Everything You Need To Know To Grow Healthy African Violets

March 24, 1991|By William C. Ward | William C. Ward,Staff writer

The history of African violets (Saintpaulia) in the United States can be traced back to the turn of the century, but according to the Sunset book, How to Grow African Violets, the violet only became popularhere in 1927, when the Los Angeles nursery firm of Armacost & Royston Inc. imported seeds from an English seed house.

In this area, African violets are still very popular because of their price, range ofcolors, foliage types and styles of flowers. Another advantage of the plants is that though exotic in appearance, they do not require exotic temperatures. The flowers thrive in the same temperature and humidity that people prefer, making them the perfect indoor flower.

Although the maturity and the variety of the plant determines thefreedom of flowering of your violet, there are a number of cultural guidelines you should follow to provide maximum performance for your plant.

Light:

A western exposure is best for your violet in spring, fall and winter, and during these times it should have all the sunlight it can get. In the summer, the sun may be too hot for the plant and may burn the leaves. The plants thrive on a happy medium in terms of sunlight.

You can tell if your violet has proper sunlight by checking the leaves. In too much sunlight, the leaves turn yellow and the edges burn. In too little sunlight, the leaves will appear to be a healthy green, but there will be no blooms. Check your African violet and adjust its exposure to sunlight accordingly.

A good location for the plants is a window with sunlight diffused by tree branches, or a window that has textured glass.

Susan Noll, of Jan Ferguson Inc., an interior plant care firm in Annapolis, suggests, "If you put your violets in a south-facing window, place a sheer curtain between the window and the plants during late spring and summer."

Nollsays that to ensure a fairly symmetrical, healthy plant, you should turn the plant 360 degrees each month -- or a one-quarter turn a week. This will give the violet even sunlight. If not moved, the leaves will grow toward the light, and the leaves on the shaded side will be much smaller and shorter than the ones on the lighted side.

If youuse artificial light to grow your violet, you should place the lightabout 10 inches above the plants if it is a regular fluorescent tube. Plant growing lights should be another 8-10 inches higher above theplants.

Experimentation will determine what is best for your plant, but a minimum of 10 hours a day exposure (eight hours on warmer days) is recommended. Gradually work with the lighting time (up to 16 hours a day) to see what works best.

Temperature and Ventilation:

African violets are comfortable in temperatures from 72-75 degrees in the daytime and 65 degrees at night. In winter, keep the plants away from the windowpanes to keep them above 55 degrees.

Saintpaulianeed a well-ventilated area to grow. Avoid the stagnant air of a closed room, but keep the plant out of direct air currents. The best wayto ventilate the plant is to open a window in the adjoining room, orto use a small electric fan in the winter to keep the air moving. You may group plants together, but do not crowd them. Allow room for air circulation around each plant.

A humidity range of 40-60 percentis perfect for your violets. Grouping, electric humidifiers, and setting plants on water-filled trays of gravel (be careful of algae) aresome of the ways to provide humidity.

Watering:

The size of the pot, the weather and the plant itself decide when you should water.Depending on your personal taste, you can water the plant from the top or the bottom, but you must use water that is at least room temperature -- preferably warm -- when watering from the top. Cold water will shock the plants and prevent them from growing buds and developingleaf spot. Draw water from the tap and let it sit overnight to equalize it with room temperature.

Bottom watering is the easiest method. Simply put a pot with a drainage hole in a saucer filled with room-temperature water. The plant will draw the water up through capillary action.

Top watering will be necessary from time to time with bottom-watered African violets, because root-damaging salts from the water will accumulate in the soil. Top watering will wash the salts down and out the bottom. Top watering should be done once a month, but avoid wetting the violet's crowns --it will cause them to rot.

Forthis reason, regular top watering requires more care, because you must avoid wetting the plant's crowns. Use a long-spouted pitcher for greater accuracy.

Fertilizing:

Roots deplete the soil of nutrients, so from time to time the soil must be fertilized to maintain the balance of nutrients. Select a moderate-strength fertilizer (about a 10-10-5), and use half of what the directions on the package indicate.

"Over-fertilizing is the easiest way to kill a plant," cautions Noll.

Use the fertilizer once a month throughout the spring, summer and fall. Do not fertilize the plants in the winter, or after the violet produces a large bloom of flowers. Whenever you fertilize, makesure the soil is moist before you apply the solution. Never fertilize newly-potted or sick plants.

Following these simple guidelines, you should end up with a healthy, beautiful indoor plant that will bloom year-round and provide years of gardening pleasure.

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