How to Plant, Grow, and Care For African Violets
If you recently planted some African Violets in your garden, in some pots, or around your home, you may be wondering about the best way to care for them to ensure their survival and growth. In this article, gardener Emma Braby examines the steps you should take when caring for these plants, no matter where you've planted them around your home.
African Violets are one of the most popular house plants grown in the world today. Not only do they thrive in the conditions that we humans like, making them suitable for most homes. But they also flower clusters of beautiful heart-shaped blooms all year round. This is why properly caring for them once they’ve been planted is extremely important.
There are plenty of additional reasons to love them, we think that everyone should make room in their home for these gorgeous plants. Many have unfairly labeled them as fussy flowers.
Sure, they have a few quirks, but what plant doesn’t? With our tips and tricks on how to care for African Violets, we will show you that they are anything but. So, let’s jump straight into everything you need to know to get the most out of these beautiful blooms.
African Violet Plant Profile
Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia
6” – 12”
Purple, White, Blue, Pink, Multi
Spider Mites, Cyclamen Mites
Rich & Well-draining
Don’t Plant With
What’s great about them is that African Violets kept in the best conditions will bloom all year round. Their official name is Streptocarpus ionanthus. They are sometimes referred to as the Usambara Violet. Usambara is the name of the mountain range where they were discovered in Tanzania, East Africa.
A German colonial officer and amateur botanist named Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire discovered these plants in Africa in 1892. He sent the seeds back to his hometown in Germany. Their genus was initially identified as Saintpaulia, although they have been recently recategorized as Streptocarpus. They are not true Violets, but they find themselves in the same family.
African Violets are herbaceous perennials that sit low and compact. They come in a variety of stunning colors, such as shades of lavender, pinks, blues, reds, and white. All with widely varied leaf shapes. They also come in different sizes, from miniature buds to magnificent trailing plants. And the blooms sit on a bed of attractive thick, dark green, fuzzy leaves.
They are a February birth plant, so they make a sweet gift for those born in February. They also symbolize loyalty, devotion, and faithfulness in the language of flowers.
African Violets can add splashes of color and joy around a seemingly bare space with a bit of know-how. So, whether you are new to the world of African Violets or just want to learn more about keeping them looking their best, here are our top tips.
Propagating From Seed
Propagating from seed indoors is certainly possible. However, it is not the preferred method as you are unlikely to grow a plant similar to the parent.
African Violets are cross-pollinated and hybridized to produce the stunning plants we grow indoors. This means the seeds will not produce plants true to the parent. You could end up with a similar African Violet, but it is far more likely you’ll end up with something completely different. It is a fun experiment, but not the preferred method if you’re looking for guaranteed results.
This method also relies on your current plant producing viable seeds. To do this, you’ll have to pollinate your plants by hand. It can be quite a technical process and success is not guaranteed. While it is possible, you’ll have to decide whether it is worth the effort.
Once the seed pods have developed and are ready to be removed, you can follow the same seed planting process as below. Keep in mind that the plant won’t look exactly the same as the original, but it should grow just as well in the right environment.
Propagating From Cuttings
The best and easiest way to grow African Violets is by leaf cutting. Like repotting your plant, it’s best to do this in spring, but it can be done throughout the year. There are two ways that you can do this.
The first way is to cut a healthy, mature leaf from the parent plant. With a sharp knife, cut ½ an inch of the stem at a 45-degree angle. Plant the leaf into a small pot with a light, porous propagating soil mix and bury the stem up to the base of the leaf. Water as you would usually, and cover the pot with a clear plastic bag. This will help to produce the best humidity for growth. The leaf should produce roots within a month.
Alternatively, you can cut a leaf as before but root it in water instead. It’s vital to ensure that only the stem is submerged into the water, not the leaf. You can place the leaf into the neck of a clean beer bottle, or put plastic wrap over a jar and poke the stem through a hole. Ensure the water level in the class covers the bottom of the stem.
Transfer the rooted leaf into a pot once the roots reach around half an inch in length.A great sign that your African Violet is happy is when they start to produce plantlets. These are baby plants that grow out from the main stem. You can also snip them at the main stem and pot them individually to grow more plants.
As they are mostly grown indoors, African Violets can be planted any time of year. However, for the quickest growth and healthiest plants, it’s best to plant in spring.
Growing them from seed is super easy with a little bit of know-how. First off, always buy your seeds from a reputable seller. Rarely will you produce a beautiful plant from seeds that you’ve cultivated yourself.
A popular growing medium for African Violet seeds is peat moss. Place the peat moss in your chosen pot and moisten the soil. Then, evenly spread the small seeds on top of the soil. You can also use coconut coir as a sustainable peat moss alternative, or purchase a specialized seed starting mix from your local nursery.
