Facing fussy flora?

Native to the rainforests of eastern Africa, African violets prefer bright, indirect light and slightly moist soil. Submitted photo

Dear Aggie: I was gifted some African violet houseplants. I heard they are fussy. Do you have any tips?

African violets are one of the most popular houseplants. They are treasured for their blooms which can range from pink to various shades of purple and blue. The flowers are categorized as per their shape- single, double, ruffled, and fluted are the most common. They do have a reputation of being difficult to grow but given the right location, they will bloom frequently.

Native to the rainforests of eastern Africa, African violets prefer bright, indirect light and slightly moist soil. The sensitive leaves will burn in the direct sun of a south or west window. In rooms with these exposures, place the violets a few feet away from the window. If placing the pots directly on a windowsill, choose north or east facing windows. My grandmother kept her collection in a north window and they bloomed regularly. My violets are on a south-facing windowsill, BUT that window is on a roofed porch, so they get bright, but not direct light. Since I moved them to that location a couple of years ago they have bloomed almost continuously. Artificial light using fluorescent, or LED bulbs is also an option.

African violets should be watered with warm, or tepid water. If cold water drips on the leaves it will leave behind a blemish. If possible, water from the bottom and allow the water to wick up through the soil. Pour off any water that is left behind and avoid overwatering to prevent leaf and stem rots.

If the leaves begin to wilt and the plant has doubled in size, it may need to be repotted. Use a potting soil that is labeled for African violets. It is easy to find and commonly stocked in big box and hardware stores. This special soil is lighter than standard potting soil and allows good air flow to the roots. Again, this will prevent various fungal decays. Keep in mind that violets that are slightly root bound will produce more blooms.

If your violet refuses to bloom and it has been in the same soil for over a year, it may need fertilizer. Use specially formulated African violet fertilizer (readily available at garden centers). Follow the directions carefully and avoid over-fertilization which can lead to an abundance of leaves, but no flowers.

Other than the right location and correct watering, African violets are largely carefree. Sometimes the hairy leaves will collect soil or dust. If this happens, they can be gently cleaned with an artist’s brush.

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