African violets are one of the easiest flowering houseplants to grow. They're versatile, blooming year-round in a wide variety of colors and sizes, some with variegated foliage or ruffled or white-edged blooms.
Plus, we feel sentimental about them: They remind us of our grandmothers.
Because most violets have green leaves, plants with variegated foliage intrigue. However, these varieties can be difficult to grow: Variegated plants aren't as strong, and their leaf color tends to fade in hot weather.
Pictured: The variegated 'Rebel's Rose Bud' violet.
No matter which variety you choose, African violets perform best in light, fluffy soil. It should be so loose that you easily can push your finger to the bottom of the pot.
African violets like warm conditions and filtered sunlight, so set the pot in an east- or west-facing window about 12 inches from the glass. Keep the violets in a room at about 72 degrees and out of drafts.
If you don't get blooms, remember the plants also need about 8 hours of darkness to set flowers.
You can water plants from the top or via a filled saucer, but never let a plant stand in a saucer of water for long. You'll get best results by watering before the soil dries out completely, but too dry is better than too wet. If you water from the top, use room-temperature water. If you water from the bottom, let the top inch of soil dry out before watering and periodically water from the top to prevent salt from building up in the soil.
Despite a popular myth that African violets shouldn't get their leaves wet, you can bathe your plants. Fill a quart spray bottle with warm water, plus a few drops of a mild dish detergent, then spray the leaves. After a few minutes, rinse by tipping the plant under a gentle flow of warm water from the faucet. Don't wet the crown at the center of the plant, keep the violet out of bright light until the leaves dry, and do it early enough in the day that the plant is dry before dark.
Pictured: Filling a pot specially designed for African violets: An outer pot holds water for the plant in an inner pot. The plant wicks up water as needed.
Fertilize with liquid African violet food, but remember that too much fertilizer will promote leaf growth at the expense of flowers.
Pictured: 'Milang Skies' is an Australian hybrid and features leaves edged in cream.
Periodic grooming keeps African violets looking good and encourages new buds. Prune wayward or misshapen stems. Regularly snip or pinch back faded blooms.
Pictured: 'Taboo' features single or semidouble frilled blooms in dark red. The leaves are dark green.
To clean hairy-leaved plants like African violets, dust with a dry cotton swab, pipe cleaner, or soft cosmetic or watercolor brush.
Pictured: 'Benediction' offers very large frilly blooms and medium-green, quilted leaves.
1. Remove the plant from its pot. Using the dull side of a knife, gently scrape off old dried tissue from the outside of the bare stalk (created as old leaves have dropped off).
2. Put a half inch of African violet potting mix at bottom of a pot that is no more than a third the size of the plant diameter. Insert plant so lower leaves rest evenly at the top of the pot.
3. Fill in around the plant with fresh potting soil.
Pictured: 'Tomahawk' is noted for its nonfading cherry red flowers and cream-edged dark green leaves.
If grown properly, insects and disease are usually not a problem, and soapy water often solves the ones that do occur. However, if one of your plants develops an unusually tight center, with twisted, grayish-green foliage, blame cyclamen mites. Because these insects are difficult to control, we recommend throwing away any infected plants.
Pictured: 'Omaha Thunder' sports single or semidouble deep red flowers and medium-green, serrated leaves.
It's easy to start new plants; simply cut off a young leaf and root it in moist potting mix.