The biggest mistake gardeners make is covering the seeds with more soil. Instead, leave the seeds exposed – the tiniest bit of soil can prevent germination. Spritz the seeds and top layer of peat with water and cover the top of the pot with plastic wrap. Place the container on a window ledge in bright direct sunlight or under fluorescent lights to encourage growth.
Keep the peat moss damp at all times and never let it dry out. The African Violet seeds should germinate in one to nine weeks. The germinated seeds will be ready to be separated and repotted when the first leaf reaches ½ inch wide. Once you have transported the seeds to their own containers, they need the following care requirements to thrive.
African Violet Care
African Violets can add splashes of color and joy around a seemingly bare space with a bit of know-how. But there’s also several “care factors” that you’ll need to be aware of and understand before taking them on as an indoor or outdoor houseplant. Let’s take a look at what you can expect when caring for these flowers.
The soil should be a light and fluffy mix. You can purchase a specific African Violet soil mix online or from your local stores. Alternatively, you can make your own soil mix using equal parts of peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. Many people also recommend mixing commercial soil with equal parts perlite to improve drainage. No matter which route you choose, ensure the soil is very well-draining to avoid root rot.
The plant needs potting deep into the soil for the best results, but don’t pack it down too much as air needs to circulate around the root system.
African Violets prefer lots of light, but it must be indirect light rather than in the glaring sun. Otherwise, their leaves will burn, and they’ll soon look unhealthy or die. In their natural environment, direct sunlight never touches them, and they thrive in the shade of other vegetation. If the leaves become very dark, they might need more light exposure.
They make ideal windowsill surfers that face east or west. Ultimately, they need between 10 to 14 hours of light and 8 hours of darkness for optimal blooms. If you want to place them on the ledge of a sunny window, use a sheer curtain to protect it from the rays. If your plant isn’t flowering, chances are it isn’t getting enough light. Be sure to experiment with different locations.
Watering is the part that most find the trickiest, mainly because there are many ideas about how to water them. The best way to water them is from the bottom up, meaning that they require a dish or saucer. It’s best to use room temperature or tepid water as cold water can damage the root system.
The general rule of thumb is that the soil needs to be uniformly moist to the touch but never saturated. Never allow this plant to stand in water, but never allow them to completely dry out either. And do not allow the water to touch the leaves. Otherwise, you’ll get spotted leaves or fungal spots. Just one splash of water can damage the beautiful fuzzy foliage.
African Violets are nearly always grown indoors or in greenhouses because that’s where they remain healthy and pretty. Some gardeners take them outside when the temperature rises, but they are prone to more disease and insect damage outdoors. They are frost-sensitive, so they must be brought indoors once the temperature starts to cool.
Temperature and Humidity
African Violets should be kept at around 70ºF, as this is the temperature they thrive at. Make sure that they do not fall below 60ºF. They are sensitive souls who do not adapt well to constant change and do not tolerate draughts.
This plant prefers higher humidity, which can cause a problem if your home is dry. One to recreate a humid environment is to place the pot on a bed of stones and fill the dish with warm water. However, as this only increases the humidity slightly, it’s better to invest in a humidifier if your air is extremely dry.
They are nearly always grown indoors or in greenhouses. Some gardeners take them outside when the temperature rises, but they are highly prone to disease and insect damage when placed outdoors. They are frost-sensitive, so they must be brought indoors once the temperature starts to cool.
Like all potted plants, the African Violet needs proper drainage. Choose a container with adequate holes to prevent root rot. Suppose you have found the perfect hole-less ceramic container for your Violets. In that case, you’ll need to pot the plant into a plastic container with holes and place that one into your ceramic pot. Set the plastic pot on stones inside the ceramic pot to prevent your plant from standing in water. This also helps add humidity mentioned before.
Fertilizer is an essential tool to keep your African Violet looking its best. However, more problems come from overfertilizing, so do not overdo it. Only start feeding when you notice that your plant needs an extra boost. Signs include when growth begins to slow or the leaves begin to yellow.
Some commercial potting mixes will already contain fertilizer, so you won’t need to add any more. But if not, use a high phosphorus plant food and fertilize once every two to four weeks during the active growing season, which is spring and summer. Most fertilizers will state usage once a month, but some go with twice a month, so be sure to follow the instructions.
A high phosphorus plant food will have a higher middle number on the NPK fertilizer ratio, such as 15-30-15. You can also find specific African Violet fertilizer from most good plant stores.
Repotting your African Violets can be crucial to encourage continued growth and health. Remember that these plants bloom best when they are pot-bound. The main sign that they need repotting is wilted leaves and seeing roots popping out the top and bottom of your container. When it comes to choosing a pot size, only go one size up at a time.
