In the Garden:
Growing African violets can become a lifetime hobby.
Depending upon our age, African violets were the preferred flowering houseplants of either our mothers or grandmothers. As such, it might be easy to dismiss them as old-fashioned, passe, or just plain boring. Upon second glance, however, there were valid reasons for their popularity: easy to grow, lots of flowers year-round, and long lived. So what's not to love?
My own African violet renaissance is currently in the making. I have several of those three-tiered plant stands for my sunroom. However, as my tropical plant collection has grown in size (height not number), they no longer fit on these shelves. Since I already have the shelves as well as the place to put them, it seems a shame for them not to be used. What to grow? More "regular" green houseplants wasn't a terribly exciting option. Flowering plants are such a pleasure in winter, but the seasonal ones don't last long. Certainly, more phalaenopsis orchids are an option, albeit a somewhat expensive one. But the African violets I already have bloom and flourish, so why not add more?
Perhaps you've been wanting more flowering houseplants, too. I urge you to consider trying a few African violets. I wouldn't be surprised to find out they've become one of your favorites. One of the delights of growing African violets is that they can readily become a lifetime companion, one that will also bring new friends as you share "starts" and tales of joy and woe.
If you've never grown African violets or have not had much success in the past, here are some guidelines and tips:
For those who own a light meter, the ideal range is 900 to 1100 foot candles. For the rest of us, the best definition is bright but not direct light. For years my mother grew a continually blooming miniature African violet in an east-facing kitchen window that got only morning sun. My aunt has blooming ones in her north window. So the best advice is to experiment. Buy a plant or two and see how they grow. If an African violet does not get enough light, it will stop flowering and the leaves will begin to turn yellow and have elongated stems. Some gardeners like to grow them under fluorescent lights, either full-spectrum bulbs or one cool-white and one warm-white in combination, and replace the bulbs annually. Also, be sure to remember that African violets need 8 hours of darkness each day in order to bloom.
Temperature and Humidity
What's comfortable for us is basically good for African violets. Ideally, 70 degrees F during the day and about 5 degrees cooler at night. Avoid either extremely dry or extremely moist air.
The soil your plant is growing in when purchased will be fine for quite awhile, but when repotting is necessary, use a well-draining, good-quality potting mix.
Watering is one of the slightly more tricky parts of growing African violets. The soil should be kept evenly moist but never soggy. Too much water and plants will rot. Too little and they'll just up and die. Use water at room temperature. Water that is too cold chills the roots, causing the leaves to curl down. Also, avoid getting water on the leaves as large droplets can produce brown spots. Don't use water that is either chemically softened or highly chlorinated. One solution is to keep a gallon jug of rainwater or distilled water for your African violets. An easy way to grow African violets is to use special pots that wick water up into the soil from below.
Although nutrients are needed for keeping plants in bloom, too much fertilizer can be harmful. It's important to drench the soil about once a month to wash away any excess fertilizer salts that have accumulated in the soil. Fertilizers specially formulated for African violets are a good choice, provided they are 100-percent water-soluble and that the nitrogen source is not urea. Urea, a cheap and common source of nitrogen, is known to cause root burn on African violets. Check the guaranteed analysis on the package label to see if urea is used.
Keep African violets looking their best by removing spent blooms and damaged leaves regularly. To maintain a symmetrical, single-crowned plant, remove suckers as you see them. Inspect for pests and treat as soon as you spot them. Houseplant sprays using pyrethrum, neem, or insecticidal soap will control most insects that bother these plants.
For More Information
The African Violet Society of America has copious amounts of information on their Web site at http://www.avsa.org. Although there are number of well-written books on African violets, I tend to refer to one of my favorites, Helen Van Pelt Wilson's African-Violet Book, out of print but widely available from online used book sources.
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