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How do I care for my African violets?
African violets are among the most popular indoor flowering plants. They are not really violets but, rather, members of the Gesneriad family and are native to east Africa.
African violets are easy to grow so long as some rather simple conditions regarding light, temperature, water, and fertility can be met. They grow best in soil which is loose, porous, and well-draining. A good soil mixture contains 1 part peat moss, 1 part loamy garden soil or soil-based, commercial potting mix, and 1 part perlite, vermiculite, or coarse sand. Ready-to-use potting mixes which have been formulated especially for African violets are also readily available for purchase. These may be soil-based or "soilless" depending upon the brand.
The biggest challenge in growing African violets is to provide them with enough light to get satisfactory flowering. In our area, exposure to normal daylight will usually be sufficient. Place plants in bright, indirect light from an east- or west-facing window, (generally, place African violets in a south-facing window only in mid-winter). Plants grown in natural light should be rotated a quarter-turn per week to maintain their symmetrical shape. While you can have good success with natural light, artificial light provides more consistent results. Plants grown under cool-white fluorescent tubes, or under the more expensive"Gro-Lites", can be expected to thrive and produce good flowering with 12-14 hours of light daily. Plants should be placed about 12 to 15 inches below the light tubes. Remember intensity of light from fluorescent tubes is a maximum in the area under the mid-sections of the tubes.
The most favorable temperature range for best growth and consistent flowering of African violets is between 65 and 75 degrees F. At no time should these plants be exposed to temperatures below 60 degrees. Keep violets away from drafts of cold or hot air. They should be protected at night from exposure to cold windows during the winter.
Proper watering is one of the most important requirements for growing beautiful African violets. These plants grow best when watered thoroughly, and then allowed to dry slightly between waterings. They may be watered from the top, bottom, or by wicking. African violets must never be allowed to stand in a pool of water for any extended period as root damage may occur. Take care to keep from splashing cold water on the leaves since this can cause leaf spotting. The use of tepid water can help to avoid this problem. African violets appreciate increased humidity during the normally extra-dry winter period such as that obtained with pebble trays or furnace humidifiers.
Most African violet growers recommend fertilizing plants with a dilute fertilizer solution at each watering. A balanced water soluble fertilizer such as 20-20-20, mixed at 1/4 teaspoon in one gallon of water, is adequate for most situations involving artificial lighting. If you are growing your plants under natural daylight, reduce the fertilizer quantity to 1/8 teaspoon in one gallon of water.
It is important that African violets be kept clean. Remove dead leaves, flowers, and stems promptly. Leaves can be syringed occasionally with tepid water, (85F), to remove collected dust. To maintain the shape of the plants, suckers must be removed as soon as they form.
African violets are easily propagated from leaf cuttings placed into a suitable rooting medium, such as vermiculite, perlite, sphagnum peat moss, sand, or a combination of these. Although cuttings will develop roots in water, stronger plants are developed when they are placed directly in a rooting medium.
African violets are sometimes attacked by insects such as cyclamen mites, leaf and soil mealy bugs, and thrips. Control of these pests is difficult. The diseases which on occasion infest African violets include botrytis blight, crown and root rots, and powdery mildew. Most growers discard infected plants.