Have you ever been given an African violet as a gift? Perhaps it was for a housewarming, a birthday, or just as a thank you? They’re a staple at florists all around the world, sold when the leaves are a lush dark green and there are clumps of flowers sprouting from the crown.
In the first few weeks after you get one, it’s not hard to keep an African violet (also known as saintpaulia) looking good. The challenge is keeping them healthy in the long term and getting them to flower again. Sadly, many growers give up on this plant once it loses its first blooms.
With a little bit of knowledge, it’s possible to collect a whole variety of saintpaulia that grow well and flower year after year. Read on for the African violet care tips you’ll need to get your plants to put on a show.
|Scientific name||Saintpaulia ionantha|
|Similar to||Cyclamen, Viola|
|Native to||East Africa|
|Maximum size||8 – 16”|
|Watering requirements||Very regular moderate watering|
|Light requirements||Bright indirect sunlight|
|Preferred temperature||65 – 80 (18 – 26.5C)|
|Soil||All-purpose potting soil with extra peat|
|Fertilizer||High phosphorous liquid plant food applied up to every 2 weeks|
|Toxicity||Non-toxic to pets and humans|
|Vulnerable to||Cyclamen mites, mealybugs|
The classic African violet has deep purple flowers with yellow centers, but it’s also possible to buy them in red, blue, white or pink. Both the leaves and the flowers have a succulent, textural quality, and healthy leaves are covered in downy hairs.
On paper, they’re not that difficult to look after. Like many plants, they need indirect sunlight, a little food, and a high level of moisture and humidity. However, for whatever reason, once the initial flush of flowers has gone, many growers struggle to get them to bloom again or even to keep the leaves looking healthy.
African Violet Care Guide
This plant likes constant moisture. In fact, if the top of the soil is dry to the touch, it’s time to give them another drink. If you have a large collection of saintpaulia and you’re planning a long holiday, you’ll need someone to babysit your plants.
It’s best if you can water them from the bottom. Choose a pot with plenty of drainage holes in the base so that the deep roots can soak up the water. If you water from above and the water collects on the leaves, it can easily damage them.
As with most house plants, you’ll get the best results if you water your plant from a container that you’ve left sitting out overnight. This way, chemicals such as chlorine will evaporate and the water will come to room temperature. When you water this way, the roots won’t be shocked and there’s much less risk of the burned leaves that can arise from mineral build-up in the soil.
As well as moist soil, an African violet needs much higher humidity than you’ll find in your home, especially in the winter. The best option is to put your plant on a pebble tray. Get hold of a shallow dish and fill it with smooth stones. Pour water into the dish and, as it evaporates, it’ll raise the humidity around the plant.
You should avoid misting this plant for the same reason that you should water from the bottom. There are deep crevices in the leaves where water can collect and this can cause them to rot very quickly.
Although direct afternoon sunlight will burn the leaves, saintpaulia need plenty of light. Because they’re small, they’re the ideal choice a windowsill. East or west-facing is almost always best.
If you want your plant to continue to flower, make sure that it’s getting at least 10 hours of sunlight a day. It can survive with less, but this seems to be the magic number if you want it to grow new buds.
You’ll know if your plant needs more light if the leaves become thinner or the stalks become long and leggy.
Plant Food and Soil
It is possible to buy potting soil and fertilizer specially tailored to African violets, but it’s not necessary. Saintpaulia need high acidity from the soil, so if you use a regular all-purpose mix with a few extra handfuls of peat, your plant will thrive.
When it comes to plant food, choose a liquid fertilizer high in phosphorous. You may need to feed your plant as often as every 2 weeks in the spring and summer, but you should be careful not to overdo it. Too much plant food can burn the roots and discolor the leaves of any plant, but this one is particularly vulnerable to overfeeding.
Additional African Violet Care Tips
The African violet care tips above cover all the basics. They’ll help you to keep your plant looking good for as long as possible. But many growers struggle with saintpaulia not in the first few weeks, but after the first winter. If you want to keep your plant for a long time and see it flower year after year, read on for the expert advice you’ll need.
Because this is usually a small plant, you’ll have to repot it every year if it’s growing well. Refreshing the soil also maintains its structure and prevents the problems that can arise when minerals start to build up.
On the other hand, African violets are more likely to flower if they’re pot bound so, when you size up, make sure that the pot you choose is only one size larger.
When you’re repotting your saintpaulia, it’s also the perfect opportunity to divide it and transplant the plantlets into their own pots.
