Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How to Grow African Violets in 10 Easy Steps

10 Steps: How to Grow African Violets


Learn the Best Methods when Growing African Violet Plants

How to Grow African Violets
African Violets are plants in the Saintpaulia genus, which contains at least six species. They are herbaceous flowering plants that originate from Tanzania and southeastern Kenya, especially the Nguru mountains. The species of African Violets are so named because their flowers resemble those of true violets, although the two species are not closely related.

They require a tropical climate to grow in, but they are also popular houseplants in North America. Most are used, for this purpose are cultivated varieties, that are derived from the native species Saintpaulia ionantha. Horticulturalists are currently creating cultivars from other species to increase the genetic variety of African Violets, join the African Violet Society of America (AVSA) today, at http://avsa.org/, to get more involved.

Description
The maximum height of African Violets is about six inches with a maximum spread of about one foot, although most houseplants are much smaller than this. The leaves are fleshy with fine hairs and have a length of one to three inches. The most distinguishing characteristic of African Violets are the small flowers which may be violet, blue, purple or white in color.



Temperature Requirements


This type of plants have a reputation for being difficult to grow, although they actually require little maintenance when you grow them as houseplants. They generally thrive at room temperature, which is generally not a problem for indoor locations. The ideal temperature for African Violets is 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit at night. These slightly cooler temperatures at night are essential for obtaining the best possible growth from African Violets.


Light Requirements


The light requirements of African Violets also make them easy to grow as houseplants. They do require plenty of strong lighting, although direct sunlight will cause the leaves to develop blemishes. An eastern window is usually the best choice, since this will provide them shade from the hot afternoon sun. The ideal amount of light is 1,000 foot-candles of indirect light for about 10 hours per day.

The plants will develop specific signs, when their light level is outside the ideal range. The leaves of African Violets that are not receiving enough light will typically be a darker color and will be thinner than usual. These plants will produce poor flowers and may not flower at all.

The leaves will be a lighter shade than normal if they are receiving too much light, typically pale green or yellowish green. The leaves may be darker in areas where they are shaded by other leaves. Excessive light levels, will, also cause the plant to grow more slowly, although they may still be able to flower well. The flowering period will be shorter than usual when the plant is receiving too much light, since this will destroy the chlorophyll in the leaves.

You may be able to obtain good results from African Violets without artificial grow lights, depending on the natural light available to the plants. Check the light level for your plants, by placing your hand in a vertical position between the plant and the window. The light should be bright enough to cause your hand to cast a shadow on the plant, but not bright enough to feel hot on your hand.


Watering


They have a relatively low water requirement, and enthusiastic gardeners often kill them with too much water. It is best to water plants, according to the condition of the soil rather than following a fixed watering schedule. The surface of the soil should be completely dry, before you water these plants. Water an African Violet from the bottom to avoid getting the leaves wet, which can cause them to develop blemishes. Fill the saucer under the planting pot with water that is at room temperature and allow the soil to absorb the water. Refill the saucer one time.

African Violets normally grow well with humidity in the range of 30 to 60 percent. Gardeners also grow African Violets successfully in vivariums, where the humidity remains above 80 percent. You may not need to water African Violets very much at all when the humidity is this high, although this also increases the risk of fungal diseases. Grow one African Violet in your vivarium as a test to see if it thrives before you commit all of your plants to this growing technique.

You will typically want to repot African Violets when you buy it from a commercial source. The potting mix for these plants typically contains an abundance of peat moss, which retains water. The nursery usually sprays the peat moss with a chemical that allows the peat moss to drain more freely. This chemical washes away after about six months, preventing the peat moss from draining well. This can cause African Violets to drown if you leave it in the original potting mix.


Potting
Soil drainage is the most critical factor when potting an African Violet. A common soil mixture for these plants is two parts loam, one part perlite and one part leaf mold, according to the agricultural extension for the University of Nebraska. The best soil-less mixture is equal parts of perlite, vermiculite, and peat moss, according to the African Violet Society of America. Pre-made soil mixes made specifically for African Violets are also commercially available.

Pot size is also important for potting African Violets, since the roots must become pot bound before this plant will bloom. The pot should generally be no more than one-third of the mature plant’s diameter. On the other hand, a pot that is too small will encourage root rot due to insufficient drainage.

You will typically need to re-pot African Violets every six months to a year. This is necessary to keep the plants pot bound and in bloom. The change in soil will also get rid of fertilizer salts that can become harmful if you allow them to accumulate. You should re-pot African Violets as soon as you can if they develop a neck, meaning the lower part of the central stalk does not have leaves. Cover this neck with soil when you repot the plant, so it can grow roots.

Feeding
African violets grow best in rich soil and they require regular fertilization. You should fertilize them after each watering if they are in a soil-less medium. Fertilizers made specifically for African Violets are commercially available, but you can also use general fertilizer by following some additional instructions.

Use a general liquid fertilizer on African Violets such as 20-20-20 fertilizer, which contains 20 percent nitrogen, 20 percent phosphorus and 20 percent potassium. The NPK system of fertilizer classification lists the percentage of nitrogen in the fertilizer first, followed by the percentage phosphorus and then the percentage of potassium. Dilute the fertilizer to half the concentration recommended by the manufacturer and allow the mixture to stand overnight in an open container. This will allow the chlorine in the tap water to evaporate and reach room temperature. This step is important because African Violets are very sensitive to chlorine as well as hot or cold water.

Propagation
African Violets are difficult to grow from seed, so collectors typically propagate these plants by some other method. Cuttings taken in the spring are the most common method of propagating African Violets. This generally involves selecting a firm leaf with a healthy appearance. Snap or cut the leaf off at the stem, which is known scientifically as the petiole. Trim the petiole to a length of one to one half inches. Poke a hole in the potting medium with a pencil and place the free end of the petiole in the medium. Push the medium around the hole to close it, and water the petiole thoroughly.

The base of the petiole should produce roots within one month under ideal conditions. Leaves should appear above the surface within one month after the roots form. The mother plant should produce more plants within six months after planting the leaf cutting. You can repot the young plants when they produce at least two leaves.

You can also propagate African Violets by division. This procedure generally requires you to split the crown of the plant into several sections with a clean, sharp knife. Ensure that each division has an equal portion of the roots to give the divisions the best change of taking root. Plant the divisions in the potting medium of your choice.

Pruning
The fleshy leaves of African Violets contain more water and nutrients than other types of leaves. This means that removing the leaves from an African Violet is more damaging to the plant. Remove only leaves that are damaged or dying by gently rocking the petiole back and forth to detach it from the stem. Remove faded flowers and dead stems with a similar technique.

Secondary crowns, commonly known as suckers, often develop on the main crown of an African Violet. Poke the sucker out of the main crown if you wish to destroy it, or prod it loose gently if you wish to repot the sucker. You will need to divide the two crowns using standard division techniques if the sucker has reach a mature size.

The only time you should perform true pruning on an African Violet is when you are trying to force a plant with a single crown to develop suckers. This is typically necessary when you wish to propagate a plant that does not breed true from leaf cuttings. You will prune the crown in these cases to produce a trailer, which will develop multiple suckers. These suckers will breed true when you remove and repot them.

Varieties
African Violets are a highly cultivated species and thousands of cultivated varieties currently exist. The greatest differences between these cultivars are the colors and shapes of the flowers. The original species of African Violets produce flowers with only one color, but the “Fancy Pants” cultivar has frilled flowers that are red and white. The “Pip Squeak” cultivar is very small and produces a single pink flower with a bell shape.

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