Monday, January 2, 2012

The African Violet (Saintpaulia)... Not Just For Your Grandmother

Photograph by Paul Gellatly
As a child I remember my grandmother's African Violets in her kitchen window.  She was very proud of them, even transplanting them into special pots.  They always seemed to be in bloom.  For many years I tried to grow them unsuccessfully; they would flower for a while, and then eventually die.  I didn't think too much of it, as they are one of the most common, inexpensive houseplants available ranging anywhere from 2 to 10 dollars.

When growing houseplants started to become more of a passion, I decided to take on the challenge of growing African violets correctly.   I started buying plants I liked, the variety is almost endless; likely why I ended up with over 20 different plants.

Tips for Success:
Photograph by Paul Gellatly
  • Finding the right location in your home for this plant is key.  An east facing window is the best exposure, followed by north, west, and finally south.  If you have to place it in a south window, make sure the plant is at least a meter away from the window, with bright, but not direct sunlight.  
  • Providing the proper soil is important, I use a pre-mixed African Violet Soil, available at most garden centers.  This soil is lighter, and more airy than typical potting soil.
  • African Violets do not like cold water, make sure when you water it is at room temperature.   Adding a tsp or less of regular white vinegar to 5 gallons of water will increase the acidity slightly, and result in healthier plants.  Water plants from the bottom, I set mine in the sink with water, fertilizer and vinegar, leave them for 10 minutes and then drain, never leave plants sitting in water.  Water plants every 3 or 4 days, as they like to be kept evenly moist, but not wet.
  • The fertilizer I use is Schultz 8-14-9 African Violet Liquid Plant Food.  I find it easy to use, and effective in keeping plants healthy and flowering.  
  • As far as temperature is concerned, anywhere between 65-75 is ideal, they do not tolerate high temperatures well.  The basic rule is that if you are comfortable... so are your African Violets. 
  • Its good practice to turn your African Violet 1/4 turn a day, this keeps the plant from reaching towards the light, and keeps it symmetrical.
  • Transplanting of the African Violet should be done when the plant is 1" in diameter larger than the pot its in.  Be careful not to over-pot the plant, only go one size larger than its currently in.
  • If you want to make a new plant out of an existing plant, take one leaf, preferably a larger leaf from the bottom of the plant, place it in a pot in soil, water when you water your other plants.  Within a few months, and a bit of luck... you'll have a new plant started.  Its fun to be able to share a plant you have with your family and friends.  
Photograph by Paul Gellatly
Keeping these plants healthy and happy will provide you with beautiful plants, and an abundance of flowers throughout the entire year.  

For more information about African Violets check out these links:

The African Violet Society of Canada

Toronto African Violet Society

American African Violet Society


  1. What do you mean when you say "Transplanting of the African Violet should be done when the plant is 1" in diameter larger than the pot its in."? How does the plant get bigger in diameter than the pot?
    You also don't mention division of crowns, I saw one in my veterinarian's office this week with 6 crowns just begging to be divided. (Leaf vein cutting is used so seldom that it's probably just as well ignored.)
    Besides temperature and light, your grandmother said the reason her african violets did so well was they were on the window ledge over the kitchen sink and they got higher humidity because of it.
    Just a few thoughts for your upcoming book :-)

  2. wonderful Paul..but now I want to know what a crown is. Because of all the chemo and radiation therapy I have had, if my fingers (well, skin of any kind) happens to brush the plant - within weeks the whole plant withers and dies! Help me? Thanks. Cathy Abbs