Care and cultivation of the African violet

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By The Staff

African violet or Saintpaulia is a well-known and popular houseplant. They can be easily grown indoors under artificial light conditions or near a filtered bright window.

In Florida, I have had success leaving them outdoors under filtered light from trees. I only recommend this practice during the warm months, of course, as this plant will freeze in temperatures under 32 degrees.

African violets have a shallow root system; leaf stalks are fleshy, pale green and hairy. New hybrids are constantly being introduced to add to the well-established violet, pink, rose, white, and white/blue.

There are single blooms as well as double blooms, and some are even ruffled. Tiny, golden yellow pollen sacs are in the center. If these plants are grown under the right conditions, they can flower all year round.

Proper care includes bright light, without direct sunlight – a minimum two to three hours each day. Direct sun will scorch the leaves and flowers. Too little light will distort foliage and the plant will not bloom.

Under artificial light, use fluorescent rods and place the plant bed 12 inches below the tubes for 12 hours per day. The temperature should be 60- to 75 degrees; even a five-degree difference will eventually cause growth to stop. This also is the reason plants do not like to be moved.

High humidity is essential. Stand pots in trays of moist pebbles or suspend dishes of water under hanging plants.

Water plants moderately, enough to make the potting mix moist but allow the top one-inch to dry before watering again. In cooler weather, allow to dry a full inch before watering. Too much water will rot the roots.

Feed at every watering by giving Saintpaulia a one-quarter dose strength of liquid fertilizer such as 20-20-20 or use an African violet fertilizer specially formulated for these plants. Never water plants overhead and always use water at room temperature.

Repot when the plant becomes root-bound, or if several rosettes are crowding the pot. Gently lift the whole plant out of the pot and spread it onto several layers of newsprint. Carefully separate plantlets by pulling them apart.

Have a four-inch pot ready with fresh soil mix. African violet mix or any other good potting mix should be used for repotting and propagation.

Make sure each plant has roots. Do not cut them apart. Tugging sideways usually works best.

Propagation is done by rooting individual leaves that will later produce new plants. You will get a cloned plant looking exactly like the mother plant.

Remove a leaf with a stalk from the second or third row of a plant with a sharp knife. Trim the stalk to one and one-half inches and insert three-quarters of an inch into a two-inch pot containing sterile soil mix. Moisten well and enclose in a plastic – a freezer bag works well – and keep in bright filtered light. No further watering should be required.

After seven to 10 weeks, a new cluster of leaflets will arise from the stalk. Uncover the young plant by a few inches each day until it is fully out of its protection. Now apply fertilizer (diluted as mentioned above) until the plant is one and one-half inches tall. Remove the mother leaf and treat like an adult plant.

African violet pests include aphids, mites and mealy bugs. The best way to avoid these is to never introduce a new plant to your collection until you are positive it is free of pests. Insecticidal soaps should provide adequate control of these pests.

For more information about gardening practices in Central Florida, call Marion County Master Gardeners at 671-8400, or visit their office in the Cooperative Extension Center, 2232 N. E. Jacksonville Rd.