African Violets: Sensational Saintpaulias You Can Grow At Home

Ed Wike
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African Violet Overview

African Violets are among the most common houseplants in the world. The plants come in stunning colors, and they’re relatively easy to maintain. It is an especially good choice for first time houseplant growers.

African Violets have a reputation for being a persnickety variety of houseplant. It has been my experience that the African Violets that thrive in homes tend to be the most common, familiar, and easily found varieties. Victorian and Regal varieties tend to be the easiest to find, and plants in these varieties often thrive in homes. Some of the more exotic varieties of African Violet, such as Love Letters, may be more difficult to keep alive.

Saintpaulia is the common name for African Violet. Sometimes they are referred to as “Saint Paul” Violets, and the individual varieties are sometimes described by the color of the plant’s leaves. It’s best not to just pick a plant because of the plant’s color or shape. Choosing a plant that has been grown with care and established in a healthy environment is the best way to pick an African Violet variety.

Types of African Violets

African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha) are a species of flowering plant that is widely cultivated as a houseplant. African violets come in many colors and flower styles, which explains their popularity.

If you are just getting started with growing African violets or you find it challenging to get the ones you want, here is a guide on how to pick the best African Violets or Saintpaulia ionantha.

The Primary African Violet, Saintpaulia Ionantha

African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha) are an extremely popular indoor plant, as well as one of the most popular houseplants available. They are relatively easy to grow and provide a number of benefits for the home and office.

Nothing will keep an African violet plant from blooming, and planted in the right conditions, they will bloom constantly from early spring through late fall. They are ideal for beginners, as well as the more experienced green thumb.

This plant has gained a lot of attention because of this myth that it is toxic to cats and dogs. Pet owners needn’t worry though; it’s just a plant myth. It’s actually just the sap and not the leaves, stems or pollen that has the ability to trigger allergies and irritation in those that are sensitive. It’s also thought to reduce blood pressure for those who suffer from high blood pressure and can assist with those suffering from insomnia or fatigue.

There are a number of different varieties of African violet, and within these, they can come in a number of different sizes, colors and bloom types.

Other Saintpaulia Species

There are other St.paulia species that are just as beautiful as the common variety. The only difference is the common African violet is purple, while the others can be white, pink, or even burgundy. All are easy to grow in the same way.

Another species is the St.paulia ionantha. This is known as the pink veined African violet. It is both colorful and elegant, and in the right conditions can flower any time of year. In the right light, the pink veining really shows. You can grow this one with leaf litter just like other African violets, or you can grow it without. The soil must be kept moist for the plant to thrive.

Another species is the St,paulia careyana. This is the common African violet of South Africa. These are small and delicate plants with round leaves. The petals can be white or purple.

Cultivars And More

There are many interesting African violet cultivars that don’t necessarily look like the original plant. You can find African violets that look like the harkening back to the Victorian Era, flowers with layered petals, plants that have rosette-like leaves, and those with attractive striping on their leaves.

To grow these types of violets, you will have to be careful about the light conditions. These types of plants require more indirect or diffused sunlight and can’t tolerate direct sunlight for extended periods of time.

You also want to get new plants…always buy them from reputable vendors. Sometimes, you will find excellent deals on Craigslist, but you run the risk of buying fake African violets. There are some cultivars that are extremely rare and expensive.

You can find these types of African violets by searching on the Internet for specialty nurseries or gardening websites. There are many online vendors that offer many rare cultivars of African violets. You can also visit your local garden center or local African violet societies…often they are more than willing to help local customers and can suggest vendors.

What You Need To Grow African Violets

There are two types of African violets. They are the tropical variety – called Saintpaulia – and the standard type, which can tolerate seasons with cold weather.

The tropical types of African violets need to be kept around 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and around 65 to 72 F at night. If the temperature goes past those levels, the plant will begin to go dormant.

The standard varieties, on the other hand, will tolerate temperatures of 55 to 60 F during the day and about 50 F at night.

