African violets are hard to resist on a cold winter day

In the holiday shuffle of decorations and needing space, I moved my African violet from the warm sunny table in the kitchen to a darker spot downstairs. It is doing fine, but I think it is missing the cozy kitchen table. 

African violets (Streptocar) are not really violets at all. They are native to the rainforests of Tanzania and spread through Europe after a German officer mailed seeds home to Germany in 1892. The plant produces a flower resembling violets (Viola), earning the name of African violet.

One of the reasons African violets are popular houseplants is because they are comfortable in the same environment we enjoy. A warm but not tropical temperature during the day, cool nights, water, and a little fertilizer will yield a healthy plant.

There are hundreds of varieties of African violets, including miniature and even trailing plants. I bought my plant at the grocery store a few years ago and can’t find the identification tag. If I had to guess, I would say it is a miniature, meaning less than eight inches across.

African violets are often classified by the plant’s width across when mature. Miniatures are less than 8 inches across; standards range from 8-16 inches across; large can grow to be more than 16 inches wide.

Despite the size of the leaves, the plant is happy in a smallish pot – really the leaves’ width should be much wider than the container. The plant’s roots are happy when tight in the pot; frequent repotting is unnecessary.

You can buy soil made specifically for African violets, but quality potting soil that is loose, well-draining, and contains organic matter will work just fine. If repotting, only slightly increase the container size and try not to set the plant’s crown any lower in the soil than in the original pot. The leaves and stems are susceptible to disease and rot when they stay wet.

About that staying wet, when watering from the top, try to keep water from the leaves or stems. Another option is to water from the bottom by filling a dish with water and letting it absorb, or wick through the bottom. Let the plant sit in the water for about 30 minutes, then remove. Either way, use room temperature water; cold may spot the leaves.

They like humidity; keeping the plants grouped together will help, or try sitting the container on a tray with pebbles and a tiny amount of water. This way, the container is above the water. African violets don’t like wet feet.

The fuzzy leaves of the plant will give you clues to its health. If the leaves become dark green with leggy stems, the plant is not getting enough light. Leaves that are light green suggest too much light. Another thing about those fuzzy leaves, they get dusty. Use a small paintbrush to lightly sweep away dust particles.

If you need to adjust the light, especially during the winter months, African violets do well under artificially lighting such as fluorescent or LED bulbs. Aim for the lighting to be 15 inches above the plant and provide 10 hours of light per day. After light sessions, the plant needs to rest or have 8 hours of darkness.

Although I have not tried to propagate the plant, you can do so by placing a leaf in water. It should take root and can then be potted in a separate container.

Do you need a birthday gift this month? Violets are the birth flower of February, and even though they are not technically related, why not give an African violet. You can find plants that bloom in pink, purple, or white. Here at the little house on a big hill, I have moved my African violet back to the sunny kitchen table. It should perk up and begin blooming again soon. When it does, I will pinch back the flowers after they dry; this deadheading will encourage new bloom. Yes, African violets are a lot like us; they like cozy spots and bloom like crazy when happy and given a little attention.