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Home & Garden

Yard and Garden: Healthy African Violets

AMES — African violets are one of America’s most popular houseplants. They belong to the Saintpaulia family and are not related to the hardy violets found in outdoor gardens. Under the proper growing conditions, they will bloom almost continuously indoors.

Horticulturists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach explain how to grow African violets. To have more questions answered contact Hortline at 515-294-3108 or hortline@iastate.edu.

My African violets aren’t blooming well. Why?  

The African violets may not be receiving adequate light. The proper amount of light is essential for good bloom. Generally, windows with north or east exposures are best for African violets. However, if these exposures are not possible, they also perform well under fluorescent lights. Place the fluorescent lights 6 to 8 inches above the plants. The lights should be lit for 12 to 16 hours per day.  

Excessive fertilization could also be responsible for the poor bloom. African violets need to be fertilized to promote bloom. However, excessive fertilization leads to vigorous vegetative growth and poor flowering. Using a complete, water soluble fertilizer, apply a dilute fertilizer solution once every two weeks in spring, summer and fall. Fertilization usually isn’t necessary during the winter months.  

What is the proper way to water an African violet?  

Proper watering is essential for African violets. Crown and root rots may occur if plants are watered too frequently and their roots are kept too wet. Allow the surface of the potting soil to dry to the touch between waterings in spring, summer and fall. Reduce the frequency of watering slightly during the winter months. The temperature of the water should be room temperature or slightly above.  

African violets can be watered from the top or bottom. Watering from the bottom is done by placing African violets in saucers or trays of water and allowing the plants to soak up moisture for 20 to 30 minutes. When watering plants from the bottom, it’s advisable to water plants from the top several times a year to prevent the accumulation of salts in the potting soil. When applying water to the surface of the potting soil, avoid getting water on the foliage or in the crowns of plants. Continue to apply water until water begins to flow out the bottom of the pots. Discard the excess water. Wick watering is another option. This is a continuous watering system with a water reservoir at the base of the plant and an absorbent wick that connects the potting soil and the water reservoir.  

How can I propagate an African violet?  

African violets are easily propagated by leaf-petiole cuttings. Select a firm, healthy leaf and cut it off with a razor blade or sharp knife. Leave 1 to 1½ inches of the leaf stem (petiole) attached to the leaf blade. Fill a pot with perlite or coarse sand. Moisten the rooting medium. Using a pencil, make a hole at a 45 degree angle in the perlite or coarse sand. Insert the petiole of the leaf cutting into the hole in the rooting medium. Firm the rooting medium around the petiole of the leaf cutting. After all cuttings are inserted, water the perlite or coarse sand and allow it to drain for a few minutes.  

Next, cover the cuttings with a clear plastic bag. Secure the plastic bag to the pot with tape or a rubber band. (The enclosed environment drastically reduces the loss of water from the leaf-petiole cuttings and prevents them from wilting and dying before they have a chance to root.) Set the pot in a brightly lit location out of direct sunlight. Roots usually form in three to four weeks. The leaves of new plants usually appear in six to eight weeks. Several plants may form at the base of each petiole. Separate the plants by carefully pulling or cutting them apart. Pot up plants individually into containers using a well-drained potting mix.  

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