Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.
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For a popular indoor plant with beautiful flowers and foliage, you can't beat African violets (Saintpaulia). Every time I visit my mother-in-law in Denver, I am always amazed at the beauty of her plant. It always seems to be in bloom when we visit.
Although African violets might look a little bit like the violets (Viola) we grow in our outdoor gardens, there is no kinship. They belong to the gesneriad family and originated in Africa. They can be left outdoors only during summer in Steamboat - and then only when we're sure the temperatures will not rise above 80 degrees or below 50 degrees.
African violets need the temperature to be between 60 degrees and 80 degrees, and a humidity level between 40 percent and 50 percent. This means that for your plant to thrive and continue flowering, you may need to place it in a humid room in your home or place it on a tray filled with gravel and water so the evaporation from the tray will rise into the leaves of the violet.
You may water an African violet from the top or by sitting the plant in a tray of water to absorb from the bottom. Only water it when the surface of the soil (to a depth of about 1 inch) feels dry. Too soggy, and you'll cause crown rot; too dry, and growth will be slow and stunted. If you water from the top, be sure to use water that is warm to the touch. African violets hate cold water; it injures the foliage.
If it's going to be a sunny day, you'll need to be careful about leaving water drops on the leaves of this plant. As sunlight passes through the drops, it causes spotting on the leaves.
This plant needs 10 to 14 hours of bright light (not direct sunlight) daily or it will not flower well. You might gain some extra light for the plant by placing it on a mirrored tile that will reflect light back on the violet, or use fluorescent or grow lights to supplement the natural light.
While the African violet is flowering, it should be fertilized about once a week. There are feeding products specially made for African violets, such as Peter's African Violet Food - a 12-36-14 mixture.
There are so many shapes, sizes and colors of African violets to choose from that you might want to select several. Flower colors include blue, purple, pink, white, reddish-purple, lavender, white and some bi- and multi-colored varieties. Flower shapes range from single, double, star-shaped and ruffled. And foliage comes in plain, ruffled, scalloped, pointed, variegated and others.
Don't shrink away from this beautiful houseplant. Give African violets a chance to bring beauty to your indoor houseplant collection.