African violets (or Saintpaulia) are a genus of plants within the Gesneriad family. Discovered in 1892 by Baron von St Paul (hence the botanical name), many species can still be found growing in the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania and Kenya. Though their geography is tropical, most species reside in the mountains, at altitude, and under the cover of other plants. This makes African violets ideal for the indoor home garden or window–requiring only moderate (“room”) temperatures and light. Though many of the native Saintpaulia are now threatened by loss of habitat, millions of their modern descendants are grown throughout the world in homes of collectors and hobbyists.
The African Violets that I sell in the shop are miniature. When mature, miniatures grow to less than 6″ in diameter, semiminis to less than 8″. With proper culture, actual plant size usually is much smaller in practice. The smallest of them might be less than 2 or 3″ from leaf tip to leaf tip! Because these are small-growing plants and have small root systems, never use a pot bigger than 2 1/2″ in diameter, even less for the smallest varieties.
Basic Care of African Violets:
Light. Adequate light is important for good growth and bloom. Try to provide bright, but not hot, sunlight. If growing under artificial lights, place a two-tube florescent fixture about 12-18″ above plants for 12-13 hours each day.
Watering. Use room-temperature water. Water when the soil feels “dry to the touch”.
Feeding. A ‘balanced’ formula is best (relatively equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). Avoid “bloom boosters”. Use each watering, following the directions for that fertilizer.
Atmosphere. African violets like the same conditions you do–moderate temperatures and humidity. If you feel comfortable, so do they.
Soil. Use a peat-based, “soilless” mix consisting of at least 30-50% coarse vermiculite and/or perlite. Brand-name “violet soils” are NOT necessarily good for African violets! General rule: the wetter you keep the soil, the more perlite it should contain.
Grooming. Exept for trailers, do not allow extra crowns (suckers) to develop. African violets should be grown single-crowned. Most African violets look best with no more than 5 rows of leaves.
Potting. Repot all plants every 6-12 months. Most standard African violets, grown as a houseplant, will require a 4-5″ pot at maturity. For minis and semiminis, us a pot no larger than 2 1/2″ in diameter.