Growing African violets


Q. I love African violets. They’re a reminder of my childhood when Mom grew them in small pots on the kitchen sink windowsill. But no matter what I do or what instructions I follow, the best I can grow is green leaves – not a bloom to be found. What am I doing wrong?

Mary Elisabeth from North Jackson

A. Mary Elisabeth you and I have a lot in common – members of the no-flower-African violet club. That is, until last fall, when I moved my plant to my living room drum table next to the picture window. It flowered four times in three months.

This was such an unusual sight that I had to find out why. So I researched and discovered safeguards proven to keep African violets flowering throughout the year.

The details include:

Light (6 to 8 hours a day): In spring and summer, light from the north and east is best. In the winter and fall, light from the south or west is preferable. Never put them in direct sunlight; it will burn the leaves.

According to the University of Georgia, “Insufficient light is probably the most common reason for failure of African violets to flower. If violets are growing in too little light, the leaves become darker green and thin, petioles or leaf stems are very long and weak, and the plants flower very little if at all.”

Temperature/humidity: Keep African violets in temperatures between 65-90 F, out of drafts and away from winter cold windows. Since they are native to Tanzania in East Africa, the higher the humidity and temperature, the more flowers bloom. Mine is actually only 10 inches from a double-paned window facing east this winter and it still flowers, although not luxuriously.

Soil/potting/moisture: I use regular potting soil sometimes and a mixture of soil, peat moss and horticultural perlite other times. Be sure to pack it tightly into the pot. Place the pot in a saucer and bottom water moderately (almost dry at the top before watering).

I made every mistake possible, but this last year, I just lucked out. There were enough almost-right decisions that allowed it to bloom. I’m going to keep it on the drum table, but I’ll follow the safeguards more closely and look forward to stronger flower clusters.

Although it’s a tender and delicate plant, it’s worth the effort. Further research shows there are proven, easy and inexpensive ways to propagate African violets and common diseases to look out for, but that will have to be another article.

Visit http://go.osu.edu/africanviolets for growing details, pictures and a chart of common problems.

Lillian Quaranta is an OSU Extension master gardener volunteer in Mahoning County. Winter hours for the Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic vary. Submit questions to the clinic at 330-533-5538 or drop samples off to the OSU Extension Office in Canfield.

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