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The African Violet

The African Violet (saintpaulia) has become the most popular member of the Gesneriad family because of its ease of culture, continuous flowering habit, variety of blossom forms, range of colors, and leaf patterns.
If there is any magic formula for culture, it is a faithfully followed program of care. Watering, fertilizing, and re-potting must be done with regularity and promptness if beautiful flowering plants are desired year round. “Hit-or-miss” attention will give only mediocre results.

LIGHT: Protection from the hot rays of the sun must be given, in spring, summer and fall, while during the dark days of January and February direct mild winter sunshine will promote flowering. To find the best place in the house for correct lighting, place plants in various windows and observe results. They will soon be evident. For symmetrical foliage, window grown plants need to be turned regularly so that the entire plant will get equal amounts of light.

ARTIFICIAL LIGHT: Artificial light is a satisfactory way to grow African violets for they receive even illumination. Lights should be placed approximately 10-14 inches over the plant table and kept on from 12-14 hours per day.

WATER: Check soil daily and water if soil feels slightly dry to the touch. Always use warm or room temperature water, never cold. They will grow best if soil is kept slightly moist at all times. They do not like soggy soil and shouldn’t be left standing in water. Water from top or bottom, but water under the leaves, never over.
SOIL: As a rule, these plants do best in soils which are loose in texture, porous and well drained, with a high percentage or organic matter. Because of their fine hair roots they need a substance that can be easily penetrated. There are several good commercial mixes especially made for saintpaulias.

TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY: Best temperatures range from 65 to 75°F. with 50 to 60% relative humidity. They can endure higher or lower temperatures but they will not prosper if the air is excessively dry. If the temperature is too low, growth slows down, flowers will be sparse and of poor quality and the foliage will curl down around the rim of the pot instead of lying flat and neat. Air that is too hot and dry can cause the buds to fall off or the blossoms to drop soon after opening. Maintaining adequate humidity during winter without the aid of a humidifier is difficult. Try grouping the plants close together, placing them on a surface of moist pebbles in a shallow tray, placing open containers of water among them. This will increase the humidity.

FERTILIZING: It is better to feed very small amounts of plant food each time the plant is watered. Use a complete water-soluble fertilizer recommended for saintpaulias and read the manufacturer’s instructions printed on the label before applying. Do not over-fertilize and always be sure the soil is not too dry before using plant food.

PROPAGATION: New African violets are easily grown by three different methods: leaf cuttings (most frequently used; there are a number of satisfactory ways of rooting them), plant division, and seeds.

Problems & Solutions

  • Scorching and yellowing of leaf edges, due to too much direct sun in summer. Filter the light with a curtain or move to a less bright spot.
  • Yellowing of foliage. Often caused by excess fertilizer, or lack of humidity. In clay pots, salts build up on pots and the plant should be drenched once or twice to flush away as many salts as possible. Look at roots; if they are brown it could mean severe salt build-up and re-potting will be necessary. Violets are not heavy feeders so don’t overfeed. To raise the humidity follow above directions.
  • Irregular, yellow mottling on leaves, called chlorosis. This is caused by the soil being too alkaline. Use an acid-rich plant food to off-set the alkalinity.
  • Spots, colored markings, yellow leaves. Caused by under-watering. Remove any damaged foliage and water over the soil surface slowly until excess water drains out. Don’t let plants sit in a saucer of water more than an hour.
  • Brown spots on leaves, caused by using cold water chilling the plant or splashed on foliage. Use room temperature water.
  • Browned centers of the plant caused by overfeeding. Feed less.
  • Wilted plants and rotting at main stem. This is a fungus disease (crown rot) aggravated by over watering, excess humidity or temperature extremes. Cut off damaged foliage and re-pot.
  • Jelly-like leaves which droop over the rim of the pot. Caused by excess fertilizer. Flush out the roots and coat the rims of clay pots with paraffin.
  • Flower buds that dry up, caused by lack of humidity, or a sudden shift in the plant’s location. Set the pots on a bed of moist pebbles in a tray.
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