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Gardening: Colorful African violets can be easy to grow, if you follow a few tips

The Columbus Dispatch logo The Columbus Dispatch 1/17/2021 Mike Hogan, Special to The Columbus Dispatch
a man sitting in front of a window: Mike Hogan © FILE PHOTO Mike Hogan

Although the earliest cave dwellers might not have had a pot of African violets (Saintpaulia spp.) inside their stone abodes, the compact colorful flowering plant has to be one of our oldest houseplants. Whose grandmother didn't or doesn't have one or more of the colorful, velvety leafed beauties gracing her kitchen windowsill?

a vase filled with purple flowers: African violets, such as these miniatures, thrive in room temperatures ranging from 60 to 80 degrees © Logee's Greenhouses African violets, such as these miniatures, thrive in room temperatures ranging from 60 to 80 degrees

African violets, popular flowering houseplants in the Gesneriaceae family, are native to the East African nation of Tanzania. Their compact size and variety of flower colors make them a perfect houseplant for small windowsills, desks and countertops in need of a splash of color or life. Their smaller size makes African violets perfect for small spaces in apartments, dorm rooms or other small rooms or nooks.

a vase of flowers on a table: Miniature varieties of African Violets are perfect for small spaces. © Unsplash Miniature varieties of African Violets are perfect for small spaces.

African violets come in various shades of blue, pink, red, white and purple, and cultivars can be found in different sizes, including miniature (less than 8 inches in diameter), standard (8 to 16 inches), and large (more than 16 inches). Cultivars with trailing growth characteristics also exist and can be potted in hanging containers. Flower characteristics include single, double, star-shaped, fringed and ruffled.

a close up of a flower: African violets are available in a range of stunning color. © Pixabay African violets are available in a range of stunning color.

Goldilocks light needed

African violets do best in a specific range of light. Too much light will stunt the plant and produce small, wrinkled and leathery leaves. Too little light will cause thin dark leaves with long petioles (leaf stems). Avoid locating violets in direct sunlight, which can yellow and burn the tender leaves. A north- or east-facing window will typically provide the proper light necessary for full bloom.

African violets will bloom profusely under artificial light when provided with 600 foot-candles of fluorescent light for 14 hours per day. Lightbulbs should be suspended 12 to 15 inches above the plants.

African violets also need 8 to 10 hours of darkness daily to produce a full bloom of flowers, so avoid locations under lights typically left on overnight.

Picky about water

African violets also can be finicky about the water they receive. Never use cold water or water from a water softener when watering violets. Room temperature or tepid tap or distilled water works best. Always water the soil directly, and avoid getting water on the leaf surfaces as this causes spotting of the leaves. Allow the soil to become slightly dry between watering. Misting is not recommended for African violets.

a close up of a flower: Healhy African violets require proper light and temperature. © University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Healhy African violets require proper light and temperature.

Keep them comfortable

African violets do best in room temperatures ranging from 60 to 80 degrees. If you locate violets next to an older, single pane or drafty, less energy-efficient window, be prepared to move them at least temporarily when extreme cold winter weather drops the temperature of the glass in these windows, particularly at night.

Periodic fertilization of African violets with a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer containing a higher amount of phosphorus than nitrogen or potassium will keep violets blooming. Over-fertilization of African violets is more common than under-fertilization, especially during the winter, when the plant might not be actively growing. Spent flowers can be pinched to stimulate additional flowers.

With a bit of tender, loving care, African violets can provide a continuous show of colorful flowers regardless of the season.

Mike Hogan is an associate professor at Ohio State University and extension educator at the OSU Extension.

hogan.1@osu.edu

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Gardening: Colorful African violets can be easy to grow, if you follow a few tips

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