Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
February, 2006
Regional Report

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African violets are colorful, rewarding, and easy to propagate.

African Violets

They sit on your windowsill, spreading cheer with their colorful blooms. Native to East Africa, Saintpaulia, better known as the African violet, is a perennial that is commonly grown indoors. By far the most popular of flowering houseplants, African violets have been cultivated since Victorian times. If you love to watch things grow and don't mind a little special care, the rewards from this little plant are mighty.

African violets are fussy ... very fussy. Soil, light, and water temperature all must be addressed if you wish to be successful. All plants in the Saintpaulia family, including African violets and gloxinias, require a specific soil mix that drains quickly yet retains moisture. A commercial mix is easiest, however you can make your own by combining 3 parts peat moss, 1 part vermiculite, and 1 part compost.

The Required TLC
Watering an African violet is more of an art than a chore. Some people water from below, some water carefully around the base of the plant. The main thing is that not even one drop of water should ever fall on the velvety leaves. Also, the water should be room temperature or just a touch warmer. The key is to remove any standing water from the saucer after two hours. Talk about being a slave to your plants!

Humidity is mandatory for the health of this fuzzy-leaved beauty. Without ample humidity, African violets are susceptible to mealybugs and scale insects. I use a saucer filled with gravel under my plants. Water collects in the saucer, but the delicate roots are held safely above the standing water. Natural evaporation provides ample humidity to ensure a pest-free plant.

Let there be light! Filtered sun is best, but if your African violet is blooming in another location, leave it alone. An east-facing window is ideal.

Fertilize every other week with an acid plant food formulated specifically for African violets. The plants won't thrive on slow-release products or plant food stakes. Fertilize only when the soil is damp.

You can propagate these plants from seeds or leaf cuttings. I love to grow new African violets from leaf cuttings. It's very easy. Select a healthy medium-sized leaf and cut it off the plant with a sharp knife, including the petiole (the leaf stem). Make two or three slits on the veins on the underside of the leaf, then dust the cuts with rooting hormone. Lay the prepared cutting in a pot filled with damp, fresh African violet potting soil. Cover the pot with a clear plastic bag (to retain moisture and heat, like a miniature greenhouse!), and close the top of the bag with a rubber band. Set the prepared cutting in a warm location with filtered sun. You should begin to see growth in four to six weeks. Little leaves will pop out all along the leaf veins.

Is it worth the fuss and bother? You bet! There are few things in nature that can equal the exquisite blooms of this hardy little plant. Yes, African violets are fussy, and yes, they are old fashioned, but once your plant blossoms, I bet you'll become a fan!

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