African Violet Is For Mom
The African violet – perhaps the most beloved of all the indoor blooming plants we sell – is not a violet at all, but a member of the Gesneriad family (along with such other favorites as Gloxinias, Cape Primroses, and Lipstick Plants).
There are six species of African violets, but the most common is Saintpaulia ionantha (Saintpaulia for Baron Walter Von Saint Paul who discovered the plant near the Usambara Mountains in Tanzania and ionantha for violet-like flowers).
My mother's kitchen window sill was full of African violets. Each time I look at one, I am reminded of her and the great joy and pride she had in growing and giving them. So, if you are giving or receiving one of these marvelous plants for Mother's Day, here are some basic care hints:
Keep the soil moist but never soggy (a little drier if plant is not in bloom). Too-cold water can cause leaf curl, while chlorine in the water can cause leaf burn and diminished flowers. Letting your water sit overnight will bring it to the right temperature and allow chlorine to dissipate. Keep water off the leaves to avoid white ring spots. You can water from the bottom by placing the pot in your bowl of water. If you water from the top, don't water into the crown – water around the edge and let it find its own way.
African violets need lots of bright indirect light BUT also need 8 hours of darkness each day to help with blooming. They do well growing under lights but make sure you have full spectrum bulbs – red end of spectrum for bloom and blue end for foliage.
Fertilizer should be water soluble with equal amount of NPK (all 3 #'s the same). If nitrogen is too high, you will have lush leaves but few flowers. Do not over fertilize, but do fertilize year round, perhaps every other watering.
If you feel comfortable in your home, plants will. Range of 55 to 70 degrees is fine. Protect from cold drafts. Do not put close to a window in winter – the cold will cause the leaves to curl under and affect the plant in other unpleasant ways.
Remove spent flowers and old leaves as well as stems and suckers. Re-pot only when necessary. Keep the plant as tight as possible for better bloom. Good air circulation helps prevent powdery mildew and botrytis. Watch for aphids, mealy bugs and cyclamen mites.
For more in-depth information, check out the African Violet Society of America's web site...www.avsa.org. Happy Mother's Day!
By Mary Ann Greco
Skylights Spring 2010, Vol 25, No. 2
articles on indoor gardening