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DALY: African violets brighten up the indoors

One of the most popular indoor flowering plant is the African violet. They are originally from the coastal woods of East Africa and are now some of the most popular indoor flowering plants. The plants 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, African violets 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, white, and some with a mixture of colors. Some produce one or more rows of petals of different colors. The petals can also be ruffled. The plants come in many sizes ranging from miniature ones a few inches in height to ones 16 inches tall.

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 to artificial lights, usually fluorescent lights. The plants prefer well drained soils with 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 or touching a window pane during cold weather can result in damaged foliage. The plants also need higher amounts of humidity. Avoid placing them near heater vents that can dry them out. Humidity can be increased by placing the pots, with drainage holes on the bottom, on trays with gravel that are 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 on the pots will absorb the water. Make sure the water is above 65 degrees. Cold water can damaged the plants.

Periodically the plants will need to be re-potted. Be careful since the leaves, stems, and roots can be easily damaged. Partially refill the pot with the soil. Place the plant down where its crown is slightly above the soil level and then fill a quarter to one-half on an 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 6 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 will take a while to flower.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu