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The African Violet is one of the most popular flowering house plants. They are temperamental plants, but given the right conditions they have been known to bloom year round producing pink, purple, lavender, wine, white and other colored blossoms. African Violets became popular in this country in 1936 when the first varieties were introduced. Soon they were appearing in homes throughout the United Sates and today well grown specimens can be found with lush rosettes of velvety leaves almost hidden under colorful flowers. The number of varieties of this plant is still unknown, with hundreds of new hybrids being introduced yearly. The flowers on African Violets may be single, semi-double or double; fringed or ruffled on the edges. They can have two shades of the same color or more than two colors on each flower. There are even star-shaped flowers for those who prefer the more exotic types. Although many people believe the African Violet is a species of the violet family, they are not. Nor do they grow like the English and Russian violets. The best clue to their culture is the African part of their name. If you try to give them growing conditions similar to their tropical homeland they will reward you with their bright blooms.
The trick to keeping this plant happy is temperature. In temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees fahrenheit they will thrive. But in higher or lower temperatures they tend to stop growing and blooming. African Violets are great for terrariums. They can be started from seed in these condition and will grow very quickly. During the summer months they prefer a north or east window. In winter they need extra light and will do best with southern exposure where the sun's rays are filtered. When fall and spring arrive, African Violets need shade from direct sun. You will find that with too little light the stalks become extra long leaf stalks and the foliage begins to look unhealthy. Few or no flowers will form when the light is too weak. When this plant is getting too much light the foliage will yellow and leaf stalks will begin to droop.
If you are having trouble keeping an African Violet blooming after the original flowers have fallen off, you may not be giving the attention they need. The soil must be kept damp at all times, but never wet. They need to be watered from the top just as with other blooming plants. Using 10 percent of the recommended rate of African Violet plant food in your water and add a few drops of dish liquid per quart. These plants are sensitive to the chemicals in tap water so it is best to use rainwater, dehumidifier water, melted snow or air conditioner run off. You can also melt the ice when defrosting your freezer and save this to water this plant. Each time you water you should feed this plant since all the flowering gives it a healthy appetite.
African Violets love a humid atmosphere. This can be accomplished by spraying the leaves with a warm mist of water or you can stand the pot on pebbles in a partially filled saucer of water. Make sure the pot and water are not in contact with each other or the soil may become too soggy. When you notice that the stems of the larger, lower leaves are turning brown or rotting off, you will need to work on the edges of your pot. Smooth the edges by rubbing completely around the pot with a candle until you can see a good wax build up. This will protect the lower leaves from the sharp edges of the pot.
Since African Violets tend to bloom better when the roots are a bit crowded, it is wise to repot them only when more than one third of the leaves extend beyond the pots edge. When repotting, use a pot that is one size larger than the original pot. The best time for repotting is during the spring or early summer. You can make your own African Violet soil by mixing equal parts of garden soil, peat moss and perlite. To divide this plant you will need to remove any new crowns that appear when they look like they can take care of themselves. When doing this use a 2 1\4 inch clay pot that has been soaked for no less than an hour. Make sure the soil you are placing the crowns in is damp and that you have watered the original plant at least twenty four hours before making the transplant. If you prefer not to mix the soil, you can purchase it from any garden store.
Extra rosettes of leaves should be cut out with a sharp knife taking care not to damage the plant. Be sure when removing any yellow or rotted leaves to break or cut the stalk at the main stem or the parts that are left will rot. This plant can be propagated from leaf cuttings but be sure to select mature, healthy leaves. When doing this you should leave 1 to 1\2 inch of the stem. When tiny new leaves begin to appear, the rooted cutting is ready to transplant to a separate pot. This will usually take from three to six weeks. Punch a few small holes in a plastic bag and cover the cuttings. Make sure you place them in a warm, shaded spot for two to three weeks.
When plants produce flowers it tend to wear them out, so it is wise to allow your plants to rest occasionally. To do this simply pluck off the new buds and remove the plant from its lighted area. After the plant has rested for two to three weeks, add 1\2 teaspoon of epsom salts to the water and return it to normal light conditions. Doing this will help the plant produce stronger, healthier blooms. African Violets tend to be their healthiest and flower better when they have only one crown near the soil where the stems come together and join the roots.