To repot your plant, gently take the plant as a whole from the base, and lift it out of the pot. It might take some wiggling to tease it out, but make sure that you do not damage the root system in the process. Place it into its new container, and fill it up with more soil as required. Remember not to pack it down too much.
They’ll only need repotting once a year at the most. The best time of year to re-pot is in the spring. It’s important to always use fresh soil when repotting and ensure that the base of the leaves is in line with the neck of the pot.
There is no shortage of interesting colors and textures when it comes to African Violets. This is true for both the flowers and the leaves.
While they typically retain their grey-green hue, African Violet foliage also has interesting variegation on some types with cream-colored spots or edging. They can also take on a much darker green hue, or have almost luminescent green foliage.
The flowers provide even more variety in color and texture – the classic purple is certainly not all there is to offer. Look for pink, white, creamy yellow, or even deep maroon. Some flowers feature two colors within the same bloom, with many petals having brightly colored contrasting edging to their centers.
There is also variety in texture. Some flowers have rounded, classic petals while others are ruffled on the edges. These may be harder to find, depending on the availability in your area, but can be purchased from specialized growers to start your own African Violet collection.
Like many other collectible houseplants, African Violets have been extensively hybridized. The choices are almost endless, meaning you are guaranteed to find one to suit your interior design.
Pests and Diseases
African Violets are susceptible to their fair share of pests and diseases. Whenever you notice or even suspect that your plant is affected by pests or disease, it’s essential to separate them from other plants to prevent spread. Let’s take a look at the most common to look out for.
These are one of the most common pests to affect African Violets. Unfortunately, they are almost impossible to remove altogether, and it’s advised to dispose of the plant. Although you can try your luck with insecticidal oil or a miticide in an attempt to kill off the mites. Cyclamen mites are minute, semi-transparent, shiny, with eight legs, and they usually gather around the buds.
These can also be a problem to look out for, and they live on the underside of leaves. They are arachnids related to spiders, so a telltale sign is a web around the leaves. Also, tiny yellow or brown spots will appear on the leaves as spider mites puncture the leaves to suck out the nutrients. They are small and reddish-brown in color. Use insecticidal oil or miticide to tackle the infestation. Just bear in mind that spider mites are resistant to common pesticides.
This is a fungal disease of the foliage and stems. It appears as white, powdery patches that spread, stunting and distorting the growth of the plant. Simply prune out affected parts of the plant as soon as you notice it. Using all of the steps above will help to prevent powdery mildew.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are African Violets safe for pets?
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), African Violets are safe for dogs and cats. However, they might get a stomachache if they were to eat them.
Are African Violets easy to grow from seed?
African Violets are not challenging to grow from seeds. However, it is much more time-consuming than buying a plant or developing them from a leaf cutting. It’s best to buy seeds from a reputable online retailer or store rather than attempting to form the seeds from a plant yourself.
This is because the resulting plants rarely look as beautiful as the parent plant. A popular growing medium is peat moss. Spread the seeds evenly, and they will germinate in one to nine weeks.
What plants are similar to African Violets?
The African Violet is a wonderfully unique plant, but there are very similar plants out there. Gloxinia is often mistaken for an African Violet as it looks very similar. And the Goldfish plant is a closely related cousin.
Can African Violet leaves get wet?
The leaves of African Violets have tiny little hairs on them that can easily trap and hold moisture for long periods. This excess moisture creates the perfect environment for fungal and bacterial growth, attracting diseases to your plant.
If the water does not evaporate, the parts of the leaves left sitting in water can also begin to rot and turn yellow. Always keep water completely off your African Violet’s leaves by directly watering the soil and avoiding excessive misting.
Can you root African Violets in water?
African violet leaves or cuttings can be rooted in water. They should produce delicate, thin roots after a few weeks, indicating the leaf can be moved into a pot for further growth. However, cuttings will generally root better in soil as root growth will be stronger than in water. These roots will also be used to soil conditions, as opposed to water roots that may struggle to acclimatize to soil conditions.
Why is my African Violet not blooming?
African Violets require indirect bright light to bloom. Without adequate sunlight, the plant will not have enough energy to produce flowers. These plants typically bloom for most of the year, with flowers lasting around a week or two. If you do not notice any new blooms, move your plant to a brighter spot but away from direct sunlight to avoid scorching the foliage.
With care, attention, and a little know-how, you can make African Violets the star plant of your home. Don’t be put off if your African Violets suffer a little bit of damage. It’s all part of the gardening process! Stick to our reliable tips, and they should be blooming marvelous in no time at all.