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African Violets Primary Care


Overall, African violets are one of the easiest flowering plants to care for rewarding the owner with years of cheerful, delicate blooms. The only thing they don't have is fragrance.

Most people start by purchasing a pot of the pretty little things from the garden department in major variety stores where they are abundant and inexpensive. However, the neat thing about African violets is that they are so easy to propagate! Within a few months, you can double or triple your investment and have some to share with your friends. Best of all, these are "copyright free" - in other words, there are no restrictions on creating new plants from "starts" and passing them around to others. 

Shown right are 3 separate pots of young African violets being started by rooted leaf cuttings in water. When several roots have grown from the stem, you can put them in small pots with dirt. Plant them about 1/2 inch deep and keep the soil moist. Within two or three weeks, you should see small green leaves begining to poke through the top of the dirt. I'm sure you see there are 2 or 3 leaves in each of these containers. When you get ready to plant, you may use a pot that's big enough to plant all three starts, or separate them into individual pots for sharing.

Shown left are 3 matching pots holding 3 new plants each. Very attractive when grouped on a fancy plate or round mirror, especially when they all bloom together!

Also a nice touch to plant three different colors of African violets in one larger pot. These will soon be covered with blossoms! How sweet it is!

WATERING AFRICAN VIOLETS:

If you are new to the world of African violets, you may be unsure about how often you should water the plant and how much. These are valid questions along with, "What's the best method of watering the plant?" This last question is extremely important. You never mist African violets!

Rule of thumb for how often to water is determined by the season and growing cycles. In the summertime, plants lose moisture quicker especially by direct evaporation from the soil. They also lose more water during active growing and blossoming cycles. During the wet and cold seasons, there's more humidity in the air and most plants go into a dormant time using less nutrients and moisture.

How Often and How Much: An average watering routine for African violets is about 3 times per week, or once every three days. Don't soak them! Check the soil first by testing it with your finger. If it feels and looks dry, and if it's dry when you scrape the surface of the soil, then it's definitely time to water. Depending on the size of the pot, and using a 6 inch pot as an example, pour in enough water to moisten the top of the soil to about an inch. Most likely the roots are NOT dry and the water will filter down to reach the root system.

Note: Do not use cold or ice water on African violets! Room temperature water is best. As long as the water is comfortable to your touch, not necessarily warm but on the cooler side, you're okay. I've seen waitresses pick up leftover glasses of ice water from tables and dump them into the nearest potted plant. Okay for some and not a waste of good water, but not good for African violets!

How to Water African Violets: These plants do not like water on their leaves!   It causes spotting and, in many cases, rotting if the water does not dry off quickly. Over watering will kill the plant.

  • From the top: Use a watering pitcher with a long spout that will reach under the leaves to supply water directly to the soil.
  • From a reservoir (bottom): You may find pots for African violets that are a "pot within a pot". The outer pot on the bottom is a reservoir to hold the water; the inner pot holds the plant and soil. The inner pot is made from porous clay or unglazed pottery. The outside pot, or reservoir, has a glazed surface so the water cannot seep out. The inner pot absorbs water from the reservoir and provides it to the roots of the plant. Picture on the right shows the inner pot above the reservoir. 
  • From a wick (bottom): If you cannot find the specially made pot, you can make your own! Simply pick a clay pot with a hole in the bottom and a saucer that is glazed or waterproof. Thread a "wick" through the hole in the bottom of the pot and fill the pot half full of soil. Then add the plant and fill the pot the rest of the way with the potting soil. Place the potted plant into the leak-proof saucer and add water. The "wick" may be made of a new wick like those used in oil lamps, or you can improvise your own using a bundle of thick twine or strips of flannel material. The wick needs to be long enough to reach into the bottom of the pot and up halfway to the top
  • Flooding: Once or twice a year, you can "flood" your African violet with water to wash out accumulated salts and minerals. This is only when you see a buildup of a white or yellowish crust around the inside of the pot and is only for pots with a hole in the bottom. This is not recommended for those watered by reservoirs or wicks! Place the plant in a sink and water it thoroughly.With your finger, rub the crusty stuff and loosen it. Allow the excess water to run out the bottom until it has completely stopped. Then set plant, pot and all, on a paper towel overnight to allow any extra drainage before returning it to the saucer.

FERTILIZING AFRICAN VIOLETS:

There are many brands of fertilizers available for African violets. If you use a potting soil like I do (Black Gold), it claims to have enough fertilizer to last the plant for 6 months so you do not need to worry about fertilizing for 6-12 months. I have good luck with this potting mix and do not dispute the claim.

Otherwise, Shultz makes a great liquid fertilizer with the recommendation that you use it every time you water. It's especially formulated for specific plants including African Violets - look for it on the label.

There are also powdered varieties of African violet fertilizers with once-a-month recommendations. I generally mix a gallon in a milk jug and use as needed.

You'll find that the regular minimum maintenance required for African violets pays off in big dividends!

PESTS AND DISEASES OF AFRICAN VIOLETS:

Generally speaking, if you take care of your houseplants observing proper lighting, soil conditions, watering, and grooming (pick off dead leaves and blossoms), your plant will be able to survive and even repel attacks by pests and disease.

African violets are susceptible these pests:

  • Mites: symptoms are twisted and distorted foliage usually in the center of the plant; stunted growth and streaked flowers; leaves in the crown are lighter than they should be, may look grey or yellowish. Red spider mites are the most common; they spin a cottony ball that can see with naked eye.
  • Aphids: these are small green or black bugs that you can easily see on your plant. Squash them with your fingers or use a spray formulated for African violets.
  • Mealybugs: these also have a cottony appearance. They are a small white, soft bug. They are found in crevasses where the leaf is attached to the stem and under the leaves. They will suck a plant dry in no time.
  • Soil Mealybugs: these often go undetected while they do their dirty work in the dirt. The plant wilts for no reason and appears stunted. You have to remove the plant from pot and look closely at the root ball. The grayish white bugs will be on the surface of the root ball and visible. The only control is a malathion solution, available at plant nurseries. Follow label instructions.
  • Thrips and Scale sometimes attack African violets. The same spray that controls aphids is used on Thrips. Scale is controlled by removing them with a toothpick dipped in soap and lukewarm water. Be sure you use soap (like Ivory liquid) and not a detergent.