African violets are easy to grow in most home environments. African violet care consists of providing and monitoring basic requirements: air temperature, air circulation, light, water, and fertilizer.
How to Grow African Violets
The following cultural information should be considered general guidelines since many environmental variables can affect plant growth and those variables are often inter-dependent, heightening or lessening the effects of the others. Growers will learn through experience what works or doesn’t work in their particular growing environment.
As the old adage goes: “If you are comfortable, so are your violets.” African violets grow and thrive at moderate temperatures in the range of 65 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In general, no special care is required with regard to temperature if you keep your home in the normal range year round. African violets can tolerate short spells of cooler temperatures (such as during a power outage in winter) without adverse effects as long as they are not exposed to drafts, and can survive summer heat spells as long as cultural adjustments are made. African violets are happiest in a steady, temperate environment.
Air circulation is very important for house plants. Stagnant air creates an environment conducive to all sorts of problems: plant molds, mildew, fungus, bacterial infections and virus attacks. Plants weakened by these problems are also more susceptible to pest infestations. It is far easier to install a small fan than to rid an entire house plant collection of pests or diseases.
African violets react quickly to poor air circulation, usually by developing powdery mildew on the leaves before other indications of a problem. To allow proper air flow space your African violets apart from each other making sure they are not crowded or touching other plants. If your growing area has poor ventilation install a small fan and run it around the clock. Make sure the fan does not create a down draft (a common problem in small rooms).
African violets grow well in natural light and prefer an Eastern or Northeastern exposure (in the Northern Hemisphere). It’s usually recommended that you to keep them out of direct sunlight and I agree – in general. I give my African violets about an hour of early morning direct sunlight in winter (about three hours in summer) and my seed propagation trays get a couple hours more than that. This works well for me in the Northeast, my plants like it and my seeds germinate faster. I highly recommend that you gain some experience with African violets in your growing environment before experimenting this way – what works for me may not work for you!
African violets also grow well under fluorescent lights. You can purchase beautiful lighted plant stands or you can make your own using wire shelving and fluorescent shop lights. You can use regular cool light fluorescent tubes or expensive full-spectrum grow lights – I’ve found little difference in my grow room. Plants should be about 8 to 12 inches from the lights for 8 to 14 hrs a day depending upon what works for you. I keep my plant stands lighted for 9 hours (in summer) or 16 hours (in winter) and my plants are roughly 14 inches from the tubes (seed trays are about 8 inches from the lights). This is another area where you will need to find what works best for you in your environment.
There are as many opinions as there are growers when it comes to plant care, and watering methods abound. African violets can be top-watered, bottom-watered, mat wicked, wicked on reservoirs, grown hydroponically or semi-hydroponically in any number of growing media. The typical African violet grower uses pots and potting soil. If you are growing your plants this way a general guideline is to let your plants get somewhat dry between waterings. African violets would rather be neglected than over-watered, and letting them get a little dry encourages root growth. Over-watering, on the other hand, encourages root rot.
I recommend watering your plants with room temperature tap water – if your tap water is good. If you won’t drink your water straight from the tap then please don’t give it to your plants (or pets). Poor quality tap water may not bother most foliage house plants but it can inhibit growth or blooming in flowering house plants and ornamentals like gesneriads, bromeliads and orchids. If you know that your water contains chlorine or chloramine, or if you use a water softener, or if your water’s pH level is high or low, I would suggest you water your plants with filtered water or bottled water. If using rain water it would be a good idea to have it tested for chemical composition as well as micro organisms before using it on house plants.
As a starting point, I would recommended watering your African violets with a weak solution (1/4 strength) of a balanced fertilizer. “Balanced” means that the three numbers on the fertilizer’s label (indicating the levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash, respectively) are equal: 7-7-7 or 12-12-12 or similar. Alternately, try a solution formulated specifically for African violets. (If you are growing hydroponically or in inert media such as perlite or vermiculite it is best to avoid fertilizers containing urea-derived nitrogen.) Some people use a bloom-booster formula (where the middle number is higher) when preparing for a show. Some folks fertilize only in winter, some prefer liquid fertilizers, some feed their plants a full-strength solution once a month, others use a weak solution with every watering. This is another area where personal experience and preference will guide you. I like to follow the old African violet growers’ rule: “Fertilize weakly weekly” – I use 1/4 strength of a bloom booster fertilizer (10-30-20) every time I water, which is once a week in winter and twice a week in summer for plants that are potted in soil.