Hints For Growing Better African Violets

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Give your African violets that little extra care to keep them at their peak throughout the winter.

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Plants From Attic To Basement

When your care for African violets fills every favorable window in the house, you will start scouting the place for additional quarters for your plants. At this point, you become a “fancier.”

One woman who is an African violet devotee grows them in her attic, a scheme you may wish to follow if you have an attic.

If you don’t have an attic, perhaps you would enjoy making an African-violet garden in your basement through fluorescent lighting.

Under fluorescent light, you are merely duplicating the sun. Although fluorescent lights are a poor excuse for the great sun, the African violets you can grow under them are, without exaggeration, excellent.

The foliage is a deep rich green – even more luxuriant than those grown under natural light –, and the flowering is remarkable, lasting, in many cases, throughout the entire year.

The Lights To Use

Much experimental work in growing African violets under artificial light has been carried on in colleges, much of it sponsored by the African Violet Society of America. From these studies, some definite conclusions have been established.

Excellent results, both in growth and flowering, can be achieved using 40-watt fluorescent lights (either daylight or cool white bulbs) kept 18 hours a day.

The ideal arrangement for the home gardener is the two-tube fixture – the kind you often see in stores or industrial complexes. This fixture comes complete, although you may have to supply the extension wire and plug in some cases.

The only installation necessary is to hang it over a bench or table and turn it on. A fluorescent light fixture like this will provide sufficient light for a growing area 2-1/2 by 4 feet. You can get a good number of plants in this amount of space.

The fixture should be placed so that the tube is 1 foot from the top of the plant for best growth.

Spray Before Insects Come

Since prevention is always much more accessible than the eradication of insects, it is wise to spray the plants before African Violet pests arrive. If you establish a regular program of spraying your plants once every two weeks, you can forget the insect problem.

You can mix your spray if you have a pint or quart-sized hand sprayer. The best all-around material for African violets and all house plants, for that matter – is malathion.

If you like the all-natural route, check out Neem oil as an insecticide spray or applied as a soil drench or soak.

Malathion you can buy at garden stores. For Neem oil check online. If you mix your spray, following the manufacturer’s directions to the letter is of prime importance. Malathion is considered a “safe” insecticide.

Still, for double safety, it is suggested that the plants to be sprayed be moved to a basement or garage and that pets and children be kept away while you are spraying. When you have finished spraying, place the plants back in the window.

Not All One Kind

If you have more than one variety, take cuttings of all of them. It is tempting to strip all the leaves from your favorite plant, but in a few months, you will be disappointed that your sizable collection is dominated by one kind of African violet.

Another tip is to label all your leaves and potted cuttings. You may want to give one away while it is still tiny, and be sure you know its variety.

The Covered-Dish Method

Though many African-violet devotees use the tumbler technique for starting new plants, others prefer to use the covered-dish method of inserting the leaf stems in moist vermiculite or sterile sand.

Vermiculite, which is expanded mica and sold in garden supply stores for propagating plants like Saintpaulias and improving soil, is preferred by most fanciers.

To do this, you take a butter dish, wide-mouthed jar, or similar container and put about an inch of moist vermiculite or sand in the bottom. Then stick the leaf stems in just deep enough to ensure their standing up.

Put the lid on the dish loosely to allow some air to enter yet keep the moisture in. In about two weeks, the cuttings will be rooted.

When the roots are about an inch long, it is time to pot the little fellows in small pots. Don’t wash the sand or vermiculite from the roots. Plant, so the sources are just below the surface.

A short time later, you will notice the next phenomenon, the appearance of a small plant – or plants – emerging just where the leaf stem enters the soil. That’s what you were waiting for.

Steps In Potting African Violets

When potting, the first thing to do is to spread out some newspapers on a table and dump the soil in a neat pile. Then accumulate some drainage material. These can be pieces of broken pots, coarse gravel, small lumps of charcoal, or the like.

Next, place about an inch of this drainage material in the bottom. (Of course, if you are potting in 2 1/2″ inch pots, you only need about a half-inch.)

Drainage in the bottom of the pot is essential to plant growth. Next, put a small handful of soil on top.

Take the plant gently in the left hand.

Hold the plant, so the leaves are close together, allowing you room to get the soil around the roots. Then take a handful of dirt and pour it gently all around the plant.

Be sure to hold the plant so the crown, or place where roots and leaves join, is even with the top of the pot.

Fill the pot loosely until the soil is level with the lid. Then, with your two thumbs and index fingers, circle the crown and press down gently.

To finish the potting, grasp the pot with both hands, your thumbs on the soil, and gently tap the pot against the table so the soil will settle about a half-inch below the rim.

You want this minor depression for watering. The ground is firm but not packed when a plant has been potted correctly.

Before your newly potted plant is placed in the window, it should be watered. The best way to water it is to put it in a pan of water, so the water comes halfway up on the pot.

Please leave it in the water until the surface is moist. Drain and then put it in the window.

Collectors Share: Growing African Violets – Advice From Two Amateur Experts

How Much Water?

This is a question almost impossible to answer. Water is essential to all plant growth – as we all know. Ask many experts how often you should water a plant, and they will tell you: “When it needs it.” Our big problem, then, is knowing when the plant needs water.

The plant will tell you by wilting and looking “thirsty,” but this is often too late. The soil is the best indication – not the ground’s appearance but its ” feel “. Reach under the leaves with two fingers and dig down a half-inch.

You may get your hand dirty, but you can soon tell whether or not the soil is dry. How often the plant will need water depends on the size of the plant, the type of pot (clay or glazed), how dry the air is, and the amount of light the plant receives.

When watering, try not to splash water on the leaves; that’s where a watering can and long-nosed syringe come in handy. Use lukewarm water (about 75° degrees Fahrenheit or room temperature).

If you should get some water on the leaves, take the plant out of the sun or direct light until the leaves dry. Wet leaves left in the sun may develop brown spots or water rings. A severe case could kill your plants.


You may also water your African violet plants from the bottom with wick-watering pots. There you can buy or make it yourself. One end of a wick (spun glass or some other material that will not rot) is placed in the soil.

It runs through the hole in the bottom of the pot into a small reservoir of water beneath. The ground will be moist as long as there is water in the pool below.

It is an excellent idea to let the reservoir dry entirely before filling – but not stay dry too long – and to water from the top at least once a month to wash down any plant food accumulated on the soil surface.

If you use the dishpan method of watering, it is also advisable to water from the top once a month.

Related: Growing In Wick Pots For African Violets

Watering From Below

To avoid the possibility of these brown spots, many people prefer to water their plants from below.

The easiest way to do this with a small collection is to put the plants in a dish pan with a bit of water. The water should come halfway up on the pot.

After about twenty minutes to a half hour, take them out and let them drain. You may then replace them in the window. 

The plants should never stand in a saucer of water constantly. African violets don’t like wet feet!

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