African violet care
African violets are among the easiest of all houseplants to grow and probably the easiest flowering houseplant to care for. A basic rule in African violet care is this: treat them as you would your child. What does that mean? Don’t neglect them, and provide all of their necessities when they need it, in moderation. This applies to watering, feeding and environment. If they’re not happy, they’ll tell (show) you–your job as a “parent” is to listen. We’ve provided some basic guidelines for African violet care below (scroll past the history sections). Much more detailed information appears on other pages of this site–view our “lessons” pages and access our FAQ library by using the “other posts” and “search” functions at right.
History and types:
African violets (or Saintpaulia) are a genus of plants within the Gesneriad family. Discovered in 1892 by Baron von St Paul (hence the botanical name), many species can still be found growing in the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania and Kenya. Though their geography is tropical, most species reside in the mountains, at altitude, and under the cover of other plants. This makes African violets ideal for the indoor home garden or window–requiring only moderate (“room”) temperatures and light. Though many of the native Saintpaulia are now threatened by loss of habitat, millions of their modern descendants are grown throughout the world in homes of collectors and hobbyists. As you’ll see by viewing our site and catalog, modern African violet hybrids can be spectacular and very different from the simple species first discovered more than a century ago. Much information about their care and environment can be found throughout these pages.
Grow them large. Standard African violets are those varieties that, when mature, will exceed 8″ in diameter. In practice, most grow to about 10-12″. When grown for exhibition, they can exceed 18-24″ across. We grow only those varieties that we deem superior to others in growth and blooming habit. These aren’t your usual, run-of-the mill supermarket African violets! Only their size is ordinary.
Pictured at left: Olive with a ‘Best in Show’ exhibit, ‘Opera’s il Straniero’
Grow them tiny. We specialize in miniature and semiminiature African violets. When mature, miniatures grow to less than 6″ in diameter, semiminis to less than 8″. With proper culture, actual plant size usually is much smaller in practice. The smallest of them might be less than 2 or 3″ from leaf tip to leaf tip! Because these are small-growing plants and have small root systems, never use a pot bigger than 2 1/2″ in diameter, even less for the smallest varieties.
Grow them rare. ‘Chimera’ varieties are violets for which propagation by leaf cuttings will not produce plantlets identical to the original plant. These are typically the “pinwheel” blossomed varieties that show broad center and side stripes of different colors. These are quite unusual, genetically more rare, and can be propagated only by suckers. “Leaf” chimeras are varieties whose foliage can only be reproduced by sucker propagation. Variegation on leaf chimeras is very rare and is completely immune to changes in temperature, environment and age. Care is identical to that of other African violets. Both miniature and standard chimera African violets are available.
Let them grow. Trailing African violets are perhaps the easiest to grow and bloom, especially for the novice. They are naturally branching, spreading, plants that can left to do their ‘own thing’. No need to remove suckers to keep symmetry or encourage blooming. These violets freely produce extra crowns without sacrificing appearance or bloom–in fact, this increases the potential bloom! Can let spread in shallow pots, or let hang as baskets in windows–the choice is yours.
Grow them ‘native’. Saintpaulia species are the African violets that all modern hybrids trace the ancestry to. Many can still be found growing on the hillsides in east Africa. As most are endangered, some can only be found in the collections of hobbyists.
Just grow them! Below are some tips on how to grow them best.
The basics of African violet care:
- Light. Adequate light is important for good growth and bloom. Try to provide bright, but not not, sunlight. If growing under artificial lights, place fixture about 12-18″ above plants for 12-13 hours each day. A four foot shelf will require one of the following: a 10 watt LED fixture or one T8 florescent bulb, or two T12 bulbs. If foliage appears healthy and growing, but no blooms, provide more light. If blooms are abundant, but leaves are pale or stiff, light may be too intense.
- Watering. Use room-temperature water. Water when the soil feels “dry to the touch”. You can water from the top. Water on the leaves will not necessarily harm them–only if this water is much different from the leaf temperature! If you use “violet pots” or another self-watering method, be sure to use soils containing plenty of perlite or other relatively non-absorbent ingredient!
- Feeding. A ‘balanced’ formula is best (relatively equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). Look for formulas where the three numbers on the label (NPK) are similar. Avoid “bloom boosters”. Use each watering, following the directions for that fertilizer.
- Atmosphere. African violets like the same conditions you do–moderate temperatures and humidity. If you feel comfortable, so do they. Ideal temperatures are between 65 and 75f degrees, but violets will tolerate temps much outside of this range.
- Soil. Use a peat-based, “soilless” mix consisting of at least 30-50% coarse vermiculite and/or perlite. Brand-name “violet soils” are NOT necessarily good for African violets! General rule: the wetter you keep the soil, the more perlite it should contain. Avoid soils that contain actual top soil or look excessively thick, dark and rich! Additives like manure or heavy compost, are not necessary.
- Grooming. Except for trailers, do not allow extra crowns (suckers) to develop. African violets should be grown single-crowned. Most African violets look best with no more than 5 rows of leaves. Blooms appear only from new growth, so excessive numbers of older, lower, leaves are not necessary and will not promote blooming.
- Potting. Repot all plants every 6-12 months. Most standard African violets, grown as a houseplant, will require a 4-5″ pot at maturity. For minis and semiminis, us a pot no larger than 2 1/2″ in diameter. Pot size is determined by the size of the root ball. African violets are relatively shallow-rooted, so prefer “azalea” type pots that are just a bit shallower than they are wide.
- Pests. African violets are vulnerable to many of same same pests that appear on other plants. Prevention is always the best medicine. If you grow plants outside–never bring them inside (you’ll be bringing unwanted guests as well)! Use the search function and FAQ section of this site to research symptoms and remedies. Providing a good environment and care, and keeping your African violets and their growing area clean will greatly reduce the likelihood of pests or other problems.
Like good parenting, good African violet care is an active process–they depend upon you!