African violets (Streptocarpus) are a popular house plant that many people have probably tried to grow at one time or another. You often hear of people that successfully grow African violets without much effort. Then you hear of people that no matter how hard they try, their violets never bloom or always die. It is probably not as much about having a green thumb, but is more due to finding the right spot in the house to put the violets.
Due to their popularity, African violets are available in many colors and styles. Double or semi-double clusters of flowers are available on newer varieties. There are even African violets that have bicolored flowers or flowers with different colored edges.
If you decided to take a stab at growing African violets, the first step is use the right soil. The soil that you use should be one that drains well. The well-drained soil will prevent plants from sitting in very wet soil and eventually suffering from crown or root rot. There are commercially prepared soil mixtures available for African violets but a good potting soil will also work well.
One of the biggest mistakes with growing African violets is watering too much. African violets are very susceptible to crown and root rots that can occur when the soil is too wet. Violets can be watered from the top or the bottom. When watering from the top, apply enough water to saturate the soil. Allow excess water to drain from the bottom of the container. Be sure not to use cold water because cold water that comes into contact with the leaves will cause white blotches. To water an African violet from below, place the container in a tray containing about 1 inch of water. The plant should be checked frequently and when the soil surface is moist, remove the pot and discard excess water. Be careful to not allow the plant to sit too long in water to prevent the soil from becoming over saturated.
African violets prefer a bright area in the home that does not receive direct sunlight in the afternoon. Windows that receive morning sunlight and less direct afternoon light are the best windows to place violets at. Generally lack of flowering is due to inadequate light. African violets can also be grown under artificial light. Fluorescent lamps give the best results.
When it comes to fertilizing, commercially prepared water-soluble fertilizers are available that contain the nutrients African violets need for growth. Before applying any fertilizers, water the plant from above to wet the soil. An indication that fertilizer is needed is when the lower, older leaves turn yellow and there is a reduction in the rate of growth.
African violets do not require a lot of attention to grow. The main things to avoid is overwatering and providing the correct amount of light. With some careful attention to the aforementioned, you can enjoy growing African violets in your home.
Jessica Strickland is an Agriculture Extension Agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.