African Violets Perfect For Indoor Life

By: Kent Higgins..

While the African violet is, indeed, from Africa, it's actually not a violet at all, but an herb called Gesneriaceae. The reason it came to be called a violet is because its deep purple blooms, though pink, blue and white blossoms are also common.

The plant got its botanical name, Saintpaulia, from Baron Walter von Saint Paul, who was the first to bring the plant from Africa to Europe in 1893. African violets have become enormously popular in the past decade, mainly because they are attractive, perfectly suited to indoor growing and produce flowers almost constantly.

African Violets are low-growing, hairy-leafed plants with dark green, oval-shaped leaves. More than one hundred varieties of African violets are known, some producing blooms as large as an inch and a half across.

Growing conditions - The reason African violets make such good houseplants is that they thrive in a warmer environment than most other indoor greenery, preferring temperatures ranging from 70 to 75 degrees during the day and 60 degrees or above at night. If your house is cooler than this on winter nights, you should protect your African violets by moving them away from windows or covering them with a newspaper.

Because they are accustomed to jungle conditions, African violets require a great deal of moisture. This may be achieved by placing the plants in a pan our saucer filled one inch deep with pebbles and covered with water that stops just below the pot. Another way to keep your plants humid is to place a bowl of water on a radiator near the flowers.

African Violets should be watered either from below unlike caring for Bromeliads, or from above with a watering can with a long spout which will reach inside the foliage and wet the soil without splashing the leaves. If you splash cold water on the leaves, they can be afflicted with white spots on the leaves, one of the main problems encountered by African violet enthusiasts.

One way to avoid this problem is to only use warm or lukewarm water when watering your plant, and avoid the temptation to spray the leaves even with warm water. Another way to keep from splashing the leaves is to use a wick-watering system.

A benefit of African violets that makes them better suited to indoor growing than most other flowering plants is that they do not require much sunlight. Though the plants can succeed in a northern exposure, they do best when placed in an east- or west-facing window.

African violets do not require outdoor "plunging" in the summer, and they should never be placed outdoors. You can keep their leaves dust-free by cleaning them with a soft brush, such as a small, soft paintbrush.

Soil - African Violets like a soil richer in humus than the average plant requires. Special potting mixes made just for African violets are available at most garden centers. When potting your plant, make sure the soil is not too tightly packed, as African violets like well-aerated soils. And because they tolerate constant moisture at the roots better than most plants, they do well in a larger pot.

Food - While you're buying your soil, it's also a good idea to pick up a fertilizer made especially for African violets. Feed your plants according to label directions, and be sure to add fertilizer when you are re-potting or starting new plants from cuttings.

Propagation - Leaf-cutting is the most effective way to propagate African violets. Do it in the spring so cuttings will have all summer to grow. New leaves will appear on newly rooted plants within ten to twelve weeks, though some hardy plants will show foliage in four to six weeks. That means if you begin propagating in early Spring, you will have a flower Saintpaulia garden by fall.

Dividing plants is another propagation technique which is best done when the plant's crown becomes so thick that it stops flowering. To divide the roots, turn the pot upside down and carefully remove the soil from the roots, trying not to disturb them much. Next, use a gentle stream of tepid water to wash away the remaining dirt. Several segments, each with its own root, should be clearly visible at the base of the crown.

Gently pull them apart from the main plant and place them in appropriately-sized individual containers. Thoroughly water and fertilize the new plantings and place them in the shade for a few days before moving them to a window spot.

Pests and diseases - The worst enemies of African Violets are mealybugs and red spiders, but these pests are not commonly found inside homes. Should you encounter problems with them, though, there are special insecticides made just for African violets.

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