African violet varieties
Most African violet flowers come in pinks, purples, blues and red, as single, double or semi-double petal arrangements. Standards are 20-45cm wide, but you can also get miniatures that grow about 15cm wide. Clump your African violets together to show off the colours, as well as the different types of petals – single, double and ruffled.
New varieties available include:
- Heinz’s Little Nugget: semi-mini with semi-double, purple-blue petals and a white eye.
- Red Delicious Standard: with semi-double, dark-red petals and a white centre.
- Rhapsodie Gisela Standard: with single, white ruffled petals and dark pink centres.
- Flutterby Standard: with single, frilly pink petals, white margins and variegated leaves.
- RDs Karen Standard: with single, deep-blue petals with white margins.
- Serenity Standard: with double, white petals with pale-blue tinges.
- Irish Castle Standard: with double, white-frilled petals fringed with green.
- Snow Rose Standard: with double, burgundy-red/white-edged petals.
These suggestions are from The African Violet Association of Australia. There are societies in most states and territories that can advise you on where you can obtain varieties and hybrids from specialised breeders.
How to grow African violets
African violets have developed a reputation for being difficult – for suddenly curling up their leaves and dying. But it’s got nothing to do with them being finicky or fragile. In fact, an African violet can live in your home for as long as you do and put out fabulous flowers almost constantly. The plants’ survival is not only due to more vigorous hybrids available these days, but also to the way you care for them. Get their environment right, and they’ll hang around forever!
Plastic pots are preferable to terracotta pots because plastic doesn’t absorb moisture as clay does. And, because African violet roots grow out rather than down – and actually enjoy being pot-bound – go for a squat pot.
The growing medium should be as light as possible as African violets have delicate roots and a heavy mix can crush them. The mix needs to be free-draining so water doesn’t linger – they’re also susceptible to root rot and crown rot. To be safe, make a blend of half quality potting mix and half perlite, which improves air circulation around the roots and therefore drainage. Adding sphagnum moss increases acidity and therefore the plants’ ability to take up nutrients. Use a pH test kit to ensure the pH is sitting between 5.8 and 6.2.
African violets are thirsty plants but not great swimmers, so don’t drown them. Water them in a sink when the mix is dry when you touch it and allow the water to run through the pot’s drainage hole. The water should be room temperature. Be sure to only water the potting mix, not the leaves, or your plants may develop fungal problems.
There are few nutrients in the growing medium so add liquid fertiliser to the water when watering. Be sure it’s suitable for flowering plants – it will be high in potassium – and is diluted to quarter strength.
Put your African violets where they are exposed to bright, indirect sunlight, not on a windowsill where they will get direct sun. The plants also thrive under fluorescent lights.
The best temperature to keep the flowers blooming is between 18 and 26°C. They need good air circulation, but avoid putting them where they will be directly exposed to drafts. African violets need humidity of between 40-60%.
Most Australian homes have humidity levels of between 30-50%, so you may need to up the level around your plant. Do this by filling a shallow tray with small pebbles or pea gravel, filling it with water and putting your pot on top. Don’t mist above the plant because moisture can fall on the foliage and detract from the look of its beautiful velvety leaves – plus, you risk making them susceptible to fungal problems. You can also try pairing one African violet with another! Their leaves release moisture via respiration and the plants thrive on it. When your flower buds first start to emerge, it’s time to up the humidity level – flowering takes a lot of energy!
Pro tip: keep your plants away from heaters and air conditioners, as these dry out the atmosphere.
How to propagate violets
Love your lone African violet plant? Create more!
Cut off a leaf at a 45° angle, leaving about 25mm of the stem.
Fill a 55mm seedling pot with a growing medium and plant your leaf. Water mix gently and drain.
Put the pot in a resealable plastic bag.
After 4-6 weeks, a single or several small plants should emerge and you can remove the plastic. Gently separate the new plant/s from the leaf, then repot.
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