Yes, You CAN Grow African Violets

How many times has someone said to you, “I just can’t grow African Violets”?  I’m here to tell you that you can, and you will love them.

Violets love window sills

Violet near a window sill

I had heard about how hard it was to grow African Violets so often that for many years I wouldn’t even try to grow them.  But I picked up a small beauty once at a yard sale, stuck it in a downstairs bathroom, and lo and behold, the thing became gigantic and bloomed non-stop year-round.  The only thing I had done was to feed it using a water-soluble type of African Violet food.

I did a little research and it turns out that I had unknowingly placed the violet in the absolutely perfect environment for growing.  For one thing the temperature in that half-bath stayed fairly even—between 65-80 degrees F.   That’s ideal for violets.

A vigorous violet

Vigorous leaf and flower development

Another thing was the amount of sunshine the plant received. The bathroom had a window that got early morning sun, and the window had some of that semi-transparent film on it, the type that lets in light but you can’t actually see through.  Like glass blocks.  And it turns out that violets love bright indirect light, which is what it was getting.  Strong, direct sunshine can burn their leaves.

Violets can bloom year 'round

Lovely violet in full bloom

The third thing was humidity.  They don’t like it too wet nor too dry, and the small amount of evaporation from the half bath did the trick.

So, though all this sounds like a lot of work, it’s really quite simple.  Most indoor temperatures are regulated year round, so you don’t have to do anything different there.  But window placement is paramount.  Put your violet where it will receive indirect sunlight, preferably in the mornings.  If you don’t have such a window, then place a sheer curtain between the strong sunlight and the violet. Or simply move it back out of the strong sunlight a bit.

Feed your violets for lots of blooms

Feed violets for continuous blooming

DO feed and water your violet.  I use the water-soluble type of African Violet food and simply follow the directions.  A small bottle will last you years.  As for water, violets like to stay moist, not dry and not wet.  The specially made African Violet pots (which are pots within a pot) are ideal.  The exterior pot holds the fertilized water, which seeps through the wall to the inner pot very gradually.  The African Violet’s soil gets just enough water to keep it happy.

African violet with variegated leaves

African violet with variegated leaves

There’s a reason your grandma’s African Violets looked so good in her kitchen window.  They were moist from all the dish-washing, and they likely sat behind grandma’s gauzy sheer curtains.

And when you think about it, it makes perfect sense.  I always tell people who ask for plant advice to consider the plant’s native habitat, and to try to replicate that for the best results.  Violets in the wild grow near trees, so they are protected from winds and harsh rains.  They get even moisture and filtered sunlight.

Who knew?

© Wade Kingston

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