African violets come in two varieties. “Intermediate” African violets have more spots and stripes on them, while the “Fancy” varieties are brighter and more vibrant.

The key to growing and caring for African violets is consistency. Make sure that you are able to keep your African violets in the right temperature, and in a light room home.

If you are having trouble keeping your African violets alive, you should thin the leaves out. This is the best way to make sure the plant is getting just the right amount of light. Bulb covers can either be opaque white or pale blue. The bulbs should be covered 50 to 75% to keep the light from burning the plant.

Light Requirements

Saintpaulia flowers, as the selection of African violets is known, do require light. These plants do not grow in the wild, so the growers of Saintpaulia have to provide optimal conditions to recreate the look and feel of a wild flower. They do so by providing the plants with 12 hours of light and 12 hours of complete darkness.

In the wild, these native African flowers grow in Tanzania, Uganda, and other African countries located near the equator. African violet growers mimic the light requirements of the wild by providing 12 hours of light.

The most sunlight-rich area of your home is, of course, near a window. In order for African violets to thrive, a window that receives plenty of sunlight is best.

You can test the window by using a simple light meter, however, many homes are now infused with enough electric light that it creates bright conditions. To determine if your home is bright enough inside, look out the window. If you can easily see your neighbor's house, the light is sufficient for African violets.

If the light of the room they are in is weak, African violets will need to be placed near a bright window or light that mimics sunlight will be needed. This is the case when a south-facing window is not as sunny as you would like.

Growing African Violets With Grow Lights

If you live in a home that does not get a lot of natural sunlight, you may wonder if African violets can grow with grow lights.

The answer is yes, and they can thrive.

This article will tell you about the growing conditions African violets need and will provide you with information about equipment and tips for success. You'll learn how to create the best environment for your African Violets, and you'll find out the number of hours of light African Violets need every day.

Temperature

The fact that they flourish under artificial light makes them an ideal houseplant for offices. African violets like cool temperatures. Keep the plant away from heat sources, like sunny windows. Hold the plant up, so that it does not come in contact with the sun. Winds blowing in from an open window can also cause the plant to get sun burnt, and hence, the leaves shrivel up.

Furthermore, keep the plant out of drafty areas. Drafty areas could be another contributing factor to sunburnt leaves.

When it comes to light, the plant needs a little direct natural light. Direct natural light helps in the growth of the plants Photosynthesis.

Although violets can grow very well under artificial light, they do benefit from being in a spot that receives some direct sunlight.

A well-lit location helps the plant produce a lush, dark green leaf growth.

If it's not possible to give them direct natural light, then they need strong artificial light, like a desk lamp.

Water

Watering African violets is an easy task with a couple of easy rules to follow. While water is important – as is light – the importance of water is often stressed above all else, and thus the gardener’s success with the plant is often based on its ability to tolerate water.

The critical period in the life of an African violet is often said to be the first two weeks of a newly purchased plant. In this time the plant should be allowed to adjust to the environment. This is often done by placing the plant in a room one to two degrees warmer than normal, keeping the soil slightly moist, and allowing the plant to drink in the light.

When the period of adjustment is over, the plant should be allowed to adjust itself to temperature and light. To do this, gradually reduce the amount of light and temperature over several days – this is called hardening off. Hardening off is also important when a plant is moved outdoors or from an indoor environment.

The African violet does best in warm 70- to 80-degree temperatures, but the plant also does well with a drop in temperature to around 60 degrees. At normal room temperatures, African violets should not be watered more often than once a week, you should check the soil texture and moisture before deciding to water.

Soil

African violets get their name from their native homeland – the continent of Africa. They aren’t members of the violet family at all, but are in their own family of Saintpaulia. If you are familiar with African violets, then you know the blooms appear saint-paulia like …. Other common names for this African native include the Wandering Jew, Madagascar violet, and the polka-dot plant.

These plants require acidic soil and shade. Violets enjoy a moist environment that is lacking in direct sunlight. You will want to keep your pot on a shady patio, or in a treehouse.

