in the soil. The accumulation of salts can ultimately damage or destroy foliage. Flush soils occasionally with clear water to eliminate salt buildup in the soil.

A loose, porous, fertile soil or soilless mix that is slightly acidic (6.0 or 6.5) is needed for growing African violets. Peat-based soils that have been pasteurized are best. Garden or field soil is not satisfactory alone since it is often poorly drained and compacts easily. Many commercial soiless mixes are available. Refer to soils for houseplants (PM 713f) for more recipes for mixing your own soils.

African violets make great houseplants. With a proper environment and regular care they will reward you with blooms all year.

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