Perhaps one of the most popular houseplants, Saintpaulia ionantha, more commonly known as the African Violet, has stood the test of time and is still as popular as ever. These are popular both because African Violet care is straightforward and for the fact, they can bloom all year round. If you are not a fan of flowering plants, you can grow these as foliage plants as well. Just move them to a shadier spot!
Despite being called “violets,” these plants have a wide array of flower color varieties. There are also several variations of the African Violet based on their foliage structure and color, such as the variegated species, oak leaf, red revers, and fringed…
There are also variations when it comes to flowers: a single, pansy-shaped flower, semi-double, frilled, bi-color, or even multicolored. You can easily fill your home with different variants of these fun plants.
If you are looking for a rewarding plant which needs little attention, these are for you.
How To Care For African Violet Plants
- Bringing the plant home
- Light conditions
- Humidity and temperature
- Toxicity Information
- Pests and other common issues
Plant name: Saintpaulia ionantha
Common names: African violets
Native to: Tropical regions of Africa and Tanzania
Lighting: Needs very bright, indirect light to induce blooms. Grows well with artificial lighting. It will still do well in medium and even low light but won’t bloom.
Care: Prefers humid environment but will tolerate dry air. Needs well-draining soil that can retain moisture. Can tolerate drought but a regular watering routine will keep it happy.
Common problems: Root, crown, and petiole rot, mealy bugs, cyclamen mites
Toxicity: Considered to be non-toxic for pets and humans.
Bringing the Plan Home
While easy to care for and generally pest-free, African violets, like any other houseplant, require a thorough inspection when you bring them home. Carefully check the leaves and soil for any signs of pests or disease.
Even if you gave the plant an all-clear, you should still quarantine it, keeping it away from others for a week or two. Regularly check for signs of pests.
Mealybugs, a pest that looks like small puffy cotton balls, are among the more common ones you can see on an African violet.
How Much Light does African Violet Need?
The key to making your African Violets bloom all year is proper lighting. Both natural and artificial light will do.
If you don’t have a bright spot near windows, a regular grow light or fluorescent lamps will work for these plants.
For your African violet to bloom, it will need a good amount of bright, mostly indirect light, so place it near a window.
If it doesn’t receive enough light, it can still grow well. It just won’t bloom. If you prefer foliage plants, this is certainly an option with this one.
African Violets will let you know if they are receiving too little light. Thin, long stems (leggy plant) are usually indicative of receiving too little light.
On the other hand, excessively harsh light can cause the leaves to turn paler or even yellowish-green. Despite loving light, too much of it will cause growth to slow down and become more compact. This can eventually lead to your African violet dying. Balance is key!
Watering your African Violet
African Violets are hardy plants and will tolerate some neglect if you forget to water them (like the ZZ plant does) – just another reason why these are great for everyone. But a good watering routine will keep them in shape and happy.
As a rule of thumb, you should let the top half-inch/inch of soil dry a little in between waterings. This might mean watering 2 times per week or once every two weeks – depending on the soil, plant placement, and conditions in your home. Check the plant often to figure out the best watering routine. You should avoid letting the soil dry completely.
Another thing you need to avoid is getting the leaves wet when watering.
Letting the plant be waterlogged is another no, no. Always make sure you get rid of excess water when watering. When you are done with watering, let the excess water drain out from drainage holes.
If you are watering from the bottom, you will avoid getting the leaves wet. Place your pot with the plant in a deeper container filled with water. The duration of submerging your pot in water will depend on the size of your pot, but don’t let it sit in the water for too long. Remove your plant if the top part feels slightly damp. Tilt the pot a little to let the excess water run out. You can also place the pot on a cloth for more of the excess water to drain out.
Self watering pots (wick method) work well for African Violets too.
Water with room temperature water. Filtered or rainwater is best however tap water is mostly ok too.
Humidity and Temperature Requirements
As these plants are native to rainforests, they will appreciate a higher humidity level but will easily tolerate dry air.
Average room humidity is great for African violets. You won’t need to raise room humidity for this houseplant.
There is really no need to purchase an extra humidifier for your African Violets, but this will most definitely keep it even happier.
