Getting Real with African Violets
African violets are no longer your grandmother's plants. They do not need a large container,
just a 5-inch-diameter or smaller pot. Consider using a sleek, self-watering container or else, display
them in a galvanized vessel.
If you hear "African violet" and think "grandmother," we need to talk. There's no reason why you should
flash immediately to frumpy when that family of plants is mentioned. In fact, an association between
members of the Gesneriad Family and doilies needs to be updated. Many assume that raising African violets
is challenging. Sure, you can fuss and pamper these plants if it makes you happy. But all that extra
maintenance is unnecessary.
The Gesneriad family is huge. According to the Gesneriad Society, it's about 3,400 species strong, with a
whole lot of diversity. Only one group- Saintpaulia,-aka African violets has reached superstar status. But then,
in my opinion, all that brouhaha is warranted. From primrose-like rosettes of velveteen leaves,
violet look alike flowers pop up. They're adorable, to be sure. But the fact that they perform primarily in
autumn and winter when we're starving for colorful houseplants is what really sent their rising star into
orbit. As soon as homes became reliably warm night and day (in other words, when central heating systems
gained popularity), African violets became fixtures on the windowsill. Their cheerful color range,
which includes electric blue and shades of pink, certainly didn't hurt. Based on their performance, African
violets have waltzed in and out of the limelight ever since, including a major spike in the 1950s with the
tea and crumpet crowd. And they show signs of surging again.
Maybe your grandmother coddled her African violets because she had too much time on her hands which
they really do not need. Watering from below certainly doesn’t hurt, but it isn't necessary if you use tepid
water and aim the spout away from the foliage. Water when the soil is lightly dry but not parched, and do
not drown the poor things. A container with good drainage is fundamental. East or west facing windows
work fine; just don't bake the plants in the direct light of a south window or give them the dark treatment
of a northern exposure. Both extremes lead to lack of flowers.
Although the sailor blue and pink of yesteryear were quite riveting, the color range has increased to include
purples, reds, and maroon. Green accents are an option. Plus, spots, streaks, banding, fringing, and
flouncy double-flowering versions are now readily available. (Your grandmother would palpitate.) To encourage
re-blooming, keep them deadheaded. Whisking faded flowers away immediately prods them into
pumping out blossoms. African violets can tolerate temperatures that tumble down to 55°F at night however,
they prefer slightly warmer temperatures. And like most plants (except succulents) they detest a Sahara-
dry atmosphere. If your lips are getting chapped, either run a humidifier or set your pots on a one
inch layer of gravel in a pan half-filled with water.
African violets definitely have mainstream appeal as major players in the current indoor plant trend.
When the growing season fizzles outdoors and your windowsill needs color indoors, these great candidates
can transport autumn and winter from “blah’ to “ahhhh” in a blink.