African violet Care and How To Make Them Thrive

by | May 31, 2015 | 8 comments

Yesterday, I had two requests for help with African violet care.

My hairdresser received one as a gift and I had another question from Twitter. So, I went to Meijer today and purchased an African violet so I could demonstrate what to do with a newly purchased violet.

I usually buy my violets from the African violet club sales. They have unusual varieties and have been grown in the potting medium similar to what I use. But, sometimes I buy one from the store when one calls out to me.

African violet soil

The problem with the violets purchased at garden centers, grocery stores, or big boxes, is the soil (actually soilless mix) they are grown in.

It is mostly, if not all peat, and is too heavy (meaning retains too much moisture) for the plant. Yet, if it dries out, it is very hard to re-wet. It shrinks away from the sides of the container, and the water runs down between the pot side and the soil. It is often hard to re-wet the potting medium at this point.

One of the first things I do is re-pot the violet in new potting medium. I mix my own, but if you buy a commercial African violet soil, I would add 1/3 perlite to 2/3 of the medium. This makes it more well-drained and better for the plants.

Let’s get started. You’ve bought or received a new African violet and need to know how to care for it and make it thrive.

repotting african violet 018
Newly purchased African violet

Remove Pot covers

If you decide not to re-pot, make sure to take your plant out of the decorative pot cover or remove it when watering. Never allow the plant to stand in water.

African violet flowers

Whenever I buy a new violet, I remove the flowers because I don’t want to take the chance that they are harboring thrips.

Thrips are small insects that feed on the pollen which then spills down the flowers. I’m not taking the chance that they are hiding and will come out and infect my other plants. The thrips themselves are almost impossible to see, but the spilled pollen is a sign that you have them.

I bet you are cringing about now, right? Remove the flowers? That’s the best part. You don’t have to remove the flowers until they are completely spent.  I’m just showing you what I do…….

Remove certain leaves

Next, I check for any leaves that need removing. If there are smaller leaves underneath the upper larger leaves, remove them. If there are any damaged leaves, remove those also.

Remove the existing soil

The flowers and small leaves are gone and now I’m going to wash off the peat moss potting medium. First, though, I removed some of it by teasing it off the roots with my fingers. Then, I wash off as much as I can without injuring the roots.

Wick watering your African violets

I water my African violets by wick watering. If you want to put them in your own decorative pot, go for it. The pot you choose should be an azalea pot. This means the pot is short and squatty or in technical terms, the depth of the pot is 3/4 the diameter of the pot.

African violets have shallow root systems. Standard size violets don’t need a pot bigger than 4″ in diameter. For larger plants, a 5-6″ pot would be as big as you need to go. As the plant grows, keep removing the bottom large leaves.

Your violet should be re-potted every 6-12 months to keep it from getting a long neck. I talk about that problem here, with the remedy.

You can skip the next step if you don’t want to wick water. But, if you do want to wick the violet, it is an easy process. You need acrylic yarn and a deli container to make your reservoir for the water.

Deli container wick watering

I buy my deli containers in bulk at Gordon Food Service, but if you only need one, buy something to eat at the deli. I use a circle drill to drill two holes in the lid of the container, one for the wick to go in and one for adding water to the container.

Separate the acrylic (not any other kind, such as cotton or wool, as they will rot) yarn into two plies. Circle a 9″ length in the bottom of the pot with 3-4″ hanging out of the bottom. Then pot the violet in the wicked pot and set it on the deli container with the wick hanging into the water.

The water wicks up the yarn and into the potting medium, keeping the violet moist. Fill the container once a week. Easy. (Note: You cannot wick your violet unless you change the medium to a very well-drained medium. If you wick the original peat moss medium, your plant will stay too wet, and rot.)

African violet
This is African violet ‘Mag’s Standing Ovation’

Best exposure for violets

If you are not wick watering your plant or growing under lights, place your violet in an east or west window. The morning sun is soft, not hot, and is best for your violet.

Remember to turn your violet a 1/4 turn every time you water, ensuring your plant grows straight. Otherwise your plant will lean toward the light and grow lopsided.

If your leaves are reaching up instead of lying flat, your plant isn’t getting enough light. Move your violet to an area with more light. A south exposure would be too harsh, though.

Watering your violet

Check the soil once a week to determine if it needs water. Keep the medium moist, never allowing the plant to stand in water.

Cleaning your violet

As I’ve said before, always water your plant until water runs out of the bottom of the pot. This pulls oxygen through the potting medium and encourages your roots to fill the pot. Empty any remaining water in the saucer after 30 minutes.

cold water damage on an African violet
Cold water damage on an African violet leaf

Once a month, or so, take your plant to the sink and give it a good shower to get the dust off the leaves. Yes, you can get African violet leaves wet. It does rain where they grow.

Do NOT let water sit in their centers and don’t use cold water, which will mar the leaves. Let it dry out of the sun.

If you prefer not to do that, use a soft paintbrush or a baby brush to brush the dust off the leaves. Keeping your plants clean is important so the leaves can photosynthesize. Dust and dirt inhibit this process.

African violet care

I think I’ve covered everything, but if you still have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment and I will do my best to answer it. I want you to know how to care for your African violets so they will thrive.

Below, is a gallery of some of my African violets.

Have a great week, plant friends!

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8 Comments

  1. Patricia Abrams

    Very informative!

    Reply
  2. Amy

    What ingredients/proportions would you suggest to make my own African violet soil?

    Reply
    • lisa@thehouseplantguru.com

      Hi Amy, I mix my own soil with large bags of ingredients I get from a wholesale company, as we own a garden center. But if I could not do that, I would buy African violet soil and mix perlite and vermiculite in using 1/3 of each product.

      Reply
  3. Denise hill

    Hi do I cut back old bloom stems for new to grow?

    Many thanks.

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      You don’t have to cut back the old blooms for new growth. It does help the plant not to have to make seeds, so it is best to cut off the spent blooms.

      Reply
  4. Lupe

    What do you do if you have violets are in the containers where you put water at the base, a 2 part container?

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Just keep the bottom container filled with water. The inside container that the plant is planted in should be unglazed. Send me a picture of the planter if you can. My email is on my website.

      Reply

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