Growing African Violets in the Home – A Personal Story

african violet watered from below

For nearly 3 years I have been collecting and propagating African violets as a hobby. Before that I, too, had difficulty trying to raise them. As I look back, following the general trend that African violets did not require sun was more or less responsible for my troubles, since I was careful to keep my plants away from the sun’s rays. My plants were also kept wet, and hence often succumbed from crown rot.

Benefiting from these experiences and from advice from friends, I tried growing African violets once again. By experimenting in many different ways, I now have a collection of 125 varieties, representing 250 plants. In addition, I am rooting 200 leaves, which are now forming their tiny crowns.

Horticulturists advise that African violets need plenty of light, but not much sun. However, I have success with plants scattered throughout the house in every exposure – east, west, north and south. The majority are grown on window shelves in a sun-porch with a southwest exposure, where over 100 specimens are very happy.

During the summer months, the sunporch is extremely warm. Blinds are drawn and the windows are left open day and night. The cool of the evening, in contrast to the heat of the day, seems to have a healthy effect upon the plants.

In the fall and winter months, the blinds are raised and never lowered until spring. Also in the winter, this room is aired each day, no matter what the temperature might be, as African violets dislike stale air and benefit from fresh air that circulates.

As an experiment this summer, several plants have been placed in the dining room windows having an easterly exposure, without lowering the blinds or using any other means of filtering the rays of the sun.

With direct exposure to the sun from early morning until shortly after noon, these plants are perfectly healthy, growing vigorously and blooming profusely, with no injury to the leaves whatsoever. The windows are left open constantly to allow air to circulate.

However, I cannot do this with the plants in the southwesterly exposure at this time of year. If I did, the leaves soon would become soft and decay, and eventually plants would succumb.

The simplest solution is to try your plants in various exposures and move them about as the need may be. In any case, give the plant as much light as possible and all the sun the foliage will stand.

African violets grow best in a warm, humid atmosphere, where the temperature during the day is between 70° and 75° F. If, in the winter months, when artificial heat is used, the air becomes dry, a few dishes with pebbles and water scattered throughout the rooms will remedy the condition. During the winter, a slight drop in the temperature at night seems to be favorable, though it must not drop too much.

I find that a drop in temperature to 60° F. does not have any ill effects on the plants, but care should be taken to prevent the temperature from dropping below that.

Watering may be done from either top, bottom or both, but it must be of room temperature… not cold, but tepid. Last winter, I tried hot water, which was placed in the reservoir of each pot. Occasionally I watered from the top with hot water, with apparently no ill effects, if care was taken to touch the soil and not the crowns. All these plants had good foliage and many large blossoms.

The amount of water to apply varies, depending on the weather and soil. During the winter, my African violets require more frequent watering, presumably because of the dry atmosphere. As spring and summer approaches, less water is required. This summer, my plants need watering about every fifth day, particularly those in the plastic pots. In the clay pots, more frequent applications are necessary.

Many kinds of fertilizers are available. These should be used according to directions. To prevent shock, I fertilize freshly potted plants immediately upon transplanting, then twice weekly for three weeks and once a month thereafter. In rooting leaves in water, this same fertilizer may also be used effectively.

Plastic pots, three and four-inch sizes, are practical for African violets. The five-inch size is also used, but especially for large kinds. Rooted leaf cuttings are planted in the two-inch pots and then graduated into the next size as they develop.

Not only are plastic pots more at-tractive than the old-fashioned clay pots, but they are also much easier to care for. There are also the satisfactory wick-fed plastic pots, and once accustomed to the quantity of water required by these pots, you will find them the easiest of all for taking care of your plants.

Propagating is by division, using plants that have developed more than one crown – the quickest way to multiply your collection. I also root leaf cuttings in water or sand. If rooted in water, the leaves may be planted in a two-inch pot in regular African violet soil or in vermiculite, as soon as tiny thread-like roots appear. You can, of course, wait until a tiny crown forms at the base of the leaf, but this is not necessary.

A healthy plant will bloom if it has been given proper amounts of food, water and light and is free of diseases. If a plant refuses to flower for a considerable length of time, try shocking it into bloom either by placing it in full sunlight or by setting the pot in a pan of boiling hot water for several minutes.

Crown rot usually appears if a plant has “wet feet” for a long time. When this occurs the leaves become soft and the crown can easily be lifted out of the pot. It is my experience that if crown rot is discovered early enough the plant may be saved. First remove it from the pot, wash it thoroughly and trim and scrape the roots with a tiny knife Then repot it and allow it to dry out. Crown rot is more apt to prevail during damp summer days, especially if plants are grown on an outside porch.

Stem rot often occurs when the stems come in contact with fertilizer crystals on the edge of the pots. This is not likely to happen with plastic, but with clay pots. A collar of foil on the edge of the pot forms a good protection against stem rot.

Each grower has his own formula for potting soil. I use one-third each of loam, peat and sand, sterilized in the oven for an hour. Before using this mixture I add a bit of bonemeal, a very slow acting fertilizer. Superphosphate may also be added. Containers of prepared African violet soil can also be purchased.

Diseases of African violets are easier to prevent than to cure. The first step is to keep plants clean and free of dust. One way is to syringe the leaves, allowing them to dry thoroughly out of the sun, otherwise the leaves will be-come spotty and turn brown.

Brush Leaves Regularly

Another satisfactory method is to brush the leaves with a soft camel’s hair brush. I prefer a No. 100 paint brush, which is stiffer than the other. Also remove old blossoms and leaves, since they retard the plant’s growth and form a good breeding place for diseases and pests. It is a good habit to spray plants with an insecticide suitable for African violets once a month.

Mite, the most dangerous and vicious of all difficulties, is also the most persistent. Destroy affected plants once detected. Before using pots again, scrub them thoroughly and put aside for several months. There are available strong chemicals which may be used to prevent mite and cure it in its early stages, but these should be used with great care. When you acquire new plants, it is wise, as a precautionary measure, to isolate them from your own plants for about six weeks.

If you put your African violets on a porch during the summer, watch for insects, such as the earwig, which feeds after dark. To control, dust the edges of the porch and or foundation of the house with an insecticide. Allowed to breed and multiply, these insects can do great damage, since they feed on the foliage and particularly the buds and blossoms.

by Elizabeth Edmondson

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