African violets have graced homes in North America since 1926.
The plants are native to Tanzania, Africa and were first cultivated in greenhouses in Germany in 1892.
Species plants, ones that grow in the wild, have blue to purple flowers. Domestic African violets have been hybridized to the extent that they are available in all shades of pink, purple, white and many different bi-colors. Yellow flowers are a recent development (1992) and are still not readily available.
Breeding domesticated African violets with species from the wild, has allowed hybridizers to add variety to the leaves and size of plant offering consumers more variety.
Plants with variegated leaves have been available since the 1960’s. Miniature African Violets (2½ inch) became available to consumers in the 1970s.
Large box stores and grocery stores usually carry the traditional plants but the discerning shopper can find newer varieties in some stores and through specialized growers.
African violets do have a reputation of being hard to grow but this is not necessarily the case. Given the correct location African violets can bloom and thrive for years.
As with any plant, one grows it is best to try to duplicate the conditions of its native environment. For an African violet this means warm, humid and out of the direct sunlight.
Houses in North America are kept warm year round which is ideal for most houseplants African violets are not an exception.
Unfortunately most houses on the Prairies are not humid. As the cold weather approaches the level of humidity will drop lower. Humidity can be added to any plant by placing rocks and water in a tray under the plant. Just make sure that the plant or pot is not sitting in the water as it will rot the plant’s roots.
African violets are an understory plant that grows in semi-shade in Africa. They quickly dry out and die in direct sunlight. To duplicate the environment, place plants in diffused sunlight or by east or north windows. Plants can be grown in rooms with south or west windows but they must be far enough back to avoid the harsh sunlight.
Growers will place African violets under florescent lights to get the best results in the shortest period of time.
Soil is also an important consideration. African violets, like many houseplants, prefer a porous mix that retains some water but never becomes saturated. To achieve this try mixing equal amounts of tops soil, vermiculite, perlite and sphagnum moss.
Growers recommend bottom watering. The easiest way to do this is to fill the pot’s saucer with water and allow the soil to absorb the water for a half an hour. At this time the saucer should be emptied.
Repeat this process when the top of the soil becomes dry. Fertilize with a complete fertilizer that will supply all the micronutrients.