African Violets or Saintpaulia ionantha are perennial, flowering plants native to the tropical rainforests of East Africa. This plant is not a true violet, but instead gets its name from its violet colored flowers. Since being discovered, the plant has been hybridized to create a variety of different flower colors. Over the years, it has become a popular houseplant because of how well it grows indoors.
African Violets are sensitive to temperature changes and heavy sunlight, so growing them indoors protects them from harsh outdoor environments. They can be grown outdoors in warmer climates with hardiness zones of 11 and 12. You can find your plant hardiness zone here.
The most common African Violet growth forms are rosettes or trailing. The rosettes grow in tight clusters, forming dense mounds. The trailing cultivars trail along the ground or can hang over the side of baskets. The leaves are fuzzy and deep green in color, but can vary in shape and color with different hybrids. As the plant matures, it produces multiple offsets that can be kept together or propagated by dividing them.
If your African Violet begins outgrowing its pot, you can separate the offsets or move the entire cluster into a larger pot. If you choose to upgrade the pot size, ensure you are only going 2” larger in diameter. African Violets like being snug in their pot and may not flower as often if given too much space to grow. This is because the plant will put its energy into expanding its foliage at the expense of flowers. Slowly upgrading the size of the pot 2” at a time will also help reduce the chances of over watering. If you plant an African Violet into a large pot, it will take a while for the roots to expand into the soil and moisture from watering will sit in the unoccupied soil.
African Violets prefer a coarse, well draining soil for optimal root health. Here are a couple of African Violet specific potting soils:
Given enough sunlight and warm temperatures, African Violets will produce flowers multiple times throughout the year. Flowers are traditionally violet in color, but can range from red, purple, pink, blue or white depending on the hybridized cultivar.
Here are some of the most common African Violet cultivars:
Aroma of Summer - Pink flowers
Cherry Princess - Pink and purple variegated flowers
Crimson Ice - Crimson flowers
Little Maya - Crimson flowers
Persian Prince - Blue flowers
Summer Twilight - Purple and white flowers with variegated leaves
African Violets grow best indoors with 10 to 14 hours of bright sunlight from north or east facing windows. The plant may need to be moved to south or west facing windows during the winter months for added light. If the plant does not get between 10 to 14 hours of sunlight a day, it will not flower regularly and the leaves can turn yellow. When grown outdoors, morning sun and afternoon shade is best. Too much direct sunlight can burn or bleach out the color of the leaves. An African Violet’s growth can elongate and thin out if it’s not getting enough sunlight. If this occurs, prune each stem back to more condensed growth above a set of leaves and place in a brighter spot.
African Violets like an even and consistently moist soil that is well draining. When watering your African Violet, ensure you are giving the soil a good soaking each time so the entire root system gets moisture. Avoid using chlorinated tap water as the chlorine can damage the roots and cause the leaf margins to burn. It is best to use bottled spring water or distilled water. Ensure the water is room temperature because the roots of the African Violet are very sensitive to both hot and cold temperatures.
Avoid letting moisture sit on the leaves and in the crown of the plant for long periods of time to avoid water stains, fungal infections and eventual rotting. The fleshy parts of the plant and their sensitive roots are very susceptible to rot.
African Violets can be propagated either by division of the offsets or rooting leaf cuttings. Propagating is a great way to keep the genetics of that specific cultivar, especially if it is a rare type.
Leaf cutting propagation
Step 1: Cut a leaf from the plant leaving as much of the petiole attached to the leaf as possible by cutting the petiole where it meets the main crown of the plant.
Step 2: Fill a clean, glass container with room temperature water deep enough to submerge the end of the petiole.
You can also propagate leaf cuttings directly into soil. Ensure you are keeping the soil evenly moist. Avoid letting it go dry or stay saturated.
Step 3: Foil can be used to secure the cutting in place by covering the propagation jar with the foil and cutting a slit in the top where the petiole can be placed through.
Step 4: Place the cutting in bright, indirect light near a north or east facing window.
Step 5: Roots led by new leaves should form in about 6-8 weeks, but can form faster with a rooting hormone.
Step 6: Once the roots are about 2” long, pot into a potting soil designed for African Violets and water the plant in.
Step 1: Remove the entire cluster of plants from the pot.
Step 2: Gently massage the root ball to loosen up the roots.
Step 3: Pull each of the rosettes apart by finding the base of the crown of each rosette
Each rosette will have its own set of roots separate from the main plant.
Step 4: Pot each rosette into individual pots of soils and water them in.
Fertilizing African Violets regularly throughout the growing seasons of spring and summer will encourage strong foliar growth and high quality blooms. A fertilizer high in phosphorus such as Jack’s Classic African Violet 12-36-14 will encourage better flowering. For the plant to be able to take up nutrients through the roots properly, the pH must be slightly acidic between 6.2 and 6.5. A pH testing kit or pH meter can give a general idea of the pH. Using African Violet specific soil and fertilizer will help keep the pH in range.
Some of the most common pests and diseases of African Violets are sucking insects such as spider mites, aphids and mealy bugs or fungus. Both insects and fungal spores suck the sap out of the plant parts, leaving necrotic spots on the leaves or wilted foliage. The best treatment for insects is an insecticidal soap. Insecticidal soaps penetrate the body of insects, eventually killing them. Spray down the entire plant with the soap making sure to get the undersides of the leaves where insects typically live. Multiple applications may be needed depending on the severity of the outbreak. Ensure you are waiting 7 to 10 days before applying the insecticidal soap again to prevent the plant from building up a toxicity to the soap.
Phytophthora crown rot and pythium root rot are the most common diseases in African Violets. The most common symptoms of crown rot are mushy, abnormally dark plant parts. The only remedy is to cut away as much of the affected parts of the plant as possible and treat with a copper fungicide. If rot has consumed a majority of the crown, it is not likely the plant can be saved. Pythium root rot is caused from the roots sitting in water logged soil. Too much soil moisture causes the roots to drown and eventually rot from a lack of oxygen. Common symptoms of root rot are yellow, droopy leaves. Once root rot has progressed enough to show symptoms in the leaves, it is hard to bring the plant back. This would be a good time to take leaf cuttings from healthy growth.
When applying the copper fungicide, apply it to the entirety of the plant, including the undersides of the leaves. Allow 7 to 10 days between applications to prevent toxicity to the plant.
If you have any more questions about how to care for African Violets, we will be happy to assist you in a virtual telehealth appointment with one of our Plant Specialists. Please click on one of the options below to book an appointment.