African violets (saintpaulias) are a longstanding love of my mother. Before, i couldn't get why she loves these tiny flowers so much. I found them inconspicuous. I prefered large, bright plants with rich bushy crowns.
Later on, I understood why. Year by year new species appeared in my mother's violets collection, every time more and more beautiful and interesting. So unwittingly, I got carried away by mum's hobby. I started to exchange cuttings with other violet lovers hoping to grow a new variety. I managed finding violets in rare colours and original shapes on green markets. Still, to collect all of them was simply impossible!
A very helpful thing to know for a violet collector is that the handling requirements are about the same for any variety of violets. But you need to follow the rules irreproachably.
Violets are tender plants and need to be grown in a warm environment. Handling violets indoors requires a lot of light, so if there is no well lighted place in your house then it's better not to start growing violets there at all. The growth and blooming of your saintpaulias hinges on quantity and quality of light.
When your house has many windows, choose a place with a lot of diffused soft lighting. But watch out for putting violets at southern windows. Direct sunlight isn't good for them, therefore you will have to create a shade by covering the window at the height of the plants.
A well lighted kitchen can be a good place for violets, as they love high humidity. And sure, they will make your kitchen even more cosy!
You can easily notice if violets don't have appropriate lighting: they look inconspicuous and withered. The foliage gets drawn and a shape of the rosette loses its harmony.
Violets need to have 13 to 14 hours of daylight, so in the winter, when it gets dark earlier, you should provide african violets with fluorescent lamps.
Nowadays you can commonly find the special soil for saintpaulias in gardening stores. It's always very light. But with such a light mix, moisturizing of violets becomes to be a problem. The water doesn't saturate soil, but runs down inbetween the ground and the pot's sides.
What to do? My mother cultivates violets for about 30 years. When she just started with it, there were no special mixes in stores. But her violets grew perfectly fine!
She took regular ground straight from the garden, sifted it and added a bit of sand. Then she heated the mix in the oven to disinfect. On the bottom of each pot she always added a thick layer of drainage, so the water couldn't stagnate and the roots were able to breath.
Even the biggest species of indoor saintpaulias look like tiny plants. Some african violets have quite large foliage and flowers, but their roots anyway don't occupy a lot of space in a pot. That's why violets don't need big pots. In big pots they will actually grow slower and bloom later.
Although, if a pot is too small, the plant won't be able to develop appropriately as well. So for young violets and cuttings choose pots that are 5 to 6 cm in diameter. A grown up violet will need a 10 to 12 cm pot.
You also need to consider the variety of your violet when selecting a pot. Some of the plants are micro (rosette is less than 7 cm), some are mini (less than 20 cm) and some will be large (more than 40 cm). Experienced breeders use the rule: diameter of the pot is 3 times less than the diameter of the violet rosette.
The most common question, when it comes to handling of saintpaulias, is watering. Some people shy away from cultivating violets only because of their sensibility to many things. Violets are afraid of drafts, they neither like too much nor too less watering.
I water my violets 1 to 2 times per week (depending on the season) with soft settled water at room temperature.
Often, beginners water african violets just like any other plants, straight onto the soil. You can do so, but you need to be really carefull: the water mustn't touch leaves or buds! Water stagnation in foliage can trigger its rotting.
I prefer not to water the soil, but pouring water into a tray up to 2/3 of the pot's height. Flower gardeners call it 'bottom watering'.
Never leave water in the tray for later on, roots must be well aired. Just wait for 20 to 30 minutes to be sure that the soil is well moistened, and flush the remaining water away.
You can't spray water onto african violets. They love humid air like any other plants do, so just leave a vessel with clean water or a damp sponge next to the pot.
Once a month or two you may shower your saintpaulias to wash off dust. But after that you need to dry them very well, to let the water run off, remove drops, ensure that there is no water on flower buds.
Violets are very easy to multiply from cuttings. Sometimes you don't even need to root them before planting. Just put cuttings straight into the soil and they will perfectly root and grow. Leaves that have been already rooted you need to plant very gently, to avoid damaging the fresh roots.
Plant a cutting into the soil at an angle of 45° and cover with a transparent dome. Like this you will create a hothouse effect, so the plant will successfully get its first leaves.
One time in 3 years saintpaulias require a ground change. In real, I transplant my violets every year, the same time removing all the bad, old and sick leaves and also showering plants. I change old growing medium to new, but I don't change the pot.
You need to nourish african violets only during their blooming. During the fall and winter seasons it's better not to load them with unnecessary minerals.
To develop properly, violets need phosphoric and potash fertilizers for flowering, and nitrogen fertilizers for foliage.
Young african violets really need nitrogen, but if you overload an adult plant with nitrogen it will not bloom.
If you're handling your saintpaulias incorrectly, they may get sick.
Foliage gets yellow and dry because of direct sunlight or dry air.
When a violet's growing environment is too cold or too wet, roots and leaves will rot and the plants will be in danger of botritis or fusarium diseases.
From common plant infections, the powdery mildew is dangerous for saintpaulias. Also beware of depredators, such as ticks, plant lice, thrips, nematode worms and podurids.
You need to remove sick leaves and cure the ones that stay. Depending on the disease, I sometimes use fungicides or insecticides that are suitable for african violets.