African Violet Care
African violets are in the genus Saintpaulia containing six species in the family Gesneriaceae. This means they are not related to the true violets in the genus Viola and the family Violaceae. Saintpaulia are native to tropical eastern Africa in the higher elevations near Tanzania and Kenya. The most common species sold as a houseplant is Saintpaulia ionantha. The specific epithet "ionantha" refers to the violet flowers that bloom prolifically. Removing the spent blooms (deadheading) will help to encourage a longer bloom time.
African violets may have proved challenging for some in the past. They can be one of the more finicky flowering houseplants, but they're very rewarding once you get the hang of them! They'll produce nearly continuous blooms if the proper conditions are met. Let's take a look at what they need...
Proper lighting is important for every plant. While African violets can tolerate lower light levels, they do much better if placed in an area with bright indirect light. If the plant does not have enough, the leaves will begin reaching for the light and will become leggy. To have the most attractive and healthy plant possible, place the plant near a window or under a grow light.
Watering may be the toughest part for African violets. Getting any water on their leaves will cause brown spots resembling burns. Wet leaves can also attract certain pests and diseases. The most effective and safest way to water an African violet is from the bottom. Bottom watering is frequently done incorrectly. Letting your plant soak for just a few minutes will not provide adequate water; allow them to soak until the soil has been completely saturated.
A much easier and hands off approach to provide water to your African violets is with a ceramic self watering pot. They consist of an outer well pot that is glazed and an inner pot that is glazed on the top, but left bare on the body. This allows the water to pass through the porous clay of the inner pot. Keeping the well pot full of water will not
over water your plant, so no fear there! It is best to keep the well pot full enough so the inner pot is at least partially submerged. Check the water level every once in a while to see if additional water is needed. To have a mostly hands-off approach, fill the well pot as much as possible without overflowing. Depending on the size of the pot, this could allow you to forget about it for a month or two at a time!
I advise against plain terracotta pots. They allow the plants to dry too quickly and too thoroughly. The water will also wick out of the soil and into the pot if the pot is not saturated, meaning longer soak times. African violets should not be allowed to dry completely.
African violets do well in most average potting soils! They don't need fancy soil amendments in order to thrive, your average garden center soil will be perfect. They do best in soils rich in organic material (the "dirt" part of potting soil). If your soil is too chunky or is low in organic material the plants will not be able to absorb the proper amounts of water no matter which method you use.
Fertilizing is often overlooked for plant care. Most plants will need additional fertilizer added to the soil or water in order to survive and thrive. African violets are no exception! Low fertilizer levels can lead to yellowing leaves and fewer or no blooms. Healthy, thriving Saintpaulia will not bloom constantly, so keep that in mind. There are African Violet specific fertilizers that work very well, but if you would rather use one you already have, fertilizers with a high middle number will help to promote blooms (ex. 8-14-9), but your average 10-10-10, 7-7-7, or 20-20-20 fertilizers will still work well! There are different types of fertilizers (liquid, dissolving granules, slow release, etc.), so be sure to follow the directions on the box. If you are using a liquid or dissolving granules along with a ceramic self watering pot, the fertilizers can be put directly into the well. Fertilizing in winter will not harm your plant. Often, houseplants will continue to grow all year long, though they may slow in winter if not supplemented with additional light.
African Violets are a classic houseplant and have retained their popularity for good reason. They're hardy and very rewarding plants to have. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out!