Basic Care of African Violets
Light is most important for beautiful blooms - the more light, the more blooms.
Any window that provides strong, bright light is satisfactory, with mild sunshine beneficial.
Shield plants from direct sun and avoid windows covered by porches or heavily shaded by trees.
If good natural light is not available, use fluorescent lamps for eight to twelve (8-12) hours per day. Ideally, use Gro-Lux fluorescent tube with a Cool White fluorescent tube.
Small, young plants should be placed about 20 to 30 cms below the light, while larger, mature plants can be 30 to 40 cms from the light source.
Lights should have a means of being raised or lowered to gain optimum height. If plants grow upright with long leaf stems, raise them closer to the light source. Conversely, if the plant grows very compact and leaf stems tend to be hard and brittle, lower the plant from the light source. At the correct height the plant will grow as flat uniform rosettes, with many blooms.
Gro-Lux tubes can be slightly further from the plant than Cool White or a combination of Natural and Daylight tubes.
Always provide for a minimum of at least eight (8) hours darkness per day.
Plants grown at windows, or at the edge of light benches, should be turned one quarter on every other day to ensure even growth. The African violet does not like to be close to the windows with direct sunlight so move them a further away in peak summer periods. They can also be susceptible to cold so again move them away when temperatures drop into single figures at night.
Some homes are naturally humid. A humidity of 40% - 50% is ideal, if it can be maintained.
If it is difficult to maintain humidity around your plants, try growing many close together.
Humidity can be increased by using flat trays of water, ensuring that the pots are not in contact with the water.
A framework covered with polythene film (a mini hothouse) to enclose a collection of plants will also maintain high humidity.
Individual plants may also be enclosed in plastic bags to increase humidity.
The ideal temperature range is 18 to 21 degrees at night, with a rise of 3 to 6 degrees during the day.
Temperatures below 15 degrees for any extended period will slow growth.
If the temperature is too high, plants will grow sappy and spindly with few blooms, which usually drop before gaining any size. It is better for conditions to be a little too cool that too hot, especially if humidity is also low.
FRESH, CIRCULATING AIR.
Fresh air is as invigorating to violets as it is to humans.
Avoid cold draughts directly onto plants, but be sure that an adequate supply of fresh air is always available.
Plants suffer in a dead, dank atmosphere. Dead air is an invitation to mildew.
The principal foods of all plants are carbon dioxide from the air, and hydrogen from water.
The most important single factor in good African violet growing.
Use any water that is suitable for drinking, but allow chlorinated water to stand overnight, or for an hour in the sun. Never use water that has been through a water softener.
Water with a heavy metal content can, over time, accumulate excess salts in the soil.
Rain water is ideal.
When to Water - Always wait until top of soil is dry to the touch before watering, then water thoroughly.
How to Water - From the top, bottom or by wick. At least every third watering should be from
the top, to wash down accumulating salts. Use water at room temperature, or slightly warmer. Violets do not like cold feet. Plants should be checked daily to determine if they are requiring watering, as demand for water is related to temperature, humidity, type of soil, size and vigour of plant. Remember, plants get air as well as water through their roots, so do not drown them. Extended dryness will cause loss of tiny feeding roots.
When producing many African violets as our main growers do for Show purposes, adaptions can be made from used Yoghurt pots for the 100 mil standard size. It is a matter of the grower's sense and experience.
However, the Society has a beautifully presented Water Wells with a white base that are designed for fully grown African violet.
The smaller Semi miniatures and miniature African violets require smaller sized pots. Trailers and Gesneriads use different sized pots as appropriate.
SOIL and FEEDING.
There are many different formulas for African violets, but in general it should be light and easily penetrated by the root system, thus allowing free passage of water and air. Commercial mixes are available, but generally are found to be not entirely suitable. The Society recommends a mix containing German peat moss, perlite and sometimes vermiculite. As these ingredients are `inert', soil sterilization is unnecessary. If the number of plants is small, and the grower does not wish to prepare their own soil, small bags of medium are available at African Violet Society meetings.
DO NOT OVERFEED.
Always be sure that soil is damp before feeding. Remember that the water evaporates and the
fertiliser not used accumulates in the soil. Excesses will burn roots and cause hard, brittle foliage.
Too little will produce poor, light coloured or yellow growth with few blooms. Plants will tell much if observed closely. African violets are slow growers and the effect of any change usually cannot be observed immediately. The recommended feeding rate is one-quarter the recommended strength of the manufacturer of any fertiliser for every watering. Suitable fertilisers are Aquasol, Thrive and Phostrogen. Fish Emulsion, while not suitable for wick-watering (it clogs up the wick), is excellent in producing healthy baby plants. Specific African violet fertilisers should be used at the strength recommended by the manufacturer.
Pests are uncommon, unless brought in on new plants or cut flowers. Keep all new additions away from healthy collections for six to eight (6-8) weeks.
Mites are the worst pest and cause hardening and greying of centre foliage and shortening and twisting of flower stalks. Occasional spraying with Kelthane or Malathion is good insurance.
ALWAYS follow the precautions as described on the container label.
Root Knot Nematodes can be avoided by use of a sterile soil mix.
Mildew is best prevented by warm, fresh, circulating air. An excellent preventative measure is to give the plants a regular light spray with a weak solution of about 100ml of full cream milk to 2 litres of water. Alternatively, growers may prefer to seek professional advice from a business offering horticultural products.
Crown Rot can be avoided by ensuring that the plant is not over-watered.
Propagation of plants from leaves, side-shoots and seeds is quite simple, and is explained on other parts of this site.