Because these plants are used to tropical conditions, they may be a bit sensitive to night chills or even frost during winter. Keep them away from windows in winter if the area near the window drops temperatures a lot. Keep it away from window drafts, especially at night.
Average room temperatures are OK for this plant.
Cleaning and Pruning African Violet Leaves
Even if they are healthy, pruning a few bottom leaves encourages the growth of other leaves from the inner crown of the plant. Additionally, this also gives the inside leaves a chance to produce blooms. The more leaves the plant has, the less it can focus its energy on producing new leaves and blooms.
You can safely remove any damaged or dying leaves just make sure you are using sterile tools.
As for the cleaning of plants and leaves, misting occasionally will help clean them. If you need a more thorough cleaning, you can mist the leaves and gently rub them with either a soft cloth. The leaves can break easily, so be extra carefull.
You can also carefully (!!!) dunk the plant in water (upside down) and move it around a little. This will effectively clean the leaves. Make sure the plant dries, as African violets don’t like to have wet foliage. Also, keep away from direct sunlight while the leaves dry.
You can use any general houseplant fertilizer, foliage plant fertilizer or fertilizer for blooming houseplants. Some stores even carry fertilizers made specially for African violets.
Use the fertilizer as indicated by the manufacturer.
If you are trying to get your African violet to bloom opt for fertilizer for flowering plants.
When to repot your African Violets?
Repot your African Violets when they become root bound. Avoid unnecessary repotting as this is always stressful for plants, even the sturdy ones, so repot once the root system is taking up too much space and the soil is really compact.
When repotting, choose a relatively larger pot for your plant to have more room to grow. You can literally use any type of pot as long as it has enough drainage holes in it to remove excess water. Your choice of pot may also influence your watering frequency. That is, clay and terra cotta pots will allow moisture to escape from its pores and will require you to water your plants more frequently.
When repotting you need to make sure all the leaves and their stems are above the soil. If the leaves and stems touch the soil or are covered with soil this can (and most likely will) lead to the plant rotting on that part and rot can spread.
What kind of soil for African violets?
One of the most important considerations in choosing the correct potting mix for African Violets is drainage. Many stores have a ready-made African Violet potting mix that has equal parts of soil, sphagnum moss, and perlite.
Some mixtures which are soilless can also be used. Such mixtures would consist of sphagnum moss and perlite and will require regular fertilization.
When making your own potting mix, remember to sterilize your potting materials to ensure that you will be using a pest- and disease-free medium.
Similar to their easy-care, African Violets are easily propagated too. You can either take leaf cuttings or divide the plant from its base if there are multiple crowns.
You can cut healthy leave along with their petioles. You can use these cuttings for propagation.
Plant the leaf with an inch or 2in of its petiole in a sterile potting mix firmly. Water the cutting and keep it at room temperature. Provided that conditions are optimal, the cuttings will produce roots around 4 to 6 weeks.
Alternatively, during one of your repotting sessions, you can choose to separate some of the clusters of plants underneath the main crown (if the plant developed more crowns).
Use sterile cutting shears when separating smaller plants from the mother specimen to ensure no pathogens or pests will infect your propagation. Help your propagations acclimate by enclosing it in a moistened plastic until the leaves look perky enough and roots have developed.
Are African Violets Safe for Cats, Dogs and Humans
African violets are considered safe for humans and pets!
That said, they should still not be consumed.
Pests and diseases
Aside from bloom failures, African Violets are quite susceptible to some pests and diseases. A few of these diseases include botrytis blight, crown rot, petiole rot, and powdery mildew.
These are mostly caused by relatively high humidity with poor air circulation. Caused by molds, these diseases slowly dissolve the affected parts of the plant. Crown rot is presented by a sudden blackening on the center of the leaves and eventually consuming all of them.
On the other hand, petiole rot can be caused when the leaves and petioles accidentally contact fertilizer. Remove the affected leaves and flush out excess fertilizers around the pot.
Some pests associated with African Violets include Cyclamen mites which cause stunted growth and turns the leaves brittle as they extract moisture and nutrients from the leaves. Mealybugs have almost the same effect on plants and are presented as small cottony insects, like hiding under the leaves and crevices of the petioles and stems.
If the infestation is light, opt to use a diluted Neem oil solution of your choice of insecticide to inhibit further damages.