Because the African violet is so small, you won’t need to do a lot of pruning. It’s low growing and can spread, so trim any excess leaves if you need it to stay very compact. Otherwise, you should only need to remove dead or damaged leaves to keep the plant looking its best and encourage it to put its energy into new growth.
Deadheading your plant when it’s finished flowering may also help to encourage it to grow another flush of flowers. As always, use clean, sharp scissors or shears whenever you trim your plant.
These plants are quite vulnerable to pests. Unfortunately, they’re also easy to damage with pesticide sprays. Even natural alternatives like neem oil can be a problem for the leaves.
Mealybugs are a common problem, but saintpaulia is also one of the rare plants that has its own pest. The cyclamen mite will suck the sap from your plant and badly damage the leaves. Unfortunately, these mites are so small that your plant might be thoroughly infested by the time you realize what the problem is.
The best way to combat pests is to use a sticky trap to catch the insects before they can get to the plant.
The classic African violet (saintpaulia ionantha) has plain purple flowers with yellow centers. These plants have been popular for so long that many other cultivars have been also been bred for their colored and textured blooms. Thankfully, they all have similar needs so, once you’ve mastered caring for this plant, it’s easy to build up a vibrant collection.
First Kiss Blush has flowers with the classic yellow center, but this contrasts with soft pink petals which are sometimes spotted with purple.
If you’re looking for a white flower, try the World to Your Home. The flowers are large and have more petals than many other varieties, which make them look lovely and full.
Peacock flowers are bluer in color and the dark green leaves have pale pink edges. The petals are also very frilly, which gives an extra textural dimension to this plant.
African violets are not technically edible, but they are non-toxic to pets and humans. Typically, this plant is so small that you’ll probably be keeping it up on a shelf out of reach of dogs and children anyway. However, it’s still nice to know that it’s a perfectly safe choice for your home.
Where can I buy an African violet?
Because this is such a popular plant to give as a gift, it’s extremely easy to get hold of a saintpaulia. Most florists should be able to help you, at least if you want the classic purple variety. You might even be lucky and find one in a supermarket.
Make sure you choose a plant with moist but not waterlogged soil. It should have dark green leaves and plenty of healthy buds.
If you’ve got your heart set on a more unusual variety, it’ll probably be quicker to source it online. Do your research and find a reputable nursery that’s going to package your plant properly and send it to you as quickly as possible.
How can I divide African violets?
The easiest way to propagate African violets and increase your collection is to divide the plant. It’s best to do this in spring.
Over the previous year, your plant will have grown new plantlets beside the main crown. Dig down into the soil and tease the roots apart from the main plant. Cut the roots with sharp scissors and plant up your baby saintpaulia in a small nursery pot.
It’s important to avoid overwatering as the baby plant becomes established. It’s much easier to drown the delicate roots while they’re making themselves at home.
How can I make my plant bloom?
If you want your African violet to bloom for a second year, you have to make it think that it’s experienced winter. In our heated homes, this is difficult to do, but you could try moving them to a cooler area, such as a hallway or entrance. If you do this as the days are getting shorter it will mimic the conditions outside.
Remember that your saintpaulia still needs plenty of sun and humidity in the winter. Also, you’ll have to move it back to its original position when spring comes.
Giving it 10 hours of sunlight each day, keeping the plant pot bound and fertilizing it can also encourage buds and flowers.
How long do saintpaulia live?
Technically, an African violet can live as a house plant for 50 years.
Unfortunately, many people can only keep them alive for a few months. Inexperienced growers don’t research how to keep the plant humid and tend to give up after it loses its first flowers.
On the other hand, if you keep the plant humid enough, give it enough light, and keep the soil moist, there’s no reason that it won’t be with you for many years.
How often should I water my plant?
You’ll need to water your African violet very regularly. Check every day that there’s still enough water in the pebble tray and check the soil when you do. If even the top inch of the soil is dry, the plant is already too thirsty.
In the middle of the summer, you’ll need to give your plant a small amount of water every 2 – 3 days. Naturally, it’ll need less water in the winter, but you should still ensure that the soil doesn’t dry out.
There’s a reason these plants are so well known and so popular. Their flowers are simple but very striking, and the contrast in color and texture between the blossoms and the dark leaves is beautiful.
It’s so satisfying to see a fresh African violet on your windowsill, and so disappointing when the color doesn’t last. Thankfully, there are things you can do to keep your plant looking its best. Follow the tips above (or inform the person you’re buying one for) and you have every chance of enjoying your plant year after year.