African violets are small houseplants that produce clusters of white, blue, or purple flowers over fuzzy leaves. Here’s how to care for African violets in your home!
About African Violets
As their name suggests, African violets are native to East Africa, stemming from the tropical rainforests of Tanzania and Kenya. In 1892, German colonial officer Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire identified these plants and sent seeds back to Germany. The genus came to be called Saintpaulia, though the plants have recently been re-categorized into a different genus, Streptocarpus. Despite their common name, they are not a type of violet, but they do produce vivid, violet-colored flowers. Read more about these dainty plants here!
African violets do best and produce the most blooms in bright, indirect light. Though they are generally easy to care for, they can go through fussy spells. Don’t be discouraged!
Keep African violets planted in small pots and repot every few years to mix in fresh soil. Being a bit pot-bound encourages African violets to bloom more, so don’t be too quick to give them more space.
When repotting African violets, don’t plant them any deeper than they were already planted and be careful not to bury the crown of the plant. African violets’ stems can be susceptible to rot if kept too moist.
How to Care for African Violets
Keep the soil lightly moist, but be careful not to overwater, as African violets’ soft stems are very susceptible to rot.
Use room-temperature water, as chilled water can leave marks on the leaves.
Leaves are susceptible to rot and fungal spots if kept in high humidity, so water African violets from the bottom to avoid getting excess water on the foliage.
African violets prefer bright, indirect light. Avoid direct sunlight and keep them at least a few feet away from bright south- or west-facing windows. An east- or north-facing window gives them the best lighting without the risk of burning their sensitive foliage.
Artificial lighting works well, too. Use fluorescent or LED bulbs to supplement natural lighting.
Thin, dark green leaves and leggy stems tell you that the plant is getting too little light; light green or bleached leaves indicate too much light.
During the active growing season (spring and summer), fertilize every 2 weeks with a high phosphorous plant food. Only start to fertilize when the plant appears to need an extra boost (slow, thin growth; pale or yellowing leaves).
Over-fertilizing is a more common problem than under-fertilizing, since most soil mixes come infused with plenty of nutrients.
Many varieties prefer warm conditions (65°F/18°C or warmer) though some are more tolerant of cooler conditions. In any case, keep them away from drafty windows in winter.
Plants should be shifted to larger pots as they grow, but keeping African violets slightly root-bound can encourage them to bloom. One sign that your violet needs repotting is wilted leaves.
The fuzzy leaves have a tendency to collect dust and dirt. Brush them off gently with a small, soft-bristled paintbrush.
For more information on African violets, visit the website for the African Violet Society of America at www.avsa.org.
There are hundreds of varieties and hybrids, from miniature violets to trailing varieties! They differ mainly in the colors of their flowers, which range from white to purple, though some varieties have variegation in their foliage and flowers as well.
African violets are typically classified by size, based on how wide they grow:
Miniature: less than 8 inches across
Standard: 8–16 inches across
Large: more than 16 inches across
Wit and Wisdom
Violets (Viola)—though unrelated to African violets—are one of the February birth flowers, so a potted African violet can make a bright gift for a February birthday.