How to - Gardening Resources

African violets: Easy houseplants

Larry Hodgson
Photography by
Mark Burstyn

Dress up a windowsill with these jewel-toned, reliable, indoor beauties

Pests and diseases
The worst pest is likely the mealybug, which resembles tiny patches of white cotton and is found under leaves and at leaf axils. To control, dab them with cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol, but you may have to start new plants from carefully cleaned leaf cuttings.

Flower thrips cause pollen to spill onto blooms, and their nibbling on the flower lobes may cause a mottled appearance. To see if they're present, blow on a few flowers; you'll see the thrips scatter to safety. Remove all flowers and buds for a good six to eight weeks to control them.

Leaf diseases such as powdery mildew are not common but can be devastating when they occur. Remove damaged leaves and increase air circulation to prevent a recurrence.

Propagating violets
There are many ways to propagate African violets, but the best known and easiest method is to take leaf cuttings.

Choose a full-sized leaf and snap it off at the base. Don't use one of the lower leaves: they're older and can be slow to sprout. Use a sharp knife to recut the leaf petiole (stem) at a 45-degree angle; then insert the base of the petiole into a pre-moistened, sterilized potting mix or vermiculite. If your home is dry, you may prefer to cover the leaf with a clear plastic bag to maintain high humidity. Place in a brightly lit spot out of direct sun, keeping the potting mix slightly moist. New plants can appear as soon as three weeks or as late as six months.

Once plantlets have reached about one-third of the height of the leaf, separate them. Carefully dig up the mother leaf and plantlets and rinse them off. Then pull the mass of baby plants apart until they're individually separated, each with one stem and a root system. Now pot these up into small containers-often you'll start seeing flowers within a year.

Where to place your violets
Where African violets look best isn't always where they bloom best-but that doesn't mean you can't have beautiful, flowering Saintpaulia throughout your home. Find a spot in your house with ideal growing conditions and declare it your own “violet nursery.” When a plant bursts into bud, move it to a preferred location; when it stops blooming, put it back in the nursery and replace it with another. By continuously recycling the plants, you'll always have blooming African violets on display.


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