How To Make African Violets Grow Like Weeds

African Violets are very much in the limelight these days.

One flower lover writes, “Many of my garden club friends have gone quietly mad about the plant.”

Charming African VioletsPin

This sums up the situation in a few words. There is no doubt that saintpaulias are one of our most popular house plants.

Yet some people have become quite discouraged because they cannot get the plants to live, coax leaves to root, or tempt seeds to germinate.

Others say their plants have fine healthy leaves but add disgustedly, “All the flowers they ever had are the ones the florist put on!”

And it almost seems unbelievable—some people have never seen an African violet!

African Violets Grow Well In Ideal Conditions

The hardy true violets grow so well that they almost take over the entire garden if they are not kept within bounds by firm hand and hoe.

Although the African violet looks like a glorified form of the garden variety, it is not related, but it has that same willingness to grow.

Those who have failed with them may not believe this, but African violets can almost take possession of them at the house where they are loved and encouraged.

Propagation by leaf cuttings, crown division, and seeds soon gives us more than our windows can hold.

I am not alone in proclaiming the African violet the choicest of all house plants for ease of care, the profusion of blossoms, and plant beauty either when in or out of bloom.

Light Requirements

My plants flourish under anything but ideal conditions. Most of them are in a south window.

A porch keeps out the summer sun. In the winter, Old Sol in the southern heavens is much too hot.

Then the pots must be pulled back from the window or taller plants placed in front to shade the violets. They are quite tolerant of living room conditions.

Adequate Space

The chief difficulty is finding space for any plants. It’s such fun to try a new leaf-rooting method.

Usually, this results in several new plants. But, alas, my family wasn’t cooperative.

They insisted that some table and shelf space should lie left for their books and magazines.

So the overflow plants went to the work table under a west kitchen window. The family disapproved!

There was open rebellion when this window was full, and a north bathroom window was usurped.

A few plants were hastily disposed of, and the rest crowded into the other windows for the sake of peace!

Water Properly And Clean The Leaves

If your plants are not increasing by leaps and bounds or just existing, several causes may be.

Failure of plants to fill expectations might be due to the watering.

I can kill an African violet quicker by overwatering than any other method, but a plant should never get so dry that the leaves droop.

When the surface soil feels dry to the touch of a finger, the plant needs additional moisture, not before.

The water at room temperature is poured into a pan. (In the winter, I use hot water). The pots are set in this and left until moisture is seen at the surface.

Set them on a tray to drain well before returning the pots to the window.

Have you been told never to put a drop of water on the leaves? And, as a result, are your plants dusty and dirty?

That is where your trouble might lie.

Don’t hesitate to wash the leaves if they need it just as you do your other house plants, but be sure the water is of room temperature to avoid white spots on the leaves.

Give the bath during the morning so the foliage will get a chance to dry before night. 

Keep the plants out of the sun until they are completely dry.

Humidity

How about the air in the room? If it is scorched, humidity should be provided, or the flower buds may die before opening.

One way is to place the pots on a layer of moist sand or gravel.

Get Rid Of Insects

All too often comes the query, “What’s the matter with my African violet? It seems to have little white bugs on it like cotton.”

Mealy bug-infested plants are too common, and prevention is easier than cure.

Here are the tips to follow:

  • Keep a new plant away from other house plants until you are sure it is clean.
  • If there are any suspicious or visible signs of these insects, dab them with rubbing alcohol on cotton.
  • If the plant is badly infested, it is better to burn it in order not to endanger other healthy plants.

Favorable Time For Rooting Leaves

If you have trouble rooting leaves, try again sometime.

Right now would be a favorable time for they root so much more easily between March and the end of May.

If everything is favorable, leaves will root at any time of year, but they grow better and faster if they’re started when the very air seems filled with a special urge to grow.

They will root in water, sand, vermiculite, sphagnum, peat, soil, or a combination of some.

To root several leaves at one time, do the following:

  • Place sand or vermiculite in a glass jar. A jar 5 ½” inches across will hold 8 to 10 leaves.
  • The rooting medium should be just nicely moist. Many failures are due to having the rooting medium too wet.
  • Quicker new leaf growth will appear if the stem base is nearer to the surface.
  • If longer supports are needed, toothpicks, or thin sharp sticks, may be thrust through the leaf and down into the rooting medium to hold the shallow-planted leaves upright. 
  • The cover is placed on the jar, and it is set in a light warm place.
  • If moisture collects, remove the cover for a while.
  • When new growth is well started, each plant may be scooped up with a spoon and potted.
  • The old leaf may be left on until it wilts away, or, if it is still firm, it may be removed carefully and rooted again, and even a third time.

