• Growing African Violets

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    African Violets on table

    My first violet collection, year 2000

    I’ve been growing African Violets since, well… the turn of the century! 😉 And I can confidently say that if you’re capable of watering a potted plant once per week, you might be surprised that you can grow these lovely little beauties. They’re generally easy to grow and reward your attention with many colorful blossoms.

    Though they grow well in natural light, I’ve found that they actually prefer fluorescent light. In fact, the most gorgeous violets I’ve ever grown were raised in a basement which saw almost no natural light at all. (By gorgeous, I mean more leaves and more frequent blossoming.) This makes them a fantastic choice for a plant to grow on your office desk!

    General care: Get an African violet recently? Most violets that you get from a store will be pretty low maintenance for quite a while. Find a cozy location in your home or office that gets bright indirect light (not direct sunlight), or at least 8 hours of bright fluorescent light (don’t bother spending extra on special grow-light bulbs). Water with tap water once per week. Violets will flower once or twice per year. Trim off the spent blossoms.

    Care for happier violets: Violets tolerate average home/office temperatures (between 60 and 80 degrees F), though they tend to prefer the warmer side of that range. African violets grown on the cooler side of that range will have a tendency to grow more compact and look less healthy. As a general rule, water once a week with lukewarm water without getting the leaves wet. Fertilize with a mild fertilizer (I use liquid Miracle Gro for African Violets) once or twice per month to encourage more blooms more frequently. I’ve had violets that will bloom every two or three months. One neat trick is to have several violets in your house, then you will almost always have one blooming.

    Common problems and their causes: The most common problem I’ve had with African violets is losing leaves. This generally tends to happen when I over or under water the violet.

    • Rotting or withering leaves: It’s likely the soil is either too wet or too dry. Either of these issues causes some of the roots to die and leaves the plant unable to support all of its leaves. To avoid these problems, don’t plant in an “African Violet pot” or a pot that does not drain. Instead, plant in a pot that drains well. For best results, put the plant in a catch pot and water from below. Even if you water from above, make sure excess water doesn’t stay in your catch pot for more than a day. (Usually I’ll leave mine over night and by the next day the violet has sucked up all the water that I gave it.) Another tip to healthy leaved violets is to have a healthy potting medium. I’ve seen the best results from potting medium that is half peat moss and half regular potting soil (which also contains peat moss).
    • Tracks on leaves: Leaves look like something has been eating away at them. This is usually caused by the leaves getting wet. Sunlight (and even some florescent light) can burn the leaves when magnified from beads of water. Sometimes water with fertilizers or other additives can also burn leaves. A good way to avoid burning the leaves is to water from the bottom or be very careful to keep water from getting on the leaves when you water from above. Watering in the evenings after the sun has set (or just before lights go out) can help some.
    • Faded leaves: Too much light may make leaves look faded and dull. I’ve had them under lights with other tropicals and they didn’t seem to like that much.
    • Curled leaves: Some varieties of African Violets have curly leaves by design, but if you’re pretty sure yours doesn’t, it will be obvious. Often I’ve found that the leaf curling will be accompanied by faded coloring. I’ve had a couple of these that I could just not get to snap out of it until I repotted them. I think it was a combination of problems… old depleted potting medium that didn’t hold water very well, poor light, and cool temperatures.
    • Pests and diseases: I can’t say I’ve ever had any problem with pests or diseases, though I’ve heard of it happening. Leaf Borers are one I’ve heard of. They shave the fuzz off of your poor little violet’s leave and eat holes through them. Sounds like a miserable afliction. 😛

    Making Babies: And yes, to stay true to the cliche’, making babies is fun. 🙂 You can propagate African violets by snipping off a leave and putting it in a vase of water. After a month or so, you will see fine roots begin coming off of the submerged stem. A few weeks later, you will begin to see bunches of tiny leaves begin growing underwater where the stem and the roots connect. When the leaves get around dime sized, you can take the leave and her babies and plant them in a small pot. Keep the potting medium moist as the leaves grow. In another month or two the leaves will be about the size of quarters. You can carefully dig up the mother leaf with her babies. Separate the babies with a clean, sharp paring or Exacto knife and put each one in its own pot. Each baby should have at least one root of its own. Trim the bottom off the mother leaf and put her back in the vase to start over, if you want more babies. Keep the babies’ potting medium moist. (Please note that some African Violets are patented plants and you should not propagate them.)

    Pregnant plants: Ok, not really pregnant, but similar. Another way to propagate is, of course, by seed. From time to time you might notice that instead of wilting, a violet’s blossom loses its petals and the area where they attached to the flower begins to swell. Congratulations! This is a seed pod! It will continue to swell for a month or two before it begins to wither and dry. I cut my violets’ seed pods off of the plants at this point and put them in a paper towel “envelope” to dry for a couple of months. Once it’s good and dry I cut it open with an Exacto knife. Inside will be dark powdery substance. These are seeds! Sprouting them is tricky and I haven’t had the opportunity to do it in a very long time, but here’s what I remember:

    I made some small containers of the same peat/potting soil mix that I planted the other violets in and sprinkled the seed gently over the surface. (They are clingy little things and don’t want to leave your fingers.) I watered the surface of the with warm water by mist bottle every day, sometimes more often than once per day. They need to stay moist. It took over a month for the tiny little sprouts to appear. (You can see the sprouts in the photo at the top of the page.) By the time they hatched out there were other parts of the peat moss that were turning mossy green. If you’re interested in sprouting African Violets from seed, check Rachel’s Reflections and perhaps some other websites. I have this sneaking suspicion that I am forgetting something.

    Wow, this is all I can think of for now. I guess I should go water my violet. It’s getting a blossom, after all!

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