Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
March, 2001
Regional Report

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African violets bloom in pastel colors that are perfect for spring in combination with other flowers for the table.

African Violets

African violets have been available for so long that I think sometimes they're overlooked as we seek something new and exotic to grow. But they make a terrific flowering houseplant and will bloom for long periods. I really enjoy them at this time of year--their pastel pinks, purples, blues, and whites look so pretty grouped with springtime flowers on the table.

The Right Light

African violets don't appreciate our intense sunlight beating on their foliage. An east-facing window with morning sun is ideal, or if they're growing in a southern or western window, provide filtered light.

Keep Them Moist

Keep the soil reasonably moist but not overly wet. I let the soil just barely dry out on the top between waterings. They also don't like their foliage or the center of the plant (the crown) to get wet, so apply water carefully to the soil surface or water from the bottom.

Some people swear that African violets prefer to be watered from the bottom. So they set pots on saucers, letting the roots soak up moisture. Others say that roots are more prone to salt burn with this method. My mom waters her African violets from the bottom and they're the size of a small cat. However, she lives in a part of the country that isn't plagued by heavy salts in the tap water the way we are in the Southwest. If you choose to water from the bottom, don't let water sit in the saucer for extended periods, as roots can become waterlogged, and use distilled water or rainwater to reduce salt buildup.

Feeding Violets

A regular fertilizer program is essential to keep African violets blooming. Some fertilizers are formulated especially for African violets, or you can use an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer that has a higher percentage of phosphorus than nitrogen, such as 5-10-5. Phosphorus promotes blooming, and African violets love to bloom. I use compost tea on my plants because it seems to create less salt buildup over time, and the flowers just keep on coming.

Leaching Salts

Since African violet roots are quite sensitive to salt, I leach the salts out of the pot once a month or so. I just place the container under the faucet and let water run slowly through the pot, forcing the salts out.

Keep On Blooming

I've found that increasing the humidity around the plants helps keep them blooming. I set pots on saucers with pebbles or put a pot inside a larger container with pebbles in the bottom. Then I keep an inch or so of water in the pebbles, making sure the level is low enough that the plant isn't absorbing it. The plants are very happy, and I can enjoy the flowers for even longer periods of time.

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