How to Care for African Violets
By Elana Fankel
, last updated February 4, 2011
African Violets, or Saintpaulia, are one of the most common and popular perennial flowering house plants, and can spruce up any home with the right care. The soft leaves, aromatic peaty soil and purple/pink/blue flowers will last throughout cold, dark winter months and provide visual comfort to those who properly care for them. First discovered by Baron Walter von St. Paul in the late 1800s, African Violets are native to Tanzania and Kenya. Walter von St. Paul sent seeds to his father, an amateur botanist, in his native Germany and by the 1900s Europe had developed a hearty variety of flower colors, shapes and sizes. In their native Tanzania, African Violets grow under trees and shrubs (also known as "understory plants"), on rocky hillsides, cliffs, and rock outcrops shaded by trees. Outside their native habitat, African Violets require attention to light, temperature, and watering to thrive on a windowsill. Follow these simple steps and enjoy years of beautiful blooms.
Breeding or reproducing an African Violet is easy and sharing plants between family and friends is fun. Keep in mind that the care and attention to the plants is important but the process is simple. First, make sure the pot has sufficient drainage holes. Fill with a mixture of half vermiculite (a natural mineral that expands with heat) and half potting mix. Choose a healthy leaf. Cut the stem on an angle, allowing for greater surface area and more water consumption, leaving 1 to 2 inches below the leaves. Set the leaf in the pot on an angle, again to improve water supply to new growth. Water and allow moisture to drain. Place container in a clear plastic bag, blow some air into it and seal it. Set the leaf in a spot with bright, indirect and diffused light. After one month, you should see roots develop, and after two months, small plantlets will grow. Cut off the original leaf and place plantlets in the new container.
Environment & Disease
African Violets desire bright, indirect, and defused light. Insufficient light can produce thin, dark, blue-green leaves while too much direct light stunts plants. Northern and Eastern exposures are best or even artificial fluorescent bulbs, suspended about 4 to 8 inches above the plants for 12 to 16 hours a day. African Violets like a temperature range not lower than 65ºF and not much warmer than 78ºF. Anything below 50ºF will wither the plants and temperatures above 85ºF will create slow growth.
Provide moist, well-drained soil. African Violets respond well to being watered with distilled water. It's important to avoid exposing the flowers to hard and chlorinated water, which can damage them. The potting mix needs to be kept moist, but remember that overwatering can kill the plant. It's also important to avoid using cold water on the flowers, as this can damage and mar the foliage. The most common issue is fungal diseases from overwatering or repotting and is easily spotted; the stem and lower leaves shrivel, leading to plant death. Allow the top soil to dry completely between watering to avoid the problem.