Hello fellow readers,
‘You can’t water their faces’ recalls brother Rick; one of Mom’s instructions on how to care for African violets as water on their leaves can cause spotting damage. Mom had quite a collection of violets when we were kids. As I write we are visiting her in a nursing home in Virginia. A few months back my sister asked that I adopt the plants Mom collected the years she was able to live with her. Dorothy cherished taking Mom to the annual African Violet Festival nearby.
As you would guess African Violets, Saintpaulias, are native to Africa. They need plenty of indirect sunlight hence windows facing west or south are best. Use sheer curtains or adjust the blinds to filter the light. Rotate plants a quarter turn weekly so they don’t bend towards the light. Keep their soil moist, never soggy, and water only when the top of the soil feels dry. The water should be room temperature as cool water will cause their leaves to curl down. Mom always used a charming brass watering can that she filled and left next to her babies for the next time she watered.
If you opt for grow lights, keep in mind African Violets need at least eight hours of darkness a day in order to bloom. And beware of leaf bleaching – leaves which are lighter or pinkish as a result of artificial light. The only remedy is natural sunlight.
African Violets like warmth, preferably about 70, but 60 to 80 degrees is fine too. Less than 50 degrees is fatal to these tropical beauties. The ideal fifty percent humidity is hard to maintain in heated homes. By grouping plants, the humidity around them can increase by 15 percent. It’s important to keep their leaves from touching though as they need room to grow and air circulation to prevent disease. Containers of water around the plants can help. Or, use a humidifier during the winter. Another way is to elevate the plants on pebbles kept moist. Be sure the water level stays clear of the bottoms of the pots.
All this may sound fussy but in truth African Violets are adaptable and hence are popular houseplants. One of Mom’s treasures is back in bloom. Her dark green leaves have creamy white edges complimented by cream-colored flowers edged with pale green. She’s ‘Frozen in Time’ which is fitting. While all flowers fade our memories are forever frozen in time.
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Tips: African violets grow and bloom better in small pots. Small plantlets should be planted into 2” pots and remain in the pot until blooms begin to appear-indicating good root structure has been established. Then repot them into 3” pots until the plant measures at least nine inches in diameter. Next transplant them into a 4” pot and upsize the pot by an inch or so as the plant grows. Plastic or clay pots both work well. Plastic pots allow a longer time between watering while clay pots provide more aeration and therefore there is less risk of over-watering.
For proper growth and development the soil should be slightly acid (6.4-6.9 pH), contain proper nutrients and be sterilized to insure against disease organisms and soil insects. There are special African Violet potting soil mixes you can buy or recipes you can make which you can learn about on the African Violet Society of America’s website: www.avsa.org.