WICHE: African violets bloom indoors year round

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With a little attention you can keep your African violet cycling in and out of bloom all year round.

By Jeneen Wiche

One of a few sure things in my life is that I can keep my African violets in bloom year round!

Many complain that after the first flush of blooms fades the only thing left is a year’s worth of fuzzy foliage. Well, with a little attention you can keep your African violet cycling in and out of bloom all year round. African violets are easier to grow then many think if you create a favorable growing environment

African violets, or Saintpaulia, are named for the German collector Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire. In the late nineteenth century Saint Paul-Illaire was the first European to collect African violets from east Africa.

With that said, east Africa is the environment we want to mimic. Foremost, we want good drainage and adequate sunlight. The best way to avoid over-watering is to supply violets with a light soil mixture that drains well.

A two-part mixture of light potting soil and some worm castings is what works best for me. The light potting soil that they come in is usually not substantial enough for the long term so when I repot into a pretty clay pot I add some worm castings, which maintains drainage while holding moisture and adding trace nutrients.

A monthly dose of diluted fertilizer supplies the plant with the extra nutrients needed to maintain bloom. When using tap water remember chlorine and salt from soft water can play a toll on the root system.

Use a water-soluble fertilizer at half strength every other watering; and water when the surface of the soil dries to the touch (this will varying depending on soil, sunlight and room temperature.) You can prepare your dilution for the month by setting out an open jug to allow the chlorine to evaporate, add the fertilizer and it will be handy when you need to water (don’t do this if you have small children in the house, though.)

Water your violet when the top of the soil dries out. You want to keep the soil moist without saturating the roots; and, don’t leave them sitting in excess water.

They do like some extra humidity so setting them in a tray with a little pea gravel allows for us to keep a little water in the tray without the pot actually sitting in it.

If spots appear on the leaves it is generally caused by cold water coming in contact with the leaves but if you let your water sit out it will reach room temperature.

To avoid getting the leaves wet use a watering can that has a tiny spout so you can maneuver the spout between the leaves, applying the water directly to the soil.

About once a month flush the soil with a heavy watering, letting the water run through the drainage holes. This will help get rid of any residual salt build up and keep the plant healthier.

Like many flowering plants, violets like to be pot-bound, which actually encourages blooming. The pot should only be a third larger than the plant.

Put the plant in a bright window where it will receive at least 6 hours of bright light each day. The more hours of bright light it receives, the more blooms it will enjoy.

Too much direct sunlight may burn the leaves so bright light is preferred. The symptom of inadequate light makes itself apparent as the plant stem gets leggy and the leaves begin to “reach” for the light.

A healthy African violet maintains a compact, rosette shape. You can use fluorescent light to increase the amount of light the plant receives during the short, overcast days of winter.

Regular repotting is necessary for good violet health. Fresh potting soil reintroduces nutrients for the plant and allows you to “sink” the neck of the plant as the old leaves die away.

New roots will form from the neck and as new crowns appear these can be divided from the plant with a sharp knife and repotted as a new plant. Be sure to get healthy roots along with your stem cutting.