Yesterday, I had two requests for help with the care of African violets. 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.
Change the 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 the sides. So, one of the first things I do is re-pot the violet in new potting medium. I mix my own, but if you have to buy a commercial potting medium, such as Miracle-Gro for violets, I would add 1/3 perlite to 2/3 of the medium. This makes it more well-drained and much better for the plants.
Let’s get started. You’ve bought or received a new African violet.
If you decide not to re-pot, it is a must to take your plant out of the wrapper or remove it when watering, so your plant is never standing in water.
Remove the flowers
Whenever I buy a new violet, I also remove all the flowers. I don’t want to take the chance that the flowers may have thrips. Thrips are small insects that eat the pollen which then spills down the flowers when thrips are present. I’m not taking the chance that if they are hiding, they will come out and infect my other plants. The thrips themselves are almost impossible to see, but the spilled pollen is a definite 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 to be removed. If there are leaves underneath the upper leaves that are smaller than the leaves above them, remove them. If there are any damaged leaves, remove those also.
Remove the existing soil
Okay, so the flowers are removed, the small leaves are removed and now I’m going to wash the peat moss potting medium off the plant. First, though, I carefully removed some of it by just teasing it off the roots with my fingers. Then, I wash off as much as I can without injuring the roots.
Wick watering your plants
I water my African violets by wick watering them. If you want to put them in your own decorative pot, go for it. The pot you choose should be what is called 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. Most standard size violets never need a pot bigger than 4″ in diameter but if it is getting really large, a 5″ pot would be as big as you need to go. As the plant grows, keep removing the bottom large leaves. Also, 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 to make adding water to the container easy. Separate the acrylic (not any other kind, such as cotton or wool, as they will rot) yarn into two plies and circle about a 9″ length in the bottom of the pot with about 3-4″ hanging out of the bottom of the pot. 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.)
Best exposure for violets
So, if you decided not to wick your plant, and aren’t growing yours under lights like I am, place your violet in an east or west window. The east exposure is best. The morning sun isn’t too hot and is best for your violet. Remember to turn your violet a 1/4 turn every time you water, to make sure your plant grows straight, otherwise your plant will lean toward the light and be lopsided. If you find your leaves are reaching up instead of lying flat, that means your plant isn’t getting enough light and you need to move your violet to a window with more light. South 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. 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.
Cleaning your violet
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. However, do NOT let water sit in their centers, don’t use cold water, which will mar the leaves, and let it dry out of the sun. If you don’t want 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 properly. Dust and dirt inhibit this process.
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.
Below, is a gallery of some of my African violets.
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