African violets are one of the world's most popular houseplants and for good reason. These compact, low-growing plants flower several times a year, and they are available in a multitude of leaf forms and colors. African violets are distinguished by a rosette of thick, fuzzy leaves and violet-like flowers that bloom just above the evergreen foliage.
Don't be put off by their reputation for difficulty: providing you follow a few simple rules, African violets should thrive indoors. With a little experience, it's possible to keep these slow-growing plants in flower nearly all year round and grow them to the size of dinner plates.
|Common Name||African violet|
|Botanical Name||Saintpaulia ionantha|
|Mature Size||6-9 in. tall, 6-9 in. wide|
|Soil Type||Well-drained but moist|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer, fall, winter|
|Flower Color||White, pink, red, blue, purple|
|Hardiness Zones||11-12 (USDA)|
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for an African Violet
African Violet Care
African violets will thrive in bright, warm and humid conditions. Keep water from touching their leaves or it will leave brown spots. Remove dead flowers and leaves as soon as you see them to encourage a healthier plant. Regularly check the soil for excess moisture. This will encourage rot. Growing these houseplants is really a matter of balance; you have to make sure that the different factors that go into their cultivation all are weighted against each other. They should be kept in moist enough conditions that they don't dry out, yet still exposed to a fresh breeze to avoid letting them get too stuffy, and exposed to sunlight without damaging their leaf tips. Don't be discouraged if your African violets suffer some damage—it's all part of the process.
African violets do well in bright but not direct sunlight. They are commonly grown under fluorescent lights placed 12 to 15 inches above the leaves. If the leaves start getting light green, your plant is getting too much light, while thin and dark green leaves or a leggy plant indicate too little light.
A well-drained potting mix is essential for African violets. Poor drainage can cause root rot, in which the plant becomes waterlogged and its leaves begin to fall, so make sure that the plant is never allowed to be exposed to standing water for an extended period of time.
Keep soil moist with warm water and strive for high humidity. Do not allow water to contact the leaves of the plant to prevent damage, other than light misting. Water from below, or push the water spout into the soil when watering. Don't allow the plant to sit in water.
Temperature and Humidity
African violets like warm and humid conditions and thrive at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not allow the temperature to fall below about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Do your best to keep the plants away from any drafts in the home.
Feed with an African violet fertilizer every other week during the spring and summer. For the amount to use, follow product label instructions.
Types of African Violets
The original plants, the S. ionantha, were introduced in Germany in 1893. Shortly after, the S. confusa were introduced when a grower at the nursery noticed subtle differences among some of the plants. Since then, thousands of varieties have been produced. Today, African violets are available in single and double flowers, frilled and different shaped flowers. Their flowers come in all different colors, and the plants have widely varied leaf shapes. They come in both single crown and also multi-crown, trailing plants. These are just a few examples.
- 'Persian Prince' is a miniature-sized plant with scalloped medium green leaves and semidouble dark purple flowers.
- 'Lyon's Lavender Magic' is standard size with medium green foliage, and white with light purple colored star-shaped flowers that can be single or semi-double and frilled.
- 'Hawaiian Pearl' is a standard size plant with dark green foliage and has a semi-double star shape flower that is ivory with a dark lavender/rose band.
- 'Summer Twilight' has variegated leaves with frilled lilac-purple flowers that have a white edged border.
- 'Lonestar Snowstorm' has variegated leaves with single white frilled flowers.
- 'Little Maya' has dark green foliage with deep crimson red flowers.
Gloxinia is sometimes mistaken for a type of African violet. If you like African violets, you might also enjoy the closely related Streptocarpus species or the African violet cousin, the Goldfish Plant.
The only pruning that should be done to African violets is to carefully remove any dead leaves and once blooms are spent, deadhead them to encourage the plant to stay healthy and bloom again.
Propagating African Violets
African violets can be propagated from leaf cuttings or from offsets. It is fairly easy to propagate from a leaf from an adult plant. Here's how:
- Select a healthy green leaf from the bottom of the plant and using scissors carefully snip it off at the base of the plant.
- Cut the leaf stem at a 45-degree angle to 1/2 inch in length.
- Put the cutting into a small pot that has been prepared with a mixture of vermiculite and peat, then water.
- Cover the pot with a plastic baggie and place in bright, indirect light.
- You should see new baby plants in about 12 weeks. Wait until they're bigger and separate them from the leaf and transplant.
Adult plants occasionally produce small plantlets or shoots from the side. Remove these and pot up independently. Removing them also encourages better blooms on the parent plant.
Potting and Repotting African Violets
African violets do better when they are slightly underpotted. Repot only when necessary into a pot that is one size up and use an all-purpose potting soil or African violet potting mix. To repot these plants, simply grab the plant as a whole, lift it, and replace it with a larger container, making sure not to damage their root systems in the process. Only plant up to where they were originally planted and do not cover the crown of the plant.
Common signs that a plant is stressed out and needs to be repotted include falling leaves and overcrowding, as well as roots that protrude from the surface of the soil. Keep an eye out and repot the plant if you think it'll help.
Common Pests and Diseases
African violets, like all plants, can be affected by common pests and diseases. Common pests include spider mites, mealy bugs, and cyclamen mites, which, once noticed, can be taken care of with neem oil or an insecticide. Diseases include fungi such as botrytis blight, crown rot and root rot. To help avoid these diseases, don't overwater your plant, and provide it with the proper lighting, fertilization, and air circulation.
How to Get African Violets to Bloom
These plants love to show off their beautiful blooms and if cared for properly, can bloom year round. Provide it with the proper light, water, humidity, fertilizer, and soil, plus keep it free from pests and diseases, and you will have a happy, healthy plant. African violets like to feel cozy and tight in their pots, but not to the point of being root bound. This is when they start blooming and flowering for longer periods of time. When the flowers are spent, make sure to deadhead them as that will encourage the plant to flower more, and hopefully, you'll see new blooms in about six weeks.
Common Problems With African Violets
Plant doesn't bloom
If your African violet is not producing flowers, this is because it is not getting enough light and the temperature and humidity are not correct. Place the plant in bright, indirect lighting or use fluorescent lighting and ensure the temperature in the room is at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Spots on leaves
African violets do not like to have water on their leaves and this can cause them to have spots on them. Water from the bottom by placing the container in a bowl or use a self-watering pot.
How long can an African violet live?
With the proper care and maintenance, an African violet can live for around 20 years and as long as 50 years.
How do you clean off the leaves of an African violet?
African violet leaves are fuzzy and don't like to have water on them, but like all plants, the leaves get dusty and dirty. Simply brush them off gently with a soft-bristled brush.
Is it okay to touch the leaves of an African violet?
Dust them off carefully with a soft-bristled brush but otherwise try not to touch or handle the leaves of an African violet.
Leaf Spots Not Always From Pests. Perdue University Extension Home Gardeners.
The lower leaves on my African violet have turned yellow and become droopy. What could be wrong? Iowa State University Horticulture and Home Pest News.
Growing African Violets. University of Georgia Extension.