You Can Grow African Violets in the Southwest

African violets can add charm and a grace note to your home, and they come in a a vast variety of