Growing Healthy African Violets is Easier than you Think
African violets are incredibly popular houseplants, but in all of my gardening or plant-related Facebook groups, people mention that they have trouble growing them.
Although I’ve had a few hiccups here and there, I typically have pretty good success with them, so I’ll share some tips I’ve learned over the years to help you grow your own healthy plants.
Bringing your New Plant Home
First, if you’re buying a new one from the store, follow the same principles you would with any new plant. Check it for bugs or damaged or sick-looking leaves (a few lightly spotted leaves probably aren’t a problem, I’ll explain more on that later). If it looks healthy, go ahead and bring it home!
Violets love and need 10 to 14 hours of light a day. This isn’t direct sunlight, they actually prefer not to be in strong, direct sun. Mine spend spring, summer and fall in a northeast to east-facing window and they love it there.
If you have the ability to move your violets based on the seasons, a north or east-facing window in the warmer months is best, while a west or south-facing window is best for colder weather.
Because I don’t have the appropriate window for wintertime, mine go upstairs to my plant room under grow lights.
Which brings me to the next requirement: Temperature. Violets do best with temps of 70 to 80F during the day. Nighttime temps can drop to 65F without a problem, and in fact, they need some day-night temperature variation in order to flower.
Pro tip: Be very careful of your temperatures! I didn’t move my violets soon enough this year and the plant below was too close to my northeast-facing window.
The fact that the windows are older than I am (and that’s OLD, just ask my daughter!) and kinda drafty doesn’t help either. You can see it isn’t the happiest-looking plant ever. It will bounce back now that it’s under the lights, but colder temps can really do damage or even kill your plants.
Even if you have newer windows, you should avoid having any plant leaves touching the window. The glass can transmit the cold from outside right into your plant and kill it (not that I know this from experience……)
Next, we’ll talk about water. I believe water tends to be the biggest factor in damaging, weakening and killing African violets. They are fairly particular about their water. For one thing, most plants don’t really care if you water with cold water. African violets DO NOT LIKE COLD WATER! It chills their roots. Lukewarm water is ideal.
Also, it’s best not to use water that has come through a water softener system. Conversely, water with chlorine also is not recommended. If you have city water, leave it sitting in an open container for at least 24 hours before watering your plants to give the chlorine time to evaporate.
No Wet Feet!
Many people have a tendency to overwater houseplants, and violets in particular. African violets hate having wet feet (and who doesn’t?? I mean, is there anything worse than coming in from the pouring rain and having your socks sloshing in your shoes?)
You should water from underneath (pour it into the drip tray you have under your plant), but only when the soil feels dry to the touch on top. Leave the water in the tray for about half an hour to allow the plant to take up what it needs, then empty it, because again, no one likes wet feet!
No Wet Leaves Either!
The reason for watering from the bottom is that these plants don’t like to have their leaves wet either.
In fact, if you get water on them, it can “stain” or spot them. If you look back at the pic of my not-so-healthy violet, you can see some spots on the bottom left leaf in the pic. Those are from water dripping onto the leaves.
Do you remember that I said not to worry about a few leaf spots when picking out a violet at the nursery? Now you know why!!!!
For the same reason, it’s not really a good idea to put African violets outside in the summer. If they’re exposed to rain, they won’t be happy. They also won’t enjoy full sun exposure, so violets are one type of houseplant that should really be houseplants all year long.
Violets like it Humid
Ok, let’s move on to humidity. Violets come from a region in Africa that’s quite humid, so they LOVE humidity, not the easiest thing to give them in the winter when the heat is running. It can also be an issue in the summer if you have central air (and if you do, you’re a lucky dog! I’d really like to have central air.)
One simple way to increase humidity around your plants is to group them together. By some accounts, this can increase humidity by up to 15%! Again, as with any plants, try not to let the leaves of different plants touch each other as this is an invitation to critters and diseases spreading.
If they really seem to be suffering from lack of humidity, or your house is particularly dry, you can run a humidifier or simply place your potted violets on some rocks in a water-filled tray.
Make sure the rocks elevate the pot enough so the water can’t seep in and saturate the soil. As the water evaporates, it raises the humidity around the plants.
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Let’s wind things up by talking about transplanting or dividing your violets. If you look closely at the pic below, you can see that this plant has divided in two on its own. It’s a simple matter to take it out of the pot, tease the two plants apart and repot them.
If you’d like more detailed instructions, check out my post on Dividing and Propagating African Violets here.
Your violet’s new home
When you do transplant, whether because your plants need to be divided or they have just outgrown their home, be very careful not to transplant into too big a pot. Violets are somewhat odd in that they prefer to be a bit root-bound, meaning that YOU might think the pot is too small, but your VIOLET might be perfectly happy!
When should you Transplant?
Once the leaf spread of your plant is more than 3 times the diameter of your pot or it has divided like the plant in the pic above, you should transplant, but only to a slightly larger pot. Even if that means you have to transplant again sooner, your plant will be happier.
Pro tip: Make sure the crown of your plant is just above the soil surface when you transplant.
Potting Soil Recommendations
As far as potting soil goes, a good quality potting soil is certainly sufficient. Violets do have very fine roots, so if you have access to it, adding a bit of perlite or vermiculite to lighten the soil is helpful. There is also potting soil made specifically for African violets, and you can find that here.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my little tutorial on African violets and that I’ve inspired you to give them a try. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll be sure to answer you.
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As always, smile and have a crazy organic day!