African violets are one of the most common houseplants. People everywhere love their fuzzy leaves and vibrant blooms. African violets can bloom up to 10 months of the year if conditions are right, so they’re a lovely sight when other plants have stopped blooming.
If you want to start keeping houseplants, African violets are a great choice since they are hardy and easy to care for compared to other common houseplants. Beginners can benefit from African violets’ forgiving nature.
Even though African violets are not complicated houseplants, they do have a few specific requirements. Keep reading to find out how to make sure your African violets houseplants thrive under your care.
What Kind of Soil Do African Violets Need?
Choosing the correct soil is one of the most important factors in keeping your African violet alive. Soil provides the nutrients and moisture that your plant needs. African violets are usually grown in small pots, so they only have access to a little soil and it needs to be just right.
African violets do best in a soil that is lightweight, retains moisture, and allows for airflow. Do not use standard indoor potting mix because it is too dense for African violets. Instead, choose a potting mix that is designed specifically for African violets.
You can either buy a commercial potting mix for African violets or you can make your own. A good potting mix contains three ingredients:
- Perlite: This lightweight material slowly releases moisture.
- Vermicule: This mineral won’t rot or mold and it helps keep nutrients in the soil.
- Peat moss: This decaying plant matter helps retain moisture and nutrients. Coco coir or wood fiber are sometimes substituted because they are more eco-friendly.
You’ll only need a small amount of potting mix for each African violet. It’s easy to find commercial African violet mix anywhere that sells plants. I’ve even seen it in the floral section at grocery stores. However, you can order commercial African violet mix online if needed.
How Much Water Do African Violets Need?
Even if you’re new to keeping houseplants, you definitely know plants need water to survive. What you might not know is overwatering is the most common reason houseplants die. Too much water can suffocate your African violet’s roots.
African violets only need water when the soil is almost dry. Usually you’ll need to water about once a week, but this depends on conditions like the temperature, the season, and the size of the African violet’s container.
The best way to water African violets is by bottom watering. To bottom water, you place your African violet in a tray filled with at least an inch of water and then remove from the water after 20 minutes. This allows the soil to slowly absorb as much water as it can hold. African violet soil doesn’t always take up enough water when you just pour water over it.
Also, water droplets on your African violet’s leaves can cause white spots to appear. These don’t hurt the African violet, but it doesn’t look pretty. Bottom watering helps avoid this problem.
It is possible to underwater an African violet, but it’s harder to do than you would expect. I don’t recommend going a couple of weeks without watering your African violet; however, if it happens, African violets usually bounce back after a few rounds of regular watering. They will take a while to begin blooming again, though.
How Much Light Do African Violets Need?
You may have heard that African violets are finicky about light. This is partially true. African violets can survive in low levels of light. As long as they are getting some sunlight, it’s hard to kill them due to lack of light. But if you want blooms (which you do), your African violets will need more light.
African violets can bloom the majority of the year. They just need at least 10 hours of sunlight to keep blooming. Windows that face north or east are the best places for African violets. If you aren’t able to provide at least 10 hours of sunlight, supplement using artificial lights.
To use artificial lights, place a fluorescent light 8-10 inches above the African violet and keep it turned on for 12 hours each day. Do not exceed 12 hours because African violets need periods of dark each day as well. In most places, you’ll need to supplement light during the winter when the days get shorter.
If this seems like too much work, you don’t have to supplement the amount of light your African violet receives. There’s nothing wrong with letting your African violets have periods without blooming during the winter months. The blooms will return when the daylight hours get longer.
African violet leaves sometimes burn in direct sunlight. This isn’t usually a problem unless your African violet is getting hit by the sun around noon when the sun is the strongest, which will make the leaves look crinkly and yellow.
Finding the perfect spot for African violets in your house sometimes takes a little trial and error. Don’t worry if you have to move the plant from window to window a few times until you find the one with the best light.
What Temperature and Humidity Are Best for African Violets?
One of the best things about African violets is that the temperature of most homes is perfect for them. African violets prefer the temperature to be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They don’t like the temperature to be above 80 degrees Fahrenheit or below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Most homes fall within these levels already.
Avoid placing your African violets in areas without cold drafts of air during the winter. Excessive cold usually causes more problems for African violets than excessive heat.
