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How to Grow and Care for African Violets at Home

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 8, 2020 • 4 min read

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Already have a monstera, ZZ plant, or pothos thriving in your home, and looking for a houseplant that’s a little more challenging? Look no further than African violets—a small and popular houseplant that needs a little extra care but will reward you with vibrant purple, blue, or white flowers.

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What Are the Best Growing Conditions for African Violets?

For the best results, African violets prefer:

  • Loose, well-draining soil. African violets are very sensitive to wet feet—when roots sit in too much water—so you need to plant them in soil that doesn’t get soggy. You’ll need a container with good drainage. A basic rule is to maintain slightly moist soil.
  • Low humidity. The fuzzy leaves of African violets need to stay dry, or they will start to rot. African violets grow best in dry places like home offices or living rooms but should stay away from high-humidity locations like bathrooms or kitchens.
  • Filtered sunlight. African violets need good, indirect light (not direct sun) to produce blooms—to ensure enough light, they should be a few feet away from either a west- or south-facing window, or be near an indoor grow light.
  • Warm temperatures. African violets don’t like drafty windows, winter months, cold air, or even cold water on their roots, preferring to stay at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit and above.

How to Plant African Violets From Pre-Started Plants

Since African violets are an indoor plant throughout the United States, you can buy and plant them at any time of the year. The most common method for starting African violets is purchasing a pre-started plant—starting African violets from seed is more time-consuming.

  1. Choose and prepare the pot. African violets are little plants, so they don’t need a huge container. Choose a small-size pot that is just wider than the root ball of your plant. The key to healthy African violets is drainage, so be sure that your pot has drainage holes to prevent excess water from rotting the roots—there are unique African violet pots, but any basic clay pot will do as well.
  2. Choose the soil. In terms of soil, choose a light, well-draining potting soil mix—there are special mixes marketed just for African violets, but any well-draining potting mix will work.
  3. Ease the plant out of the store container. Being careful not to put too much pressure on the plant, lift the root ball out of the store container—you may need to massage the outside or wiggle the plant to get it loose.
  4. Massage the root ball. To help encourage the roots to stretch out from their enclosed formation, gently massage the roots until the root ball is loose.
  5. Plant in your new pot. Make a space just larger than the root ball in your new container filled with potting soil. Cover the stem until the plant feels secure, but don’t compact the soil too much—African violets need loose soil to allow their roots to grow.
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How to Care for African Violets

African violets have a few quirks that can make them hard to grow for new gardeners. To ensure the best African violet care, here are some best practices:

  1. Water as needed. African violet plants are sensitive to overwatering and prone to root rot, which means that you should keep the soil just slightly moist year-round. Don’t waterlog the soil, and don’t allow it to dry out completely between waterings. When in doubt, pay attention to your plant—if it starts to droop, increase your watering.
  2. Keep the leaves dry. Water at the base of the plant to keep moisture off the leaves. Instead of a spray bottle, use a long-necked watering can to target the base of the plant. Wet leaves or humid conditions will lead to spots or rot, and the plant will suffer. If you do get water on the leaves, a wicking method like a soft, dry brush is an effective way to keep the plant happy.
  3. Use room-temperature water. African violets are sensitive to fluctuating temperatures on their roots. To mitigate this, most gardeners leave their watering cans out overnight to allow the water to reach room temperature to avoid shocking the plant.
  4. Fertilize them. To encourage strong flower growth, fertilize your African violets during the spring/summer growing season, giving them a high-phosphorus fertilizer (like a 15-30-15) every two weeks. There are special African violet fertilizers you can buy, but anything with a higher phosphorus number will work.
  5. Give them light. African violets need indirect, bright light to produce blooms. For best results, keep the plant a few feet away from either a west- or south-facing window, or near an indoor fluorescent light or grow light.
  6. Turn them as needed. If left in one position for too long, the flowers will start to grow toward the light source, making them look lopsided. Turn the plant a quarter turn every once in a while to encourage the flowers to face upward.
  7. Repot as needed. If your plant’s lower leaves are dying back and creating a bare stem (called a “neck”) beneath the flowers and new leaves, it’s time to repot. Choose a pot slightly larger than your current one and repot the African violets the same way you first planted them, adding new potting soil to the new pot.

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