African Violent’s reputation for being divas is not unfounded! These small jewel-like plants need to be treated well in order to thrive. However, they are said to symbolise devotion and loyalty for a reason. Treat them right and follow this advice on how to grow African Violets and they will repay your efforts by continuously blossoming with their iconic purple flowers.
Below you will find all the information on how to grow African Violets successfully, and build a beautiful relationship with your African Violet!
African Violet history
On top of their ability to flower continually, unlike many flowering houseplants that live only a few years, the African Violet can live up to 50 years! Giving the delicate plants the attention they require is a small price to pay for a 50-year long-living flower display.
With beautiful bright purple flowers and velvety soft leaves, African Violets were popular house plants in the 60s. Now they’re making a comeback as a retro addition to any living space.
Despite their name, the African Violet is not related to the violet and can come in many colours. These popular plants have been bred to have a variety of flower colours, including ivory, sunshine yellow, dusty red, and bright coral, with a variety of leaf and flower shapes.
Despite their popularity in people's homes, in the wild, these delicate flowers are tragically near to extinction. They are native to a small, very bio-diverse region of Tanzania which is being increasingly destroyed through deforestation. Considering this, learning how to grow African Violets at home is therefore even more important.
If you buy your African Violets as plug plants, pot them up as soon as you get them home. Choose a pot that is slightly larger than the root ball, as placing them in a pot that’s too deep will discourage them from flowering.
handle them very gently when you move them between pots. It is recommended you repot your African Violet every 2-3 years, in the spring, using only a slightly larger container - around 5cm wider each time.
Choosing the right soil is a very important step in understanding how to grow African Violets, as this allows the right level of drainage. Use light free-draining compost. You can get compost specifically for African violets, but you could also use houseplant compost, or mix you're own using equal quantities of peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite.
African Violets like to be fertilised often. Pale leaves and a lack of blooms are signs your plant is low on nutrients and would benefit from some fertiliser.
Use a fertiliser that is either specifically for African Violets, or with a high phosphorus number. To encourage your plants to keep flowering, mix the fertiliser to be one-quarter of the recommended strength and use it each time you water your African violets.
Choosing the right spot to put your plant is a crucial step in African violet care. In fact, getting the light right is one of the main factors in keeping your African Violet flowering all year round.
Although African Violets like the sun, too much direct light will burn their leaves. However, too little light will stop your plant from flowering. Try to place them in dappled or indirect light.
If you live in a very sunny place, in the summer place your plants on a north or east-facing windowsill so they do not get too much light and 1 meter from a south-facing in the winter. If you live in the UK it is sadly rarely sunny enough to have to worry about your plant getting too much sun! You can therefore keep your plants near a south-facing window all year round.
African Violets need at minimum 8 hours of light a day in order to flower consistently. If you do not have a space with this many hours of natural light you could purchase a grow light to give them a boost during the winter months.
As you may notice, a variety of versions of leaf colours have been bred in African violets. If your plants have particularly dark green leaves they can tolerate more light than those with pale green leaves.
Remember to rotate your plants regularly so that all the leaves get the light and the plant grows in a nice symmetrical manner. These plants do not like sudden temperature changes or cold draughts, ideally, they like rooms that are between 16-24 degrees.
This may be surprising, but watering your African Violet the wrong way can permanently damage their leaves and stop them from flowering! Careful watering is therefore a key part of African violet care.
African Violets are sensitive to heat so use only lukewarm water to water them. Water them from the base of the plant so that the water does not splash onto the foliage as this will cause spots on the foliage, or cause mould or rot that will kill the plant.
Alternatively, you can place the plants in a tray of water and let them absorb what they need. 20 minutes will be enough for the plants to get the water they require, do not leave them longer as African Violets can suffer from rot if their soil is too damp!
They can be watered whenever the top third to half of the soil is dry to the touch. Letting their soil dry out more than this will damage the plant, so keep an eye on them, particularly in warm weather when the soil dries out quicker!
These plants love humid air, so they like being in humid rooms such as kitchens or bathrooms. If they get enough humidity they will grow quickly and flower for a long time.
Another way to provide the required humidity is to place a humidity tray underneath your African violets. This is a tray of gravel containing a shallow layer of water that does not directly touch the plant's pot. The moisture evaporates from the tray and into the air around your plant. This is often particularly needed in the winter as having the heating on can cause the air to become dry.
It is important to note, that unlike other humidity loving plants, African Violets will NOT appreciate your loving efforts to mist their leaves. You may think you are caring for your plant this way but, for African violets, this can lead their leaves to become spotted and cause them to rot.
A simple African Violet care tip to keep your plant flowering is to remove fading flowers regularly, as this will encourage the plant to grow more. When the last flowers on a stem eventually fade, and no more appear to be growing, take a sharp pair of scissors and cut the stem off at the base. It’s a good idea to clean the scissors before use with cleaning alcohol to prevent infection.
African Violets look great clustered together to create a sea of purple flowers, so you will be happy to hear that they’re super easy to propagate! There are several ways to grow African Violets from one original plant:
The simplest method is to take a leaf cutting. This should be done in spring.
Choose an almost full-size leaf and remove it along with its stalk from the base. Place the leaf into a pot of compost so that the stalk is buried at least 7cm deep. Water the cutting, drain excess water off and then place in a propagator or cover with a clear plastic bag.
Place your plants in bright indirect sunlight. In 4-5 weeks, there should be new plants emerging alongside the original leaf. At this point, you can remove the plant from the propagator or plastic bag. When multiple leaves have grown, they are ready to be potted on.
Dividing a clump
Over time you’ll notice that your African Violets grow to form additional crowns. These can be detached from the mother plant and potted up separately.
To do this, gently pull the plant out of its pot and slowly tease the additional crowns away from the main plant. When doing this, try to retain as many roots as possible on the smaller plant you’re detaching. Pot these plants separately and return the main plant to its pot. Make sure to fill up the gaps created with additional soil.
Another way is to collect seeds from your plants. This method can give you lots of African Violets but it can take a year to get a flowering plant from the seed. Additionally, these plants will not be identical to the plant the seeds came from and have variations in the colour or shape of the leaves and flowers.
Signs your African Violet is not happy
If you follow this African violet care advice, your plant should be thriving. But there are some simple signs to look out for that can show your African Violet may be unhappy.
If your plants’ leaves have yellow or brown blotches, this is often a sign that they have been scorched by direct sunlight. Stunted growth or bleaching of the plant's leaves and flowers is also a sign of too much sunlight. On the other hand, if the stalks are elongated this suggests your plant isn’t getting enough light and is stretching up to try to find more sun.
A drooping plant can indicate you may be overwatering or underwatering. However, blotches or pale white spots suggests that the water is too cold. If the leaves' edges begin to turn upwards and the leaves become pale, your plant might be in a spot that is too cold for it.
Depending on what nutrients are lacking your plant will display different symptoms. If the leaves have yellow patches along their edges this suggests a potassium deficiency. Small, hard, and yellow leaves indicate a nitrogen deficiency, while small dark grey-green leaves indicate a phosphate deficiency.
Is this the plant for me?
All in all, it's fair to say African Violets are a plant suited to green-fingered folks, who are willing to give them the time and care they require to blossom. While not a good plant for the absent-minded or uncommitted gardener, putting in the effort by following the African violet care advice above will provide you with endless stunning purple flowers, healthy velvety leaves, that will faithfully multiply and be by your side for decades!