How to Grow African Violets
Do you live in a dark apartment or condo with no outdoor space for a garden? No problem! You can have a wealth of flowers indoors thanks to the miracle of African violets.
African violets are indeed from Africa, specifically the woods along the eastern coast. And it’s thanks to that native woodland environment (think “shade”) that African violets do so well indoors on your windowsill or under lights.
They are easy to hybridize and now come in a seemingly endless variety of sizes, leaf shapes and colors, and flowers in almost every color in singles, doubles, ruffles and combinations thereof. You can literally grow African violets whose flowers complement your décor!
Proper Potting Technique
African violets are easy to grow as long as you follow some simple rules. You can grow them in regular potting soil but they do best in mixtures specifically designed for African violets which is lighter with more drainage than regular potting soil. When re-potting your plants, only fill the pot with soil to within ¼- to ½-inch of the rim. This allows room to water your plants. You can use either plastic or clay pots. If you use clay pots, line the rim with aluminum foil to protect the leaves. Clay absorbs water and the wet rim will rot your leaves.
You can water either from the top or the bottom of the pot. If watering from the top, don't let the water splash on the leaves. Water the soil directly. A lot of people like to water from the bottom. Simply fill a saucer under the pot and allow the soil to absorb the water through the drainage hole. This allows the leaves to stay dry. However, it does cause salts to build up on the pot and the top of the soil which can damage your plants. Once a month, water your plants from the top to wash away the salts. And always use room temperature water, never cold water. African violets are tropical plants. Cold water can damage them.
African violets like high humidity. This can be accomplished by putting a glass of water next to your plant or placing the pot in a humidity tray. A humidity tray is simply a galvanized tray full of gravel with water on the bottom. The water should not reach the top of the gravel or come in direct contact with your pot.
Light is also critical. African violets do best in a north-facing window, especially in the summer. If they get too much sun, their leaves will burn so avoid southern exposures. You can place your African violets directly on your windowsill, but during the winter, you should either move your plant from the window at night or place a piece of paper between the plant and the window at night to prevent your plant from getting chilled. African violets like night-time temperatures of 65°F to 70°F. Day time temperatures can vary between 70°F and 90°F.
If your plant starts to get "leggy" with long weak stems and thin leaves, it's not getting enough light. Don't despair! African violets do well under lights. But don't spend a fortune on fancy fixtures and gro-lights. Regular fluorescent shop lights work just as well. Suspend them 15- to 18 inches above your plants. They should get 6 to 8 hours of light per day. Invest in a timer to control your lights.
You can apply a regular houseplant fertilizer such as 20-20-20 every 4 to 6 weeks. Most people use a liquid fertilizer because it is easy. You can use a dry one. Just make sure that you apply it when the soil is moist, not dry. If you like, you can suspend fertilizing during the winter months and only use it during the active growing season, spring through fall. If you are growing under lights, you should fertilize year-round.
Propagation of African violets is simple but requires a little patience. Choose a healthy, full-grown (but not old) leaf and break it off at the stem of the plant. This should leave you with a leaf on a short stem. Dip the cut end of the stem in rooting hormone and place it in a soilless mix which should be kept moist but not soaking wet. Roots should develop within 4 to 6 weeks but you will not see any new leaves for another 4 to 8 weeks so be patient. Avoid fertilizing while the new roots and leaves are developing. Wait to fertilize until you are transplanting the new plants to their permanent pots.
Brighten up your dark north-facing window with colorful African violets. And when your friends admire them, simply break off a leaf for them to take home and grow their own African violets.