How to grow African violets indoors

African Violets are one of my favorite houseplants to grow for one main reason, they bloom all year round! The second reasons that I love growing African Violets is that they are the simplest houseplant ever! The only thing I don't like about them is that the leaves are fuzzy, which means cat hair seems to stick to them all the time!

White African violet flowering plant with purple tinged flowers

African violets are known for their beautiful flowers that bloom in many more colors than just violet! They can be found in every shade or purple, but also white, pink and even blue. Anyone can grow these beautiful plants with just a few simple tricks. Lets talk about the ideal growing conditions to produce long lasting plants with a full head of flowers that bloom year round.

How to grow African violets

I've found that they are much easier to grow than many people think. My mom has 3 on her bedroom windowsill that she does absolutely nothing for but water and they are growing well. They don't flower constantly like mine do, but they do flower a few times a year and she's happy with that. 

Of course with proper watering and feeding they will bloom all year round, and luckily that isn't a hard schedule to keep! 

Are African violets poisonous to cats?

I have always heard that they are poisonous to pets and to keep them away from cats, but no, African Violets are not poisonous to dogs or cats. Pets probably won't bother the plant anyway, as they don't seem to like the texture of the fuzzy leaves. As you can see though, cat hair tends to float through the air then stick to the leaves, which can be slightly annoying.

Purple African violet with cat hair sticking to it

How much light do African violets need?

Adequate light is the most important factor in promoting flowering. Place plants near any window that has bright, but filtered, light. An east window is best because it gets morning sun. A thin curtain will be necessary if placing plants in a south or west window. In order to develop a nice symmetrical form, plants must be turned every week.

Room temp for African violets: 

Temperature and humidity are important factors. Most violets can tolerate temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees. Ideal temperatures are 72-75 degrees day-time and 65 degrees night-time. The preferred humidity range is 40% to 60%. I've found average room temperature to be fine. 

A humidifier or bowls of water placed near plants can be used to increase you home's humidity during heating season. I personally haven't found this necessary, I just leave mine in the same window year round. If you do need to increase humidity though, there are several ways to do this including a humidity tray.

Soil for African violets: 

There actually is African Violet soil sold in stores. Of course if you're only growing one, who wants a whole bag of soil? They prefer a well drained slightly acidic soil to allow good root penetration and drainage. Soil-less mixes are good - they contain sphagnum peat, vermiculite and perlite. All purpose house plant soil will work just fine. 

How to water African Violets: 

The soil should be kept evenly moist and never allowed to become soggy. Water only when the top of the soil is dry to the touch.  Always use tepid water. You can water from the top, bottom, use wicks or use self watering planters. 

I prefer to water from the bottom. However, about once a month, plants should be watered from the top to flush out accumulated fertilizer salts. After the water drains out, dump out the excess water. There's no point in flushing it if you don't remove the flushed water. If you let it stand in that water, the plant may pull it back up with it's roots and defeat the purpose of flushing out the salts!

You should never allow plants to stand in water anyway. When bottom watering, remove the water that hasn't been absorbed after a few minutes. I don't like watering African violets from about because when the leaves get wet it can cause spots. You have to water very close to the soil. If water gets on the leaves, dry with a paper towel to prevent leaf spotting.

I water my plants once a week year round. More violets die from over-watering than from any other single cause. Keep this in mind when watering your African violet and take your cues form the plant as to whether it needs watered more or less.

Do you need to deadhead African violets?

This plant tends to only bloom once from each stem, so once the whole flower cluster is dead you can just tug lightly and the whole thing should pop off. If it doesn't pop off easily, give it a few more days to dry up. If there is only 1 dead flower you can trim it off at the main stem. You don't need to do this, but many people like to clean up their plants for appearance sake.

Feeding an African violet: 

Lack of regular feeding is one of the reasons an African violet will not bloom. The best way to feed is to use a dilute fertilizer solution every time you water. Use 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. fertilizer to one gallon of water. A balanced fertilizer should be used such as 20-20-20 or 12-36-14. Find a fertilizer with a low nitrogen urea content as urea burns the roots. 

You can buy a specific fertilizer for your African violet, but I haven't found that necessary. Many people prefer foliar feeding. 

Purple african violet plant growing indoors

What is Foliar Feeding?

Foliar feeding the application of fertilizer to the leaves of plants by applying a liquid fertilizer through a spray. Foliar feeding can be a powerful stimulant to plant growth as leaves take up to 95% of the nutrients in the fertilizer. Root feeding takes up much less. You're going to have to buy a special plant food spray for this. Follow the direction on the bottle. 

You'll still have to water the plant, so occasionally flush the plant as motioned above.

Why Foliar Feed?

This is not just for African violets and there are many instances when foliar feeding is very beneficial: 

To perk up wilted or damaged plants whose roots are in poor condition.
When variegated plants are too white, foliar feeding with fish emulsion or other high nitrogen fertilizer will green up the leaves.For newly rooted leaves, foliar feeding helps in the development of baby plants. Baby plants have little or no root system, so foliar feeding provides nutrients to help build a strong root system.

How to Foliar Feed

Select a fertilizer that is recommended for foliar feeding.  Use 1/8 to 1 tsp. to a gallon of room temperature water. I leave the container in the room with the plants for a whole day before using it to allow it to come to an equal temperature as the plants. 

Your spray bottle should deliver a fine, even spray. Mist the entire plant lightly. If any water accumulates in the center of the plants, blot dry with a tissue. Do not foliar feed more often than 2 times per week and not during hot months when soil bacteria is more active. The benefits of foliar feeding will be noticed in 2 to 3 weeks.


Related reading: Houseplants require different care in winter than in summer. Here is how I care for houseplants over winter.

~L

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