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Growing and Flowering African Violets
African violets are not even related to garden violets but come from tropical Africa. To grow them successfully attempt to provide conditions similar to those of their origins.
Watering: Don’t drown the plants but don’t let them go thirsty. Water when the top of the soil feels dry, using enough lukewarm water to run freely out through the drain holes. Then don’t water again until the soil feels dry once more. Water the plant any way you like but never let it remain standing in water.
One of the best ways of watering African violets is by wick. Use a synthetic cord passing from inside the pot (in good contact with the potting mix) through the drain hole and into a reservoir of water, or a weak fertiliser solution. If the potting mix and the wick are already moist, water passes up the wick to keep the plant watered adequately over a period of days or weeks. Note that the pot must be out of the water but the wick in water.
Potting Medium: This should be open, light, fluffy and well-drained yet reasonably moisture retentive. A soil-less potting mix, typically consisting of peat moss, vermiculite, perlite and charcoal is recommended by most growers.
Food: Since soil-less mixes with very little nutrient are generally used, fertilise regularly. Use a fertiliser specifically designed for flowering plants, and use it at a fairly weak concentration.
Pots should not be too big because African violets flower best if slightly root bound. A squat pot about one third of the leaf span is best. As the plant grows repot into posts only one size larger at a time. Plastic pots are convenient and satisfactory.
Light is important for flowering African violets. They need a bright position within 40-50 cms of a window in filtered light. Turn plants regularly for even growth. Artificial lighting can also be used to grow African violets.
Warmth: A temperature range of 15-26°C is the most suitable to grow these tropical plants.
In hot weather the flowers do not last as long. In cooler temperatures flowers may not appear, leaves will curl down, growth will slow, so watering and fertilising should be reduced. If violets are grown on a window-sill, protect them from cold on winter nights.
Fresh air or circulation of air is important but avoid excessively cold or hot airstreams, and sudden changes in the temperature.
Humidity: 60% minimum is recommended, not usually a problem in Sydney except in heated rooms in winter.
Cleanliness and Grooming: Keep the hairy leaves of African violets clean by dusting with a soft brush or with a lukewarm wash under a slowly running tap.
Remove dead flower stalks, yellow leaves, and all superfluous growths to promote better health and flowering. African violets look better and flower better if single crowned.
Trailing varieties can be encouraged to grow as many extra crowns as possible.
Pests & Problems do occur in growing African violets. The most common are powdery mildew and mites, but thrips and mealy bugs can also make their presence felt.
Specific pesticides exist to deal with these problems, and evasive action can be taken to avoid them. Joining the African Violet Association of Australia is a good way of finding out more about identifying and controlling pests.
Propagation is easy—another reason for the popularity of African violets. Healthy leaves can be planted in small pots of vermiculite or potting mix. The numerous progeny will add to your enjoyment.
Leaf Propagation of African violets is an easy and rewarding way of increasing your stock of plants. Best success will be had in the warmer months of the year.
Choose a fresh-cut healthy leaf, selected neither from the very oldest or youngest on your plant. Cut the stem to about 2-3 cms with a slanting cut to the front of the leaf. Plant in a small pot of quality African violet potting medium or in vermiculite. Water, and keep in a bright, warm place. Begin fertilising lightly after a month. Signs of plants should appear from about 6 weeks. A leaf can produce up to a dozen or more plants. Once the plantlets have grown to 6-10 cms high, they should be divided, and planted individually in small pots. From then on, pot as required into one size larger pot until the normal 10 cm pot is reached.
Most leaves grown in this way will produce plants with the same characteristics as their parent but fantasy, edged blooms and some other bi-colour types sometimes produce plantlets that vary.