Advertisement

Beyond Violet


Article Photo

By Betty Earl

When I was a child, I was totally mesmerized by the intense colors of the African violets that seemed to bloom continuously on my grandmother’s windowsills. I would stare in wonder at those jewel-colored blooms surrounded by collars of fuzzy leaves, fully convinced that only experienced gardeners of my grandmother’s reputation could get plants to bloom so gloriously indoors.

Well, I’m not a kid anymore, and the myriad of African violets cultivars available today are certainly not my grandmother’s violets, either. Nowadays, African violets are available in a wide range of flower sizes, colors and foliage.

Named after Baron Walter von Saint Paul who brought plants from the tropical forests of East Africa, African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha) are probably the most popular flowering houseplants of all time. Their great value, besides the fact that they are easy to grow, is that they adapt, thrive and bloom almost continuously indoors. Easy enough for beginners and varied enough for serious collectors.

There are more than 17,000 different African violet cultivars. They range from miniatures (less than 6 inches in diameter), micro-minis (less than 3 inches) and standard violets (10-16 inches) to trailing varieties that naturally branch and spread. Flowers come in shades of blue, purple, lavender, pink, red, green, cream, yellow and white. There are also bi-colored, multi-colored and splotched forms.

Flower shapes also vary from single, semi-double and double to star-shaped, fringed, ruffled and serrated. Leaf types include plain, ruffled, scalloped, spooned, pointed and variegated.

Cultural Requirements for These Jungle Charmers

No matter which leaf type, habit or flower color you select, the care for all types of African violets is the same.

Light is one of the most important elements in getting your plants not only to grow but bloom. They like bright, indirect light such as that from an east-facing window. However, they grow incredibly well under fluorescent lights left on for 14 to 16 hours a day.

The ideal temperature for these charmers is between 65 and 80 F with 50 to 60 percent humidity. If the temperature is too low, growth slows, there are sparse, poor quality flowers and the foliage will curl down around the rim of the pot. If it is too hot and dry, buds fall off or blossoms drop soon after opening. For best results, group plants close together on a surface of moist pebbles in a shallow tray.

Watering is probably the most difficult part of caring for African violets. If the soil is too wet, the plant roots will rot. If the plants are too dry, they will not grow or flower effectively. Whether you water from the top or fill a saucer from below, water when the top of the soil feels dry to the touch. Do not let the pot sit in water, and use only non-softened, room temperature water.

As a general rule, these plants do best in soil that is loose in texture, porous and well drained, with a high percentage of organic matter. There are several good commercial mixes that have been especially blended for African violets. If you consider using one of the all-purpose soilless mixes, add perlite or vermiculite to the mix.

Fertilize violets regularly with any complete water-soluble fertilizer.

Betty Earl is a frequent contributor to this magazine and the author of two books on gardening, In Search of Great Plants and Fairy Gardens: A Guide to Growing an Enchanted Miniature World.

categories

Espoma Advertisement

Chicagoland Gardening Advertisement

popular

Article Thumbnail
Columns
Mike’s Holiday Hort Sing Along (Again?)

Did I ever mention that in my childhood I was severely traumatized when I happened to discover two snowflakes that were ...


Article Thumbnail
Columns
Inspiration On the Half Shell

Some people are known as “glass half full” folks and some drift towards the “glass half empty” side. Personally, I’m a “Whoops!


Article Thumbnail
Columns
Gardener’s Guilt

I’m feeling guilty. Perhaps that’s because my column was due last week and I’ve now written, let’s see, 18 words. But I’m ...


Article Thumbnail
Blog
From Garden to Table

No one wants to think about gardening when the temperatures hover in the single digits and the wind is howling, but before ...


Article Thumbnail
Columns
It’s Your (Gardening) Thing

I don’t know the names of all of the plants in my garden. There, I said it. I’m not bragging, mind you, nor am I apologizing.


questions

With all the emphasis on growing fresh vegetables, I think I should use a cold frame but I am not sure what to do or how to go about it. Any ideas?

The foliage on our cucumber plants is starting to wither and turn yellow. They get plenty of water and I feed them regularly. What could be wrong?

I’m moving to a townhouse with limited direct sunlight. I would like to put a Japanese maple in a north-facing garden but don’t know if it will do well. What are the best kinds? Also, when is the best time to plant a small tree?

ChicagolandGardening Advertisement