Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
November, 2006
Regional Report

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African violets are easygoing plant guests.

African Violets as Houseguests

As the weather turns cold and outside garden activities are at a low ebb, this is a good time to focus on refreshing the indoor landscape. I always marveled at my grandmother's ability to take a leaf cutting from her African violet and root it in a glass of water. That little leaf would grow into a plant that would produce clusters of little purple violets. This wonderment made me more inquisitive about growing these indoor plants. African violets can grow, thrive, and bloom in almost any home if you follow some basic routines.

Over the years, some misconceptions have persisted about growing African violets:

* Only special growing media can be used for African violets.
* African violets need a rest period when they're not in bloom.
* Always water violets from the bottom.
* Special fertilizers are required for African violets.

It's time to debunk these myths.

Potting Mixtures
The potting mixture is a very important consideration but any good quality, sterilized or pasteurized pre-packaged soilless mix will work. Good drainage is key to success with violets, so if you're inclined to make your own mix, the African Violet Society of America recommends using one-third peat moss, one-third vermiculite, and one-third perlite.

African violets don't need direct sunlight, which makes them ideal for most home situations. They do require good light to bloom, but not the hot, direct sunlight that can scorch the leaves. My grandmother said an east window was the best place to grow them. If the light is too low, the foliage will be deeper in color and thinner than leaves on plants receiving higher levels of diffused light. Flowering will be sparse under low light. If plants get too much light, the leaves will turn yellow or much lighter than normal. Some leaves may show darker areas where the leaves are shaded by other foliage.

A simple way to test for light intensity is to put your hand between the plant and window, with the back of your hand toward the light. Light should be bright enough to cast a shadow, but not so bright as to feel hot on the back of your hand. If you find that you don't have enough light in your home, artificial lighting works very well..

Change the placement of plants to use varying natural light intensities so your plants will keep flowering. They are not seasonal in their bloom and do not require a rest period.

One of the quickest ways to stress or kill African violets is to overwater them. The surface of the growing medium should be moist to the touch at all times, but not overly wet. An exact watering schedule is not practical because of variations in room temperature, light, and humidity. Apply water when the surface of the medium begins to feel dry.

Plants can be watered from either the top or bottom. The most important aspect is to thoroughly saturate the growing medium each time water is applied. A disadvantage of bottom watering is the accumulation of chemicals on the rim of the container or the surface of the soil brought up by capillary action. IF you prefer to water from the bottom, be sure to occasionally apply water to the surface to dissolve soluble salts and purge them through the soil and into the drainage water.

Since African violets are native to tropical climates, they require warmth -- from 65 to 70 degrees F at night and several degrees higher during the day. Plants next to windows can be protected from extreme cold by installing a sheet of plastic between the plants and the glass. Move plants away from single-paned windows on extremely cold nights.

Using a complete fertilizer is the most reliable way to supply the nutrients plants need for the food manufacturing process. Fertilizer ratios of 15-30-15 or 20-20-20 are suitable for violets. Wait until two months after purchasing a plant before beginning a regular fertilizer application. Don't apply fertilizer to dry potting mix, moisten the soil first. Water the plants generously with a soluble fertilizer solution every six to eight weeks. Overfertilization can damage plant roots severely, resulting in buds failing to develop, wilting of foliage, yellow-green color, and leaf margins turning brown.

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