The soil should be at least four inches deep for African violets. If it is less than four inches, you will want to add compost to the container before planting. When you add compost to the pot, use a mixture that is made up of 80% compost with the remaining 20% being peat moss.

Add a layer of sphagnum moss at the bottom of the pot before you add the soil mixture. This will help retain the moisture within the pot. If the sphagnum has already dried out, then you will need to add more.

African Violet Care

When you want a great, easy to care for houseplant, African violets are an excellent choice. African violets do well in indirect sunlight, and will thrive on even minimal amounts of light. But if they are in a gloomy corner, make sure they are watered every seven to ten days, or they might wilt.

A violet that is in bloom should have even less light than violets that are not in bloom. Even a sunny window could stress a violet while it is in full bloom, and full-bloom violets can easily be moved outside after the flowers fade.

Feed an African violet all-purpose plant food at least once a month. It is recommended that you mix the food with water before you add it to the plant. You may need to experiment with the amount of food the plant will take.

Be on the lookout for your African violet suddenly wilting, and be sure to move it to a cooler, slightly shadier location. African violets are very susceptible to heat-related stress, and can easily wilt under the best conditions.

African violets have a reputation for being difficult plants, but with the care and guidelines in this article you should have an African violet that blooms repeatedly and is the envy of everyone who sees it.

Fertilizer

The Victorian houseplant, or African violet, thrives in cool, but bright light. A sunny windowsill is fine, or you can use fluorescent light year-round–although daily, "full-blast" sunlight is bestIf they're getting too little light, African violets' leaves might become slightly off-colored and "stress shadows" may appear on the leaves.

If you have a small sunny window, a hanging fluorescent light is an excellent source of year-round light for African violets. Be sure to follow the directions for your fluorescent light to get it set up correctly, and situate it so that the light is very close to the leaves – within a few inches should be fine. A fluorescent light fixture set on a dimmer switch allows you to control the amount of light the plants receive, and it turns out that African violets need a lot of light, but are harmed by light that's too bright or direct.

Propagation From Seed

Many people enjoy growing African violets because they are fairly easy to grow and maintain. You can easily grow African violets without pricy manufactured or purchased potting soil. Because African violets are from humid environments, they grow well in the homes of people with central air.

In warm weather, African violets grow better outdoors. Choose a fertile, humusy soil for them, and lightly fertilize monthly between April and October. When propagating African violets from seed, allow the fleshy green seeds to develop to their full size, which should be about the diameter of a marble. Then, allow them to dry out, in a dark area, for about 12 weeks. The seeds will be brown when they are dry enough to be sown. Plant them in well-drained soil in very bright light. Many African violet fans wait until late winter to put new seedlings outside. To extend the growing season for indoor African violet plants during cool weather, place a container of water nearby and keep the soil lightly moist.

When other African violet plants are about half their mature height, pinch them back. This will encourage bushier growth. Inside, or in a greenhouse, trim the tips of the plants. This will encourage the growth of more flowers.

Propagation From Leaf Cuttings

If you're starting from seed, it can take up to 30 days to germinate African violet seeds. After they germinate, the plants will take a little time to establish themselves before they become available for transplanting. To ease the wait, you can easily propagate African violets from cuttings.

Select the healthiest, most colorful leaves and then cut them off from the parent plant. The cuttings should be taken seasonally when the weather is stable.

Cut the leaves just beneath a node and remove the lower leaves, leaving only 2 or 3.

Place the leaves in a clean glass bowl, or cup, filled with water.

Put the leaves in a warm, bright location with indirect light, out of direct sunlight.

Change the water often, about every 2 to 3 days.

It will take about a week for new shoots to appear. When new growth appears, transfer the cutting to soil and place it in direct sunlight.

Take care to not place it in direct sunlight at the beginning, because this could burn the leaves.

To prevent the roots from rotting, set the pot on a saucer filled with gravel. The water in the saucer will help to provide some humidity.

Monitor the pot for dampness. Every two weeks you'll need to refresh the water or add more.

