How To Grow African Violets: A Beginners Guide

African Violet is a magic word in gardening—and rightly so. No other house planeasiest and quickest way to propagate African violetst is so satisfying or rewarding. How do you get started growing and collecting African Violet (Saintpaulias)?

Quite often, it is by chance: a friend gives you a leaf from one of her plants; you receive a gift from a friend, or you pick up a plant at the local nursery. Soon one plant leads to another, and you have a collection of six or eight.

Growing African VioletsPin

A typical collection is shown in the photograph. Then the bug bites! You soon want more plants—different colors and forms, of course—and more information on how to make them prizewinners. And you thought you did not have a green thumb to grow African violets!

Ideal Growing Culture

African violets require the same things for growth as any other plant, such as:

  • Moisture
  • Light
  • Humidity
  • a little food

And above all, love and understanding of their particular needs. A little equipment helps, too.

A good starting set should include:

  • A small watering can
  • A long-nosed bulb syringe
  • A little bulb spray


Watering is essential as it is with every plant. Some people prefer wick pots to take care of this chore.

One end of a wick is placed in the soil, and the other goes through the hole in the bottom of the pot into a small reservoir of water underneath.

In the first photograph of our beginners’ collection, all the plants are in wick pots.

It is a good idea to get the water in the reservoir dry completely before filling again—but not stay dry too long —and to water from the top at least once a month to wash down any plant food on the soil surface.

But you can water them conventionally, too. Try not to splash water all over the leaves; that’s where the watering can and long bulb syringe come in handy.

Use lukewarm water (about 75° degrees Fahrenheit), and, if you get the leaves wet, take the plant out of the sun until the leaves dry.

Wet leaves in the sun may cause brown spots or rings on the leaves.

Dust often collects on the hairy leaves. A camel’s hair brush will clean them, or you can shower the plant.

Again, use lukewarm water and put the plant aside to dry before you put it back in the window.


Light is another requirement for good growth. Disregard the hokus-pokus that African violets shouldn’t have sun.

African violets like the sun—but not the strong midday sun

Place your plants in a window where they will receive 2 to 4 hours of sun in the early morning or late afternoon.


Your plants will soon begin to grow. New growth, resembling miniature plants, will soon appear near the soil line.

These little plants are called crowns that you can take off and start new plants.

This is about the easiest and quickest way to propagate African violets.

Here’s how to do it:

  • First, tap the large plant out of the pot.
  • Then with a sharp knife—a paring knife works fine—gently cut these little crowns away from the mother plant.

It doesn’t seem to hurt the mother plant if some of the roots are removed.

The number of crowns you will get depends on the size and age of the mother plant.

In the photograph, you’ll see that five crowns were removed from this particular mother plant.

The next step is to report the mother plant—and she’ll look much better now that her progeny are off on their own—and the separated crowns.

Soon roots will form on the crowns, and you’ll have a few “extras” to swap or grow on for your enjoyment.

This isn’t the only way to propagate African violets. Every mature leaf on your plants has the potential to yield one or more additional plants.

It’s easy to do, and all you need are some sterile clean vermiculite or sand and a squat, large-mouthed jar.

Pop’s tobacco humidor was used in the photograph, but a one-pound Crisco jar works, too. Cut the leaf off, leaving about an inch and a half of the stem.

Then stick it in the moist vermiculite or sand in the jar and put the lid on loosely to allow some air to enter.

Roots begin to form in about 2 weeks, and then it’s time to pot them in soil. Using small pots, plant the leaf, so the roots are just below the surface.

The next discovery will be little leaves coming from the base of the stem.

Then you’re in business again with new plants. In the photograph, you see a leaf with roots, a potted leaf, and a leaf showing the little leaves.

Soil Requirements

We’ve talked about potting, and now the question arises: What kind of soil?

Ready-mixed African violet soil is available in plastic packages from many hardware, dime, and garden stores.

But, if you have several plants to pot—and remember that the larger the pot, the more soil you’ll need—you may want to mix your own.

A good mixture comprises equal parts of the following:

  • Good sterilized garden soil
  • Leaf mold (or peat-moss)
  • Sand (or vermiculite)

When these ingredients are put together, you’ll have a loose, humusy mixture very much to the taste of your African violets.

But, without knowing it, you may have brought in many tiny insects and diseases with your soil and leaf mold.

And, if you’re going to use old pots, they, too, may be contaminated. An ounce of prevention at this stage will save many heartaches later on.

Here are the steps to follow:

  • Clean the pots first.
  • Place them in that old pan you never had the heart to throw out and fill it with water.
  • Place it on the stove and boil for 20 minutes to a half-hour. This will sterilize the pots and make cleaning off all the old green moss and white salts on their sides easier.
  • Next, fill the clean pots with your soil.
  • To sterilize the soil, place pots containing soil in a moderate oven to bake for an hour or so. Another way is to place the filled pots on a rack in a roasting pan with a half-inch of water in the bottom.
  • Cover the roasting pan and place it on the stove, boiling the water for a half-hour.
  • When the pots and soil cool, you can pot to your heart’s content, knowing that the plants will be off to a good start.

Collecting African-Violet Varieties

Before you realize it, you will be out of the beginner stage and almost on the verge of being an advanced African violet fancier.

Your Saintpaulia plants will occupy several windows, and you’ll have plants in all stages of growth, just like the collection in the photograph.

You’ll scour your local florist, dime store, and garden center, looking for new varieties.

As a real fancier, you will soon realize that these sources may be limited, so you will start sending for catalogs of African violet specialists.

It’s from these specialists that all the new and interesting ones come. But there are thousands to choose from.

Which ones should you buy? Every grower has his favorites, but perhaps our readers’ favorites will help you make your selection. 

Common Problems

As your collection grows, so do the problems in growing.

Some plants won’t bloom. They may be just resting, so give them your usual good care for a few more weeks before you do anything drastic.

Quite often, though, they just need a little more light. Put the plant in the center of your window.

Insects may have gotten in somehow. They can be cleaned up easily. The plants have to be fed, too. 

Don’t forget the shape of your plant. Even though it may have ample bloom, a lopsided plant doesn’t have the appeal that the perfectly symmetrical one does.

The plant in the picture shows a common fault that can be corrected by turning your plant a quarter-turn every second day. 

This plant hasn’t been turned in long, and all the leaves face the light.

Excellent Uses

African violets are useful plants for decoration other than the window ledge. A large, well-shaped plant in full bloom makes a wonderful centerpiece for the dinner table.

Switching plants from place to place in the house can add a touch of color to drab corners.

For instance, looking at a few plants on a corner shelf or the window sill will make some of those necessary chores much easier in the kitchen.

The aluminum foil around the pots in the photographs helps keep moisture from evaporating through the pot.

Hybridizing African Violet Varieties

The final goal of almost every fancier is to hybridize his varieties.

There is always the dream—and possibility—that one of your seedlings will someday be a choice. sought-after variety.

There is much to the genetics involved, but the actual pollination process is simple. 

The yellow anther of a flower of one plant should be sliced with a razor blade to make the pollen available, and then the anther of a flower of another plant is touched to the stigma.

It takes about 9 months for the seed pod to develop fully.

Never pick the pod before it is ripe.

44659 by William L. Meachem