The African violets are undoubtedly among the cheeriest indoor plants available, yet people are sometimes disappointed with their performance. To help you grow better African violets, Don looked at some of the more common problems with this plant and how to overcome them.
Common problems and solutions
Lighting: The lack of good light is one of the main reasons that African violets do not produce flowers indoors. Light helps feed the plants and they’ll starve if left in a dark spot. African violet leaves become ratty and horrible as they feebly reach out towards the light, desperate for sustenance.
The best position for your African violet is within 30cm (12″) of a window. If the window is facing north, and therefore gets the very hot sun, you may need to screen the window with a sheer curtain or blind as the strong northern light will burn the plants.
Water worries: Overwatering is the most common killer of African violets. To overcome this use one of the wick watering systems available. The wick passes through the bottom of the pot and into a reservoir of water at its base. Here the wick soaks up water as the plant needs it.
Ordinary potting mixes are not well enough aerated for African violets so you may want to use one of the special mixes available. Debco African Violet and Gloxinia Mixture is a reliable mixture although you may wish to add more perlite or vermiculite to lighten the mix.
Fertilising: You can fertilise your plants two or three times a year. There are special African violet fertilisers (such as the Kenrose African Violet Fertiliser) on the market available at garden centres. Alternatively use Aquasol or Nitrosol.
Common name: African violet
Botanical name: Saintpaulia ionantha. Named after Baron Walter von Saint Paul, who first discovered this plant. This plant is native to tropical East Africa. As this plant requires mild to warm temperatures and filtered light it is usually seen as an indoor plant.
Varieties and colours: There are many different hybrids on the market with flower colours ranging from white through to shades of pink, purple, blue, red and more recently, yellow (although this flower colour is still extremely rare). Small golden pollen sacks are conspicuous in the centre of the flowers which may be single, double, bi-coloured or fringed and which are held aloft on a pale green fleshy stalk. The round or oval leaves are usually covered with velvety hairs and are paler underneath. Some trailing forms are also available.
1. Nursery: Plants start at around $4-$5. The self watering African violet pots such as the Kenrose brand cost around $5.95 each.
2. Do-it-yourself: African violets are among the easiest plants to propagate at home. These are often done from leaf cuttings taken in spring and summer.
- cutting material (choose healthy leaves)
- sharp secateurs or scalpel
- hormone rooting powder (available at nurseries)
- pots or a propagating tray
- propagating mix (or make your own using 1 part coarse, washed river sand to 1 part peat moss)
- a clear plastic bag
- some bent wire (to make a mini greenhouse around the pot)
- a dibbler (for example a pencil to make holes in the mix)
- A bucket of water with a disinfectant such as Dettol added (to sterilise equipment, pots, hands etc)
- Select a medium-sized leaf from the centre of the plant. Avoid leaves that are: large and floppy, marked or spotted, or small and immature from the middle of the plant. Cut the leaf off cleanly from plant with a 2.5 cm (1″) long piece of stem attached. Trim the base of the stalk with a slanting cut.
- Dip the stem in hormone rooting powder. Using the dibbler make a hole in the propagating mix and insert stem of leaf into the hole so the leaf is just above the mix.
- Repeat using as many leaves as you can fit in the pot without the leaves touching each other. Rest the leaves on the edge of the pot.
- Water and cover the pot with the plastic bag placed around the bent wire to keep the plastic away from the leaves.
- Place the pot in a cool, well-lit spot. New plants will form around the base of the leaf in four to 12 weeks. They can be separated into their own pots when the new plants reach a size of about 5cm (2.5″).
African violets are available from your local nursery for around $6 to $12. A useful book is Growing African Violets by Ruth Coulson (Kangaroo Press, 1993 edition) ISBN 0-86417-509-4.
There are African violet associations throughout Australia. For more information visit www.africanviolet.org.au, or write to:
The African Violet Association of Australia
8 Wangalla Road
Lane Cove NSW 2066