Propagation By Division

One of the best things about Saintpaulia is that you can propagate it from existing plants. You can propagate them from adult leaves, side buds, or the back of the mother plant. All you have to do is to make an angled cut above the leaf node (the spot where the new plant will appear).

To make that cut, use a sharp and heavy-duty knife which you draw downward along the stem and rotate as you go. This removes the spent leaves and creates a space for the side buds to grow.

These dormant buds are carried under the soil in the rhizome.

Once you have cut and removed the spent leaves, remove the mother plant from the pot. Smooth out the top of the soil and place the leaves underneath it. This will provide support for the new plant. Gently place the side buds or new plant on top of the soil. Cover all of it with 1–2–3 inches of commercial potting soil and gently water it. Place the potted plant in a bright location and keep it moist for a few weeks or until the leaves sprout.

Repotting

Although your African violet may do well for a long time growing indoors in the plastic pot it comes in, you should eventually repot it so it can reach its full potential. The most important reason to repot an African violet has to do with health. As African violets grow, they receive less and less light, which reduces their ability to produce the chlorophyll that's vital to healthy foliage. A plant that's being deprived of light will have pale, spindly, sickly leaves. Repotting will provide a better home for your plant and will allow it to grow to its full size.

If you're comfortable gardening, you can repot your plant at any time. But if you're not experienced in repotting, you might want to wait until spring, when the plant is about one third its final size. At this point, it will be easier to handle, and you can exercise care to avoid disturbing its roots.

Pruning

The growth rates of African violets depend on location and care. For example, if located in cold regions, African violets may not grow or grow little since the plants require heat to thrive. People who live in warm areas will generally have greater success than those who are unfamiliar with the plants' requirements.

Once adult African violets have sprouted in the planting vase, they can be moved to a regular potting soil or to a powdered soil. The soil must contain peat moss, vermiculite and a small amount of perlite. To keep African violets healthy, they should be periodically repotted. If the plant grows vigorously, repotting is needed about every year.

To repot African violets, remove the container lid from the roots, using sterilized shears. Then remove the plant from the container and place it into a pot with the same size of soil. After moving the plant, water it in, using room temperature water. The room temperature should be set and kept between 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Problems

You need to keep your African violet cool, moist, and in optimal lighting conditions to keep it healthy. You need to keep it away from animals and direct sunlight and also make sure that they get enough water so that they don’t wilt away.

When you leave the plant in direct sunlight, you will notice that the plant shrivels up and its leaves start turning to shades of brown. If the leaves on the plant start to wilt up, this is an indication that the plant is getting too much sunlight. You will need to move the African violets away from the sunlight as soon as possible to prevent it from dying.

Something that many people don’t realize about African violets is that they need water to survive. On the other hand, you must make sure the water is not overly saturated either. If you tend to overwater your African violets they will start to rot. Overwatering also tends to promote the plant’s sticky situation. When the excess water sits on the plant and it doesn’t have adequate drainage you’re going to end up with a mass of roots glued to the bottom of the pot. This condition is quite normal and something you should be ready for when you plan to start cultivating African violets.

Spraying Neem Oil Or Other Fungicides/Insecticides On African Violets

African violets are typically indoor houseplants, but they can also be grown in the garden. If you have African violets growing in the garden, spray them with a fungal spray. Don’t spray them on plants that have African violets growing inside of them. The exception is if you only treat one-third of the African violets in the house or only reactivate treatment every third day.

Doing this will help keep fungal spores contained. Other options include washing all of your hands for 20 seconds after you treat them and using other means of cross-contamination prevention. Also recall that one form of this plant is toxic to feline owners.

Don’t spray the top part of the African violet; spray the lower parts of the plant. This will help avoid contact with pets you may have in the home. Spray the areas on a plant that are not in contact with the soil.

The African violet is a forgiving plant. If you don’t spray it, it will eventually recover. Don’t spray more than two times a week so the plant has time to recover from a chemical reaction.

Chewing Pests

One of the common pests of African violets is the spider mite. These tiny pests can slowly turn your plant brown and and cause it to wilt.

