How to Care for African Violets (and Get Them to Bloom)

African violets have been popular houseplants for a very long time, but are sometimes labelled as difficult. In reality, African violets are pretty easy to care for as long as you understand their needs, which is exactly what this blog post intends to help you do!

Today we will cover:

  1. How to care for African Violets
  2. How to get your African Violets to bloom again
  3. How African Violets grow in nature (which tells us a lot about their needs as a houseplant)

I hope that this blog helps inspire you to learn more about African Violets and perhaps even try to grow one yourself!

Table of Contents

How to Care for African Violets

How much light do African Violets need?

African violets can survive in low light conditions. They can even do quite well on a North-facing windowsill which receives no direct sunlight throughout the day.

My experience is that they grow and bloom better in slightly brighter conditions, like that of an East-facing windowsill which receives gentle morning sunlight and indirect light the rest of the day.

If the leaf color is beginning to fade or yellow, it’s possible that the plant is receiving too much light and needs to be moved to a shadier location.

If the leaves start to yellow and turn to mush, it’s possible the plant isn’t receiving enough light or is receiving too much water.

How to water an African Violet

African violets like plenty of water if, and only if, they are planted in a well-draining potting mix.

These plants are very prone to rot from excess moisture. Their leaves, roots, and crown (the place where the leaves emerge in the center of the plant) are all capable of rotting quite easily.

Because of this, many people say to not water the plant from above so excess water isn’t sitting on the leaves, stems, or crown.

In my experience, watering from above is fine as long as excess water isn’t pooled on the leaves or crown. If water pools in part of the plant, it is best to sop the water up to remove it with a cloth or something similar.

You can also gently pull the leaves up and water beneath them. This is what I do most of the time, except when I get really lazy. 🙂

What kind of potting mix does an African violet prefer?

African violets do well in the same chunky, well-draining mix that most other houseplants do. While they do not want to be dry for an extended period of time, they also don’t want to remain wet for long.

A houseplant potting mix with ample amounts of added perlite or other amendments that increase drainage will do really well.

If you decide to house your African violet in a self-watering container, you may want to add even more perlite to ensure the plant isn’t sitting too wet.

What kind of pots do African Violets like?

African violets do well in most kinds of pots. You can grow them in terracotta, plastic, ceramic, or even self-watering pots.

The key for African violets is to ensure that they do not sit wet for long periods of time through choosing a snug pot.

Most average-sized African violets do well perpetually in a 4 inch pot.

The smaller varieties can stay in even smaller 2 to 3 inch pots for their entire lives.

If you choose to use a self-watering pot, like many people do, just make sure the potting mix is super well-draining to prevent a waterlogged plant.

I have my violets in both plastic nursery pots and self-watering pots. My plants are in clay self-watering pots where the outer pot is glazed and holds water so the inner, unglazed clay pot can wick water to the plant. I’ll show you an example of these below.

Here’s a plant I am growing in a plastic nursery pot tucked inside a pretty ceramic pot:

Here’s another plant that I am growing in a clay self-watering pot. Note how the inner pot is removeable so the water can be added to the reservoir.

Here’s one of the self-watering pots I use from Amazon: Maryland China Company Purple 4″ Urn Shaped Self Watering Planter

You can see the hole in the pot on the right hand side. You can refill the resevoir through that hole or remove the inner pot by pulling up on the rim.

I’m sure most types of self-watering pots would work well for violets, I just like the look of the clay pots in particular.

When do you need to repot an African violet?

The experts say that most African violets should be repotted (usually into the same pot) every 6 or so months.

I’ll be honest, though, I didn’t know this was a thing until I was researching for this post. I only repot mine about once a year, which might be just fine as a home grower with no current plans to be in the professional sector. But I will try to repot more often now that I know it will make the plants happier!

If the violet is drying out extremely fast, wilting and not perking up, no longer blooming, or losing leaves at an abnormal pace, its probably time to repot.

How do you fertilize an African violet?

To help African violets bloom, a fertilizer with a slighty higher phosphorous amount works well. Phosphorous is the second number on fertilizer packages. (For example, 7-5-1 is 7% Nitrogen, 5% Phosphorous, and 1% Potassium.)

Something like this African violet fertilizer from Espoma would work well, which has an N-P-K of 1-3-1. (linked to Amazon through their affiliate program)

They also do fine with a well-balanced fertilizer like Espoma’s Indoor Plant Food, which is a 2-2-2. (linked to Amazon through their affiliate program)

I’ve successfully kept my violets happy and blooming using the well-balanced fertilizer as well.

I fertilize a couple times a month with half strength Espoma Indoor Plant food and all of my healthy and mature plants bloom regularly.

Do African violets need high humidity?

Like all houseplants, African violets can benefit from some humidity, but they also do just fine in normal household humidity ranges.

Can you get the leaves wet on your African Violet?

Yes, African violet leaves can get wet, but with caution.

It is a common myth that African violets can’t get their leaves wet ever, but in reality a little bit of moisture will probably be okay.

However, water sitting on the leaves for an extended period of time can cause discoloration and possibly leaf rot.

It can also be detrimental to the plant if cold or hot water touches the leaves. If the water is room temperature, the leaves are much less likely to have an issue when wet.

To avoid any potential issues and not have to worry, people do often water their African violets from the bottom or from beneath the leaves.

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How do you get an African violet to bloom?

African violets really only need their basic care requirements met to bloom. If you violet hasn’t bloomed or has stopped blooming, I would first see if providing it with more light brings it to bloom. Too dim of conditions will prevent the plant from obtaining enough energy to produce blooms.

If light doesn’t work, I would go ahead and repot the plant into fresh soil and/or ensure that I’m fertilizing it regularly.

If you repot and find that the root ball is pretty small for the pot, you can move the plant to a smaller pot size. Typically African violets are repotted into the same size pot so it is kept fairly root bound, which helps to encourage flowers.

If the roots are taking up the entire pot and emerging from the soil surface and/or drainage holes, you can either repot into a slightly larger pot or trim the roots to plant it back into the same size pot.

Trimming roots to replant in the same pot is the same method that bonsai growers use to keep their trees small.

When an African Violet’s basic requirements are met, they are typically prolific bloomers!

Where are African Violets found in the wild?

African violets, as their name implies, are originally from Africa!

They are native to mountain ranges in Tanzania and Kenya, growing beneath the tree canopy and many other plants, as part of the understory.

Because of this, they receive low light levels compared to many other houseplants and very little direct sun.

They were scientifically categorized as the genus Saintpaulia for a very long time, but have been recently moved to the Streptocarpus genus, residing in a subgroup (section) called Saintpaulia.

African violets have been slowly disappearing from the wild, moving closer and closer to extinction. Conservation efforts are in place now to try to prevent further disappearance.

Normally when I’m writing these posts, I can find photos of the featured plants in the wild fairly easily. That is not the case with this particular plant. There are very, very few photos of the plants in the wild, further securing for me how threatened they are.

African violet growing on rock in Tanzania, photo by: Joachim Louis, Source

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