African Violets are lovely indoor plants that love sunshine, constant supply of water, occasional feeding, and semi-annual re-potting. They can easily be cultivated by the rank amateur gardener.
A great way to cheer and brighten up a kitchen year-round is by growing
African violets. Even a black-thumbed individual whose only gardening companion
is the Grim Reaper can sustain pots of these pretty plants by providing them
with things we all enjoy: sunshine, food, routine, a nice home, and an
occasional extreme makeover.
Indeed, African violets are African, but they are not violets.
Captain Baron Walter von Saint Paul, who discovered them in the Usambara
Mountains of Africa, noted their resemblance to violets and named them. In fact,
their botanical name is saintpaulica.
Early on, the African violet was characterized by a blue-violet flower and
heart-shaped glossy leaves, but through years of hybridization, many varieties
have developed. They come with blossoms in all shades of violet, lavender, pink,
white, red, and recently yellow, and even variegated of two colors, with
clusters of flowers varying in number.
The leaves of African violets have also changed as hybrids developed — they
are glossy and flat, come with curly or white edges and in several hues of
green. The many different combinations produce interesting varieties that create
a beautiful display and make it a lot of fun to spruce up the indoors with
splashes of living color.
African violets are like children, really. They have definite preferences and
meeting these needs renders them agreeable. Originally, African violets were
only available to those who could duplicate the warm, moist environment of the
tropical clime of their origin, but the advent of central heating and air
conditioning that stabilized home temperatures made them available to every
household. These plants prefer a temperature between 65 and 75 degrees
Fahrenheit and the moderate indirect light of a sunny location. Humidity also
affects their health, but this can be artificially recreated with light misting
or the steamy atmosphere of a kitchen or bathroom.
African violets also love to lavish in a bath and then drip dry.
The soil should be a mixture of 2/3 good quality potting soil and 1/3
perlite, the little white pellets found in potting mixes. Even bags marketed as
African violet soil can generally stand an extra helping of perlite.
It's particularly important for the successful growth of African violets that
they be potted in a wicking container. They like to keep their feet wet. There
are lovely ceramic pots fashioned specifically for African violets. Typically,
they have a pot-within-a-pot characteristic, with the larger pot holding water
and an overflow spout, and the smaller pot holding the soil and plant. The lower
pot will hold enough water to reduce care of the plant to a weekly session. The
only drawback to pots is their price, and they are not absolutely necessary. As
long as the pot holding the plant has a hole in the bottom and some receptacle
beneath (like a saucer) that will hold water, the African violet will live and
bloom in comfort.
Speaking of water, violets can be a little persnickety in the water
department. They don't like to be watered directly and will demonstrate their
displeasure by curling up and dying if water gets on their leaves. (Dramatic,
aren't they?) They will tolerate very light misting as long as the moisture can
sink in before the histrionics begin. It's entirely possible, and perhaps
advisable, to take the calm, safe route and water entirely from the bottom.
Although African violets get nutrition from sunshine and soil, the soil's
nutrients can be depleted over time so it will be necessary to feed it.
Commercially available African violet food can be found at nurseries, hardware
stores, and even the grocery. It only takes between 7 and 10 drops of the liquid
added to the water reservoir on a semi-monthly basis to keep the plants healthy
and encourage blooming. One bottle of food can feed several plants for an entire
year, but it should be replenished annually with a fresh bottle.
African violets will flourish with a weekly routine of watering and removing
the lower leaves and blossoms as they pass their prime. In fact, in a few months
the plant will be in danger of overgrowing the pot. When that happens, it's time
to re-pot your African violet.
Your first re-potting may be slightly daunting, as you will naturally be
reluctant to interfere with something that is obviously loving life. However,
the plant's longevity, beautiful symmetry, and health require it.
Here is how you do it. First, grasp the thick stem at the point it emerges
from the soil and uproot the entire plant. It is possible that other stems have
spontaneously started life in the pot and they should also be removed. Discard
the old soil and replace it with a new batch of loosely packed soil and perlite
mix. Remove the lower leaves until only a nice circle of new leaves remain.
Measure three inches from the top, then cut and discard the lower stem and root
system. Pare the outer covering to about an inch from stem so the fleshy
interior remains. Then submerge the fleshy stem into soil so the leaves rest
just above the surface of the soil. Pack the soil down only to the point that
the stem remains upright and replenish the pot with fresh water and food.
Seeing a gorgeous, full plant reduced to a slight stubby baby can be a shock,
but you have just done a great service for your African violet; you renewed its
lease on life and gave it an opportunity for continued growth and development.
New plants can be started by re-potting the other stems in the manner
described above. An even easier method is just to lay a healthy single leaf on
the top of a pot of fresh, moist soil. In a few weeks, a new African violet will
begin from roots that grow on the underside of the loose leaf. Obviously, it
will take quite a bit longer to grow a blooming plant this way, and an exact
placement of the plant in the pot is impossible, but this method demonstrates
how prolific the African violet can be under the right circumstances.
Gifts of African violets have traditionally symbolized faithfulness and
loyalty, and with a little tender care the novice can easily supply himself and
many others with their bountiful loveliness.