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African violets are great indoor plants

One of the most popular indoor flowering plants is the African violet (Sainpaulia ionatha). African violets originally are from the coastal woods of East Africa and are now some of the most popular indoor flowering plants. They are easy to grow and produce many different varieties of beautiful flowers under the proper growing conditions throughout the year. For indoor areas with limited space, they can be grown on windowsills.

Some of the flowers are of multiple colors, while others have double or semi-double rows of petals. Some are even trailing. Flowers can range from blue to violet, pink or white, and some have a mixture of colors. Some produce one or more rows of petals of different colors. The petals can also be ruffled. The plants vary from miniature sizes, 6 inches or less, to large, more than 16 inches.

African violets prefer an area of the house that receives bright but not indirect sunlight. Often, lack of flowering is a result of too little light. They also respond excellently to artificial lights, usually fluorescent lights.

African violets grow best in soils that are well drained and have organic matter. There are specially formulated soils just for African violets.

African violets prefer a daytime temperature of 70 to 90 degrees and a nighttime temperature of 65 to 70 degrees. Plants growing in areas with a cold draft of air or touching a windowpane during cold weather can have damaged foliage. The plants also need high amounts of humidity. Avoid placing them near heater vents, which can dry them out. Humidity can be increased by placing the pots, with drainage holes on the bottom, on trays of gravel filled with water. Do not fill the tray up with water; just keep the water level up to the pebbles. In watering the violets, the best way is to apply some extra water to the tray when the pots are dry. The soil in the pots will absorb the water. Make sure the water is not below 65 degrees.

Periodically, the plants will need to be repotted. Be careful, since the leaves, stems and roots can be easily damaged. Partially fill the pot with soil and set the plant down where the crown of it is slightly above the soil level. Then fill a quarter to one-half inch of soil. Firm the soil around the plants. The plants do well with a periodic fertilization of a liquid 20-20-20 water soluble fertilizer every six weeks or so.

If you want more plants, they can be propagated through division or by taking leaf petiole cuttings. Take cuttings of the leaves and the attached petiole, and place into the growing medium. In a few weeks, a new plant with begin to grow, but it will take a while to flower.

Yes, African violets are a relatively easy indoor flowering plant to grow. For more information on growing them, visit The African Violet Society of America's Web site at www.avsa.org or Holtkamp Greenhouses' Web site at www.optimara.com.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.