Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
January, 2001
Regional Report

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African violet is one of the most rewarding houseplants to grow. With a little extra light and care, it can bloom year round in your home.

Revisiting the African Violet

To be honest, I hadn't thought about growing African violets for a very long time. Then, the other night, I visited the home of a cousin who had a table full of glorious African violets in full bloom. And last week our local Louisville, Kentucky, newspaper ran an article on African violets, so it seems the fates are encouraging me to grow this lovely, companionable houseplant.

African Violet Plants

Native to an area of rain forest on the border of Kenya and Tanzania, the African violet is not really a violet but a member of the Gesneriad family. These plants grow well under normal house temperatures (no lower than 55F at night nor above 75F during the day). They form a low 8- to 12-inch rosette of rounded, slightly scalloped-edged, fuzzy leaves. There are also miniature and cascading types.

African Violet Flowers

Blooming almost continuously, flower colors range from violet to various shades of blue, red-purple, pink, and white, plus bicolors. Normally, the 1- to 2-inch flowers have five petals, but there are double forms, plus blooms with ruffled edges. The flowers on miniature types are smaller - about 1/2 inch across.

Perhaps the only caveat about African violets is that some people just can't seem to grow them, no matter what they do. My mother, who is an excellent gardener, often struggles with them. Even with that in mind, however, African violets deserve a try if you enjoy stunning flowers indoors almost year round.

Watering and Lighting

African violets grow well with continuously moist soil but must not stand in water. One way to accomplish this is to use a special "wicking pot" that has a water reservoir and a wick that goes into the pot. The water slowly wicks from reservoir to soil, keeping the plant healthy. If you water normally, avoid getting the leaves wet and use warm water. Use a light, porous potting soil designed for violets.

Morning light is often recommended for violets. They also do well under a table or desk lamp, or a fluorescent fixture with one warm and one cool white tube. Don't place violets closer than 12 inches to a window, as the plants can get too much heat, light, or cold.

Fertilizer Basics

Part of my cousin's success with violets is based on adding seven drops of a common liquid fertilizer to about a pint of water every time she waters. This translates to about one-quarter strength. However, excess fertilizer salts can build up on the rims of clay pots and kill the leaves that touch them. Some simple remedies include periodically flushing the pot with fresh water, scraping off the residue, putting aluminum foil collars on the pots, or using plastic pots.

Making More African Violets

African violets seem to grow best if repotted twice a year. Remove tiny extra crowns or suckers and avoid cold drafty locations. African violets are propagated from leaf cuttings, the leaf stem planted directly into potting mix. Put a plastic bag over the pot for a week or two, to maintain humidity.

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