I began my love affair with African violets back when I was living in a college dorm room. With so little space I nevertheless longed to have some flowers growing. Then a friend and I discovered African violets. They’re easy to grow in limited space, come in a wide range of colors, are not too expensive, and are – dare I say this? – cute, cute, cute!
What makes African violets so attractive are the gorgeous and highly variable flowers that grow vertically from the crown of the plant. This houseplant has what horticulturists call a “high degree of genetic variability,” which explains the different shapes, sizes and colors of the flowers. They have been bred and cross-bred so much that you can get a violet with nearly any flower color except black or brown.
African violets are indoor houseplants with fuzzy spoon-shaped leaves that radiate out from a central crown. Most have dark green leaves, but you can find varieties with lighter green leaves or the more spectacular white and green variegated leaves. The average (standard) African violet grows best in a 4-inch pot and spreads out to about 10 inches in diameter. From above, the leaves should look like the spokes of a wheel.
African Violets and Light
Most people can successfully grow African violets on the windowsill of a sunny south-facing window. This tolerance of indoor and window light means they are great for home or office. No matter where you grow them, make sure the sunlight does not hit directly on the leaves. That can overheat them and cause burnt leaves. You also need to turn the violet about a quarter every week to prevent it from leaning wildly toward the window.
Water and Fertilizer For African Violets
The trick to watering an African violet is “regular but not too much.” Ideally, you would use water to wet the soil about once a week. How often you water will vary depending on how humid or dry the air is in your home or office. If you touch the soil and it feels damp, wait a few days. If the top is dry or mostly dry then go ahead and water.
Pour room temperature water (never ice water) on the potting soil around the border of the container. Do not pour water directly on the leaves or the crown. Water on the leaves – especially cold water – can cause spotting on the leaves. Water poured on the crown can encourage fungal growth and eventually crown rot, a death sentence for any African violet.
Producing those beautiful blooms takes energy, which means African violets need regular applications of fertilizer. Any place that sells African violets should also sell African violet fertilizer. Most are intended to be used every two weeks. Being a little absent-minded, I simplify that by adding a half dose to the water every week.
What Pot is Best?
First, let’s talk about size. African violets do not do well if they are in a too-large pot. For standard-sized plants, a 4- to 6-inch pot will be just fine. A slightly root-bound African violet is generally a happy plant.
Sometime in the 1960s the idea of self-watering pots for African violets became popular. I remember seeing plants growing in what was dubbed the “Texas-style pot.” This involved using a pot with a section of stocking nylon or other wicking fabric threaded through the drainage hole to transfer water from a shallow tray underneath. The plan was to keep the soil at the ideal moisture level without overwatering. Modern versions of this still exist in the self-watering containers you may find in garden nurseries. Personally, I’ve found that these self-watering pots tend to keep the soil too moist. Your results may vary.
Want to grow something colorful indoors? African violets are just the thing. You can find plants with an endless variety of flower color (see our African violet photo gallery). Buy one today and brighten your office or home.
If you enjoy herbs and organic gardening, you’ll want to meet Ann McCormick, the Herb ‘n Cowgirl. A life-long gardener, she has devoted her time for the last 20 years to writing and speaking about her favorite subject. Ann is a feature writer for The Dallas Morning News. The Herb ‘n Cowgirl also shares her love of herbs and her gardening techniques as a speaker and media guest. She lives in Fort Worth, TX with her husband of 35 years and an assortment of dogs. To find out more about the Herb ‘n Cowgirl, visit her at www.herbncowgirl.com.