Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today.
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For a popular indoor plant with beautiful flowers and foliage, you can’t beat African violets (Saintpaulia). They seem to always look wonderful and bloom year-round.
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 require temperatures from 50 to 80 degrees, so for most of us, that means they are an indoor plant.
African violets prefer a humidity level between 40 and 50 percent. This means that for your plant to thrive and continue flowering, you might need to place it in a humid room of 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 this plant when the soil about an inch deep 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, and it injures the foliage.
If it’s going to be a sunny day, you’ll need to be careful to not leave 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 be able to 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 per 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 and some multicolored varieties. Flower shapes range from single, double and star-shaped to ruffled. And foliage comes in plain, ruffled, scalloped, pointed, variegated and more.
Don’t shrink away from this beautiful houseplant. Give African violets a chance to bring beauty to your indoor houseplant collection.
Deb Babcock is a volunteer master gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.