Another practical method used to root a number of leaves is to place a quantity of rooting medium (peat and sand are very good) in a container that is large enough to hold this and a small clay flower pot in the center so there will be 2” or 3” inches of space between the small inner pot and the rim of the larger one.

Follow these steps:

  • Cork up the drainage hole of the small pot first.
  • Set the leaves firmly in the space between the edges of the large container and the clay pot which should be kept filled with water. Enough moisture will escape through the porous clay pot to keep the rooting medium just damp enough.
  • No matter what rooting method one uses, cover each with a glass jar for a few days if the leaves start to wilt. A cellophane cap overall works equally well.

A unique method is to lay leaves with long stems horizontally on vermiculite, first partly cutting through the stems at intervals of about an inch.

The theory is that a new plant will start at each cut in much the same way as when one cuts through the veins of certain heavy begonia leaves.

The sterns can be anchored down with hairpins if they seem inclined to warp out of place.

Outdoor Rooting Of African Violets

African violets are not as fragile as we sometimes suppose.

A Kansas woman wrote that her plants stayed in a south window and took the sun as it came, the beating rains, or the pelting sand on windy days.

Thus it did not seem impossible when one propagator told of rooting leaves in a clay-filled trench on the north side of the house during the summer, where they took the weather just as it came.

I did not dare follow her method to the last letter, for I filled a trench with sand and peat and set the leaves in this.

When I found the leaves wilting, I covered each with a glass jar until they remained firm without it.

A glass window pane slanting against the house protected them from hard winds and beating rains.

The leaves seemed merely to stand there all summer.

When fall came, and they had to be potted, only a few showed leaf growth.

Those that did had just barely begun peeping through the soil.

I was more than pleased when I dug up each leaf.

Never by any other method had a leaf developed such a mass of roots and a large thick crown.


The method which saves the most handling is to do the following:

  • Fill a pot with a mixture of sand, loam, and peat moss.
  • Insert the leaf stem in a pocket of pure sand or vermiculite in the center.
  • Cover with a glass tumbler.
  • If moisture collects on the glass, remove it for a short time.
  • If the air is not too dry, the glass may be removed permanently after a few days or as soon as the leaf remains firm without it.
  • It may be left on until new growth is well started in a dry atmosphere.

The plant can go right on growing in the pot and does not have to be reset until it outgrows the pot.

Feed African Violets Sparingly

A word of warning received from several good African violet growers is to be very careful about giving violets extra food.

If they need some, add it very sparingly at first and only to one or two of the most starved-looking plants until you see how they react to it.

Some have lost plants after plant food was given and blamed burning them from the feeding.

Care In Division

Plants may be killed by dividing them.

If the crowns come apart easily, one is usually successful, but there is more danger if they have to be cut.

After dividing, water sparingly until the plants have recovered from the shock.

Crown cuttings may be rooted in the same manner as leaf cuttings.

Sowing African Violet Seeds

African violet seeds are dust-sized and require skillful handling.

Mae Sappenfield, a wizard with fine seeds, has excellent results.

She places 1 ½” inches of equal parts sifted peat and sand, just nicely moist, in the bottom of a large glass jar laid on its side.

The seeds are mixed with sand and scattered on the surface as evenly as possible from the knife’s blade.

The lid is screwed on, and the jar is kept in a warm place.

If moisture collects or there are any signs of mold, the air is admitted from time to time.

The first plants may appear in about 14 days.

Mrs. Sappenfield says they are tiny and frail.

She was discouraged with her first efforts until she got them transplanted.

It took patience to reset the hair-like plants, but they were stronger than they looked. 

After being transplanted to pots, they started growing in earnest.

Every seedling will mean a big thrill of anticipation while waiting for buds and blossoms. 

One never knows just what to expect from African violet seeds.

If you have failed with plants, leaves, or seeds, take courage and try again.

By following the methods of successful growers, your “fuck” is bound to change!