The spider mite looks like a very small red spider. It is very difficult to see, but when the mite is present it is easy to recognize brown stippling on the leaves. Most problems with the mites are the result of an infestation.

Another pain that the spider mites suffer is that they sometimes fall off the leaves and into the water dish. The water does not kill them which is why it is recommended you move the water dish to the floor of the pot.

They will lay eggs on the soil. When these eggs hatch they will start attacking the leaves. They can also attack leaves while they are still young and tender.

The other big problem caused by the spider mite is the fact that they leave webbing on the plant. Their webbing makes it harder for the leaves to absorb water and can even rust the leaves.

Sucking Pests

When you're faced with a case of sucking pests … tiny little critters that bore into the leaves of your African violets, an instinctive response might be to hurl the plant across the room.

You KNOW what I'm talking about, right? Those nasty little dark brown or black bugs with beady eyes and slender, needle-like snouts? They're the ones that just love to hang off the leaves of your favorite African violet, sucking the life right out of it!

Their damage is deceptively subtle. But as they continue to feed, it's only a matter of time before their feeding causes serious damage to the leaves or buds of your African violet.

The question is how do you combat this sort of attack without harming the plant yourself?

The first move on your part is to catch the culprits before they move too far. The idea here is to effectively eliminate them while doing as little damage to the plant's leaves as possible.

This can be easily accomplished by using a Q-tip or a soft, small paintbrush.

Soak the tool of choice in rubbing alcohol (some people use a pesticide instead).

Then, very carefully, pull back the leaves surrounding the offending bug and insert your tool of choice under the pest.

Once you've reached the bug, they should be fairly easy to remove.

Other African Violet Pests

The Botrytis family of molds can be especially deadly to African violet plants. Botrytis cinerea can affect the leaves, stems, flowers, and just about every other part of the plant, turning them brown, black, grey, and even green. Some types of this fungal infection can also cause the blooms of the African violet plant to rot. The Botrytis prowazekii is another type of fungal infection that can affect African violets. This type of Botrytis infection can cause the plant to have rotted leaves, brown leaves and stems, and black and brown blotches on the flowers.

Symptoms of both types of fungus infections are similar. Maggots, mites, and flies can also affect the African violet plant. Maggots and mites can be a problem in the winter.

Mites can appear to be flattened, bug-like invasions on the leaves and stems of the plant, while maggots are worm-like creatures that can be found on the flowers of the plant. Pests that attack the flowers can also attack the leaves.

Diseases

African violets can be attacked by a variety of problems ranging from simply annoying to life threatening. Some of the most common problems and diseases include damping off, bacterial soft rot, leaf spot, and leaf curl dieback.

Damping Off – sudden wilting, followed by stem and leaf destruction at or near soil level. It often hits seedlings and young plants, and is commonly a result of too-frequent watering combined with warm, damp soil. If your plant shows any signs of Damping Off, remove all of the dead plant material, sterilize the soil mix, and allow it to dry out completely.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Tell me how to make African violets bloom!

A: African Violets (Saintpaulia) are flowering beauties originating from Tanzania. They're a favorite among houseplants and are widely available at garden centers and nurseries. They grow best in bright, indirect sunlight. African Violets are fairly easy to grow, but there are a few important things to remember when growing African violets indoors. They have a few unique watering needs that are unlike any other houseplant.

They have a tendency to grow tall and spindly when they are not receiving the right amount of water. This is a common problem for people who are growing them for the first time. When growing African violets indoors it's important to regularly pinch the tops of the stems between your fingers to encourage bushy retraction.

Q: How often do I water my African violets?

A: To grow African violets indoors, the most important thing you must do is to have the right container. They can be grown in a wide variety of containers, but the most common are tall-stemmed glass containers. Fill the container with a good quality potting mix. DG USDA Zone 8 plant hardiness is more forgiving than other plants, and will generally grow in a variety of soils.

African violets usually require watering every four to six days, depending on the relative humidity. You can tell when you need to water African violets by checking the weight of the pot.