Persnickety, fussy and old-fashioned — African violets get a bad rap. Yes, they need a little TLC, but the reward is years of beautiful blooms.
Some vintage violet varieties have been registered for 25 years or more on the African Violet Society of America’s master variety list. As many as 30 to 40 percent older varieties have been lost or jettisoned in favor of newer violets like those from the Ukraine or Russia. These hybridized beauties are prized for their large, wavy and show blooms.
Hybridizers are “always looking for new or better blossoms or foliage,” said Barbara Pershing, a longtime violet grower and member of the Cedar Valley African Violet Society.
The public can view violets at the Cedar Valley African Violet Club Display and Sale at Crossroads Center. Hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Club members will be available to discuss African violet care and culture. A repotting clinic will be ongoing.
Here are 12 tips for keeping violets happy, healthy and blooming.
Don’t place violets in direct sunlight. Plants need 12 to 14 hours of filtered natural or artificial light and about eight hours of total darkness in a 24-hour period for maximum blooms.
Keep temperatures between 70 to 80 F during the day and near 65 F at night. Humidity should be 40 to 60 percent humidity.
In winter months, a south- or west-facing window provides the best light; in summer, north or east windows are best. Protect plants from cold drafts and freezing and heating vents in winter. Plants stop growing at below 60 F and die below 50 F. If you can’t move the collection, cover the window with plastic from a window kit or slip a piece of cardboard between the violets and window.
Leave space between plants to allow for air circulation.
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Use a potting mix specifically for African violets and add perlite to lighten. Put a layer of perlite in the bottom of a pot. This will protect the plant from overwatering.
Watering is always an issue. Do the finger test in the soil and if it is dry, water at the soil line without wetting foliage and let water drain out. Use room temperature water. Cold water can damage roots and spot leaves. Fill your watering can and let it sit overnight before watering. Softened water will kill plants. There are watering systems, such as mats and wicks, for violets.
The “flood and drought” method — forgetting to water, then drowning the plant — will wreak havoc with violets. They like to be slightly and consistently moist at all times.
Violet buds are fragile. If the plant is allowed to dry out, buds will drop off. Experts also point out that a blooming violet transpires moisture into the air, so the plant dries out more quickly. If allowed to dry out, blooms will suffer.
A hungry violet won’t bloom. Use a 15-30-15 fertilizer or violet fertilizer, about 1/4 teaspoon to one gallon water and use at every watering. Don’t use any fertilizer high in urea nitrogen.
When repotting, use a clean pot 1/3 the diameter of the plant with a drainage hole. Oversized pots encourage root growth, not blooming. Violets like being a little potbound. Remove one-third of the old soil and replace with fresh African violet potting mix. Repot the plant with the crown just above the soil line. Water well.
Powdery mildew can appear overnight during the transition from air conditioning to furnace heat. Air circulation is paramount, as is keeping space between plants. If mildew appears, gently wash or mist leaves with a diluted fungicide such as Neem oil.
When you purchase a new violet, isolate it from your collection and other houseplants to prevent introducing pests and diseases. While in quarantine, repot new plants in fresh potting mix, water and place a plastic bag over the plant. Make sure air is inside bag and close it. The violet will thrive but its ride-along guests will be exposed and can be treated.