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African Violets Easy to Grow and Propagate

by Leslie Johnson, MSU

Picture of African Violet.
Placed in the right location, African violets are easy to grow.

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Few flowering plants are as easy to grow, popular and dependable as African violets. Give them enough light, and they’ll flower again and again, whether they’re in an office, a kitchen window or a greenhouse.

“Though they need bright light, African violets don’t tolerate direct sunlight,” says Mary McLellan, Extension Master Gardener program coordinator at Michigan State University.

In an east-, west- or south-facing window, they’ll thrive in light filtered by a sheer curtain and flower all year round. In a north window, they may stop flowering in the winter.

Violets that aren’t flowering because they aren’t getting enough light will also have thin leaves with long stems, and they’ll grow vertically rather than horizontally.

Small, leathery leaves curling down around the pot are a sign that plants are getting too much light. Direct sun can also burn plants and cause foliage to turn yellow and die.

Flowers nearly year round and healthy-looking foliage growing horizontally are indications that a plant is receiving the proper amount of light. Healthy-looking plants that aren’t flowering may need to be repotted into smaller containers, she suggests. African violets generally flower better if they’re slightly underpotted.

“African violets are more tolerant of a range of environmental conditions than many people think,” McLellan points out.

They usually do well in average home temperatures, though winter temperatures may be a little on the cool side, especially if the thermostat is turned down at night. There, especially, it’s important to make sure that violets aren’t placed on a chilly windowsill, which can injure the roots, or closed off from the heat in the room at night by a curtain, shade or blind.

Though African violets appreciate humidity, they don’t like water on either foliage or flowers, McLellan says. Unless you can grow African violets in a naturally more humid area, such as the kitchen or bathroom, or in a terrarium or other confined space, the air may be drier than they like. The best way to humidify the air around them is to place them on a tray of gravel almost covered with water.

Proper care of African violets includes proper watering and fertilizing. Pots with drainage holes can be set in a shallow pan of water until the soil surface is moist, then allowed to drain. Plants in pots without drainage holes should be repotted in pots with drainage holes, McLellan suggests.

“Good drainage is important to keep the roots healthy,” she explains.

When watering plants from above, use water at room temperature and pour it on the potting medium rather than into the plant crown (the area where the stems come together and join the roots). Wetting the crown may cause it to rot. Watering from below is an easy way to avoid crown rot and leaf spotting, she notes.

When plants in natural light are actively growing (spring, summer and early fall), fertilize every 4 to 6 weeks with a soluble houseplant fertilizer mixed according to manufacturer’s directions. In winter, either reduce the rate or double the length of time between applications, or stop fertilizing altogether.

Plants growing under artificial light may grow and flower all year round and can be fertilized accordingly.

The great variety in plant sizes, flower forms and flower colors in African violets means you can accumulate quite a few without having two identical plants, McLellan observes. They’re available in florists’ shops and garden centers, supermarkets and discount and home improvement stores, and by mail order. Plants may be anywhere from 3 or 4 inches in diameter to 16 inches or more. Flowers may be solid, bicolored or multicolored in shades of pink, red, blue lavender, purple and orchid, as well as white. Leaves come in a variety of shapes and textures; some are variegated.

Propagation is by seed or leaf cuttings.


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