So many people visitors to commercial greenhouses look longingly at the African violets, but if asked “Would you like one of these lovely violets?” the sales representative will be told “I’d love to, but I’d only kill it.” What these ones don’t realize is, growing African violets really isn’t a mysterious secret that only the “elite” can unravel. In fact, African violets are pretty hearty plants that have few requirements for successful cultivation. Just as an automobile needs fuel, air, and spark, there are only a few requirements for the African violet – soil, light, a mild temperature, and water. Neither the automobile nor the African violet will perform to their potential without the key!
Food – For Hearty Growth and Flowers
Now an African violet likes good food, or, rich, airy soil with occasional fertilizing. Sterile soil is best. In fact, there are special soils made just for African violets that the beginner can use, though only a caution should be exercised in choosing a quality blend. Later, you can mix your own from general-purpose potting soil, peat moss, perhaps some vermiculite, and some Perlite or coarse sand. This may seem academic since African violets are sold potted in soil, but it is a good idea to repot soon after purchase. There are fertilizers of various sorts, but rather than using one intended for vegetables or flowers in general, I would suggest one of the varieties specifically designed for African violets. Strictly follow the directions. If there is an option to fertilize more frequently with a more dilute solution, I would recommend this route be taken.
Light – For Vitality, Blooming, and Cosmetics
Some grow African violets under artificial lighting. This can be an excellent choice, but for the beginner may not be the best idea. I am not going to discuss that here. The alternative is to grow them in subdued sunlight; the amount depends on the style of violet – different violets have different types of foliage. Some have dark leaves, some have light leaves. Some have variegated (multicolored green and white – maybe even pink) leaves. Darker leaves take more light. Lighter ones are more subject to burn. Never use more than a little direct sunlight – less than an hour – of direct sunlight, and it should not be peak-of-the-day sunlight. For most plants, indirect sunlight is best – sunlight that is filtered through a sheer white curtain is best. Insufficient light produces spindly leaves that are not close-packed, and so fail to give that beautiful appearance. Light is the key to blooming, and you want blooms. Another thing: leaves “reach” toward the light. Rotate your plants at least once a day for the very best symmetry. If you don’t rotate them at least once every few days, the plants will begin to distort in shape. If you rotate them only once per day, turn them completely around. If you rotate twice, rotate them 1/3-turn each time. Now leaves are not immortal. As outer leaves fade, feel free to pinch them off as close to the crown, or central stem of the plant, as possible. Also, as needed, pinch some for symmetry. African Violets are dynamic, and they will continue to grow from the middle out.
African violets and fungus both like water. Unfortunately, fungus thrives in moist soil. If you water an African violet too much, fungus increases, coating the roots of your plant, and it will actually prevent the plant from absorbing sufficient water, so it will look like your violet is dying of thirst – which it in fact is. So allow the plant to become nearly dry before re-watering. At the same time, don’t the plant go beyond the point of near dryness. If you do, it will droop and lose vitality, and the leaves will not be as attractive after recovery. I find a good rule of thumb is to water every three days, allowing the water to completely soak the soil in the pot and run through (though you should never allow the plant to sit in water). You may need to change frequency of watering according to the size and material of the pot you have your plant in. I highly recommend, especially for plants 4″ or larger in diameter, a clay pot. Smaller pots may actually do better in plastic. This is because plastic pots are not porous, and it is the pores that allows water to evaporate. This is good for larger pots, as it facilitates drying, while the tiny pots can dry out too fast. Water control is the most difficult variable facing the grower. Be consistent in your watering habits!
The key to success is, in fact, consistency. Go on and bite the bullet. If you love African violets and apply the above suggestions, you should have gorgeous, heavily-flowered African violets that will last for years to come.