African Violets Don’t Ask for Much

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 Q: Does an African violet require special care?

 A:          African violets are a popular house plant that many people have probably tried to grow at one time or another. You often hear of people that successfully grow African violets without much effort. Then you hear of people that no matter how hard they try, their violets never bloom or always die. It is probably not as much of a problem of having a green thumb or not, but is more due to finding the right spot in the house to put violets.

Due to their popularity, African violets are available in many colors and styles. Double or semi-double clusters of flowers are available on newer varieties. There are even African violets that have bicolored flowers or flowers with different colored edges.

If you decided to try growing African violets, the first step is use the right soil. The soil that you use should be one that drains well. The well-drained soil will prevent plants from sitting in very wet soil and eventually suffering from crown or root rot. There are commercially prepared soil mixtures available for African violets but a good potting soil will also work well.

One of the biggest mistakes with growing African violets is watering too much. Watering any houseplants can be difficult because people either over or under water them. Instead of watering on a routine schedule, use your finger to actually touch the soil to determine when plants need water. African violets are very susceptible to crown and root rots that can occur when the soil is too wet. Violets can be watered from the top or the bottom. When watering from the top, apply enough water to saturate the soil. Allow excess water to drain from the bottom of the container. Be sure not to use cold water because cold water that comes into contact with the leaves will cause white blotches. To water an African violet from below, place the container in a tray containing about 1 inch of water. The plant should be checked frequently and when the soil surface is moist, remove the pot and discard excess water. Be careful to not allow the plant to sit too long in water to prevent the soil from becoming over saturated. You can even find plant containers specially designed for African violets where the top portion will slowly wick up water from the bottom part.

African violets prefer a bright area in the home that does not receive direct sunlight in the afternoon. Windows that receive morning sunlight and less direct afternoon light are the best windows to place violets at. Generally, a lack of flowering is due to inadequate light. African violets can also be grown under artificial light. Fluorescent lamps give the best results.

When it comes to fertilizing, commercially prepared water-soluble fertilizers labeled for African violets are available that contain the correct portion of nutrients violets need for growth. Before applying any fertilizers, water the plant from above to wet the soil. An indication that fertilizer is needed is when the lower, older leaves turn yellow and there is a reduction in the rate of growth.

African violets do not require a lot of attention to grow. The main things to be aware of are not over watering and providing the correct amount of light. With some careful attention to the aforementioned, African violets can be grown successfully.

For additional lawn and garden information contact the Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. One can reach the Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic by phone at 919-731-1433, e-mail at Master.Gardener@waynegov.com, or stopping by Room 100 of the Wayne County Extension Office (208 West Chestnut Street, Goldsboro).

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Jessica Strickland is an Agriculture Extension Agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County. Forward any questions you would like answered from this week’s column to Jessica.Strickland@waynegov.com.