As far as humidity, African violets in the wild live in an environment with 70-80 percent humidity. Obviously, you cannot provide humidity levels that high in your home. However, African violets grow perfectly well in humidity levels of 50-60 percent, and most homes fall within this range.
I’ve never had to use a humidifier with my African violets, but if your home has low humidity levels, you may need one, especially during the winter. If the humidity level is too low for African violets, it’s probably too low for your comfort too!
Do African Violets Need Fertilizer?
To keep your African violet thriving, you’ll need to give it fertilizer. Houseplants only have access to a small amount of soil, and they cannot access additional nutrients once they use up all the ones in the soil.
African violet soil should have plenty of nutrients at first, so you can wait a few months to begin fertilizing. Once you are ready to begin fertilizing, use a gentle fertilizer. Select a balanced fertilizer, one where the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels (known as the N-P-K ratio) are the same. Formulas that have the same three numbers on the package, like 10-10-10 or 15-15-15, are balanced formulas.
To make fertilizing simple, use a liquid fertilizer like African Violet Plant Food. Liquid fertilizers make it easier to control how much fertilizer your plant gets. Fertilize about once a week.
Be aware that over-fertilizing can be a problem. Too much fertilizer can stunt your plant’s growth, and in excessive quantities, over-fertilizing can kill a plant.
African violets only need small quantities of fertilizer to help them thrive. Water and sunlight play a much larger role in an African violet’s health than fertilizer. If you’re new to houseplants, start off by applying half the amount of fertilizer you think you should.
When to Repot African Violets
Allowing you to refresh the soil and check for healthy roots, repotting is when you take a plant out of its container and replace the soil with fresh soil. Sometimes you will also move the plant to a new container if it has outgrown the previous container.
You don’t have to worry about repotting for a while if you’ve just gotten your African violet; they’re usually repotted once a year.
Some African violet enthusiasts repot twice a year, which can help your African violet grow bigger more quickly. Don’t feel pressured to repot this often, though. For beginners, your goal is to simply keep your African violet alive and reasonably happy.
When it’s time, here’s how to repot:
Step 1: Gently remove your African violet from its container. They slide out of plastic pots pretty easily if you tip them over. If yours seems stuck, you can stick your finger in the drainage hole to give the plant an extra push.
Step 2: Remove soil from the root ball. You should be able to get most of the soil off with your hands. It’s a good idea to rinse the roots off to get the last tiny pieces. Inspect the roots while you clean. Use sterilized scissors to cut off any roots that are brown or black and feel mushy.
Step 3: Prepare the container. As long as your African violet isn’t root-bound, meaning that the roots are growing in a circle around the edge of the container, you can return the plant to its previous container. Wash out the pot before continuing. Then place a layer of fresh soil in the bottom of the container.
Step 4: Position the African violet. The leaves on your African violet should reach just a little above the rim of the pot. Add more soil to the bottom of the container if needed. Then gently cover the top of the root ball with soil. Pat the soil down just enough to keep the African violet in place.
Step 5: Water the plant. It’s time to bottom water your African violet. Set the entire pot in a tray with water and allow the soil to soak up moisture for about 20 minutes.
What Is the Best Container for African Violets?
Your African violet probably came in a tiny pot when you got it. Surprisingly, this is exactly what African violets need as they do better in smaller pots.
The diameter of an African violet pot should be half the diameter of the plant’s leaves. If you can find a container that is one-third the leaves’ diameter, that’s even better.
The container should be shallow compared to a regular pot. African violet roots grow outward rather than downward, so the roots won’t reach the bottom of a container that is too deep.The soil at the bottom will stay too wet and potentially be a breeding ground for fungus and bacteria.
Make sure that any container you use has drainage holes in the bottom. No matter how pretty a pot is, don’t use it if there are no drainage holes. Otherwise, the excess water won’t be able to drain out of the bottom when you water, and you’ll likely overwater your plant.
There are some people who manage to keep their plants perfectly watered in pots without drainage holes, but those people are not usually beginners. I still can’t manage to do this. If you really want to use a pretty pot that doesn’t have drainage holes, place your African violet in a plastic pot with drainage holes. Then put the plastic pot inside the pretty pot. Take the plastic pot out to water your African violet and return the plastic pot once the excess water has drained out of the holes.
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