African violet Care: How to make your AVs Bloom
African violet care is an important process. Especially, bearing in mind that they have a reputation for being difficult to grow, but under suitable conditions they will thrive, producing long blooming flowers throughout much of the year.
Most modern African violets (Saintpaulia spp.) will bloom throughout the year without much effort on your part.
However, there are a number of cultural issues that discourage them from blooming or worse, kill them altogether.
So, how do you make sure that your African violets (AVs) flower almost every time?
Short answer, take good care of them!
African violet care: 7 Tips to make your African violet bloom continuously
Expose your African violets to enough indirect sunlight
African violets are native to the tropics. This means that you need to provide them with a lot of indirect sunlight. Please don’t expose them to direct sunlight; otherwise, their sensitive leaves will get burned.
On the other hand, too little light can cause the African violets not to bloom well.
The plants become stunted at cool temperatures and are slow to recover even when put into a warm place.
In addition, too little sunlight causes them to stretch for the light and produce few or no flowers. An east-facing window is ideal, especially with a sheer curtain to block the sun's harshest rays.
Expose your African violet to midday and afternoon sunshine during summer. The sunnier, warmer windows are better in the winter. Keep rotate the pots every two days to ensure uniform exposure.
The best temperatures for African violets are about 60° F at night and up to 80° to 85° F during the day.
In hot weather (over 85° F) plants are especially susceptible to rot.
Similarly, AVs also need a fair share of darkness, preferably, eight hours of darkness every night to be exact.
Let me explain:
Although an African violet need sufficient light in order to produce a flowering hormone called florigen, florigen does not trigger blooming until it gets dark!
If you grow African violets under grow lights, be sure not to run them more than 16 hours a day.
Water them whenever necessary
Watering potted plants seem like such a simple task, however if it is not done correctly the plant won’t survive, leave alone flowering.
In fact, of all the care given to African violets, watering is probably the one cultural practice that causes the most problems.
African violets prefer to stay evenly moist - ideally the soil should feel like a well wrung-out sponge. They do not like to dry out completely in between watering, but they do not like to be sopping wet all the time either.
Therefore, you should water your AVs moderately from spring until fall, allowing soil to dry slightly between waterings.
Reduce water slightly in winter months. Bottom water plants to avoid water splash on foliage, as cold water can damage leaves causing brown spots.
Another reason to avoid splashing water on the leaves is that it serves as a magnifying lens. This, then causes the leaves to burn and burnt leaves is an absolute eye-sore.
Here’s how to water African violets the right way
Fill saucers with luke-warm water, allow plants to soak up water for approximately 30 minutes, and drain off excess water once the soil is sufficiently moist.
Alternatively, use a wick extending through the drainage hole into a saucer of water.
Another effective method is to submerge the pots in peat or sphagnum moss held in a larger container and applies water to this material as needed to keep the soil moist within the pots.
In either of these methods, water moves from the saucer or peat by diffusion through the hole in the bottom of the pot and into the soil ball.
African violets are extremely susceptible to crown rots, which can rapidly kill the plants.
To prevent crown rots, avoid over-watering, avoid watering directly into the crown, and avoid watering at night.
To recap, too much water can lead to root rot, while roots start to die in soil that is too dry much of the time. Either way, plants with reduced roots systems often sacrifice flowering in order to survive.
Choose an appropriate pot when repotting
If you have recently repotted your African violet into a larger pot, the pot may be too big. African violets prefer to be root-bound to bloom well.
Use a shallow and wide pot. The African violet roots don’t grow too deep instead they grow close to the soil surface.
It is good practice to periodically repot houseplants because the soil should be refreshed periodically.
You can often repot the plant into the same pot after cleaning it well, using fresh potting mix. As a rule of thumb, pots should be no larger than one-third the size of the diameter of the plant.
Fertilize your Avs on a regular basis
Your fertilization practices can also impact how well African violets bloom.
Unlike plants that grow outdoors, houseplants are totally dependent on you to apply sufficient nutrients without overdoing it.
The small pots these plants are typically grown in do not maintain a large reserve of nutrients.
If you do not fertilize them on a regular basis, they may not have the necessary nutrients to spend on flowers. On the other hand, too much fertilizer with high nitrogen content can lead to lush foliage at the expense of flowers.
You can purchase fertilizers formulated specifically for African violets from various stores near you. Alternatively, purchase from online stores such as Amazon which is the biggest retailer for such supplies.
You should always use a balanced fertilizer that contains all of the major plant nutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).
Nitrogen is important for the growth and development of leaves and stems. Phosphorus is important for healthy roots and flowering. Potassium is required for the accretion and movement of carbohydrates throughout the plant.
These major nutrients are represented on the fertilizer label by numbers known as the analysis.
Typically, fertilizers for flowering plants contain more phosphorus than nitrogen, perhaps an analysis of 8-14-9.
The African Violet Society of America recommends choosing a fertilizer that does not use urea as the nitrogen source because African violets are sensitive to it and it can burn their roots.
You can determine if a fertilizer contains urea by looking at the Guaranteed Analysis on the label.
It lists the source of the nutrients it contains. Be sure to follow label directions of the fertilizer you choose; more is never better when it comes to fertilizing any plant.
So, what is the best plant food for African violets?
Here’s my recommendation:
- EarthPods - Easy Organic Fertilizer Spikes that stimulates flower bloom and leaves
- Miracle-Gro blooming houseplant food [affiliate links]
African violet care in winter
The key to a success is to choose the best spot for your African violet during the winter.
In particular, supplemental fluorescent or full spectrum lighting may be necessary in winter months to encourage year-round flowering.
Position lights eight to 12 inches above plants, allowing 14 to 16 hours of light per day.
African violets prefer 70-75°F days and 60-65°F nights. Place plants in a location with good air circulation, but keep them away from cold windows and cool drafts as sudden changes in temperature can harm the plants.
Winter months can be too dry for these plants. You should put them on a humidity tray, a shallow dish with pebbles in it and with water nearly up to the top of the pebbles.
This will increase the humidity around the plant and make it much happier.
Groom your African violet by pruning
Regularly pruning African violets is also recommended to promote healthy growth.
To do this, gently remove three or more bottom leaves once every month. You can do this by bending the leaves to the side, forcing them to snap, leaving no stub toward the base of the plant.
However, long stemmed violets need a little extra care.
These plants can be revitalized with a little judicious pruning and repotting.
How to revitalize a long stemmed African violet
Carefully remove the plant from the pot and remove faded, nicked or damaged lower leaves. Also remove any lower leaves that are smaller than those above them as well as all flowers.
Scrape the two inched of exposed stem just below the remaining leaves. Use the dull side of a knife.
Be gentle as you are only trying to remove the stubs of any leaves and remove any dead, dried material.
Cut the stem about two inches below the leaves and discard the lower stem.
Repot the plant in a similar sized container with fresh soil by placing the stem in firm, direct contact with the soil surface.
Cover the plant with clear plastic; a plastic bag works well, and seal. Place the container in indirect bright light.
Your plant will come back stronger and healthy.
Check for pests and control as soon as practicable
African violets are not very problematic when it comes to pests and diseases. It’s even better if you follow all the instructions given in this article on African violet care.
However, if you’ve stumbled across this article a little too late, here’s what to check and do.
Crown & Root Rot
One of the most serious fungal problems of African violet is usually first noticed when the crown and roots of the plant turn soft and mushy.
The older leaves droop, and the younger leaves in the center of the plant appear stunted, turn black and die. This happens when plants are watered excessively, have poor drainage, or are planted too deeply.
Any of these conditions can contribute to rotting of the crown and roots.
What to do
Prevent disease by always using sterilized potting soil mixes and clean containers when planting
- Avoid over-watering and use well-draining pots.
- Do not plant African violets too deep.
- Discard severely affected plants.
Botrytis blight is caused by the fungus Botrytis cinerea and often first appears as small water-soaked lesions on the underside of the leaf.
Leaves, stems or flowers appear blighted and turn dark brown to gray, often with a fuzzy coating on the surface.
What to do
- Collect and discard all dead and dying plant material.
- Provide better air circulation, and avoid getting the flowers and foliage wet.
- Botrytis often follows mite injury, so controlling this pest aids in controlling this disease.
Mites are not insects but are more closely related to spiders. Cyclamen mites (Steneotarsonemus pallidus) are one of the most serious pests of African violets.
They feed on new growth (i.e. leaves in the center of the plant). Symptoms may include severe stunting of leaves in the center of the plant, sometimes with leaf curling.
Mites feed by sucking sap from the plant. During feeding, they inject a toxic chemical that disrupts normal growth patterns.
With heavy infestations, leaf and flower buds may die. If ignored, the entire plant may die as well.
What to do to save your African violets
- Space plants so that they do not touch to prevent the spread of cyclamen mites.
- Be careful not to touch infested plants before working with non-infested plants.
- Isolate infested plants and discard badly infested plants.
- Pots of discarded plants should not be reused until they have been soaked for 30 minutes in a solution of 1 part household bleach to 9 parts water.
Several kinds of mealybugs are pests on African violets. They include the citrus mealybug (Planococcus citri) and the Comstock mealybug (Pseudococcus comstocki).
They have soft bodies and are covered with a white waxy material that makes them look cottony. They are found on leaves, stems and in leaf-crotches. They feed by sucking the plant sap.
Their feeding causes stunted and distorted leaves.
Heavy infestation can cause leaf and plant death. As they feed, they excrete honeydew (a sugary material) that can coat the leaves, making them sticky.
What to do
- Avoid bringing these pests into the house by inspecting a new plant carefully, including the bottom of the pot, for mealybug eggs.
- Light infestations of mealybugs can be controlled by removing them with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. Repeat as needed.
- Heavy infestations are more difficult to control. The waxy material that covers mealybugs protects the adults from insecticides.
African violets are easily the most popular flowering houseplants in the world. Their popularity arises from the fact that they are easy to grow and can bloom for 10 to 12 months of the year.
However, not so many gardeners are able to achieve that kind of success.
These beautiful plants have a reputation of being fussy plants, but with just a little care and the right conditions, they can thrive, bloom, and enhance any home.
With this African violet care guide, you’ll achieve great results with your AVs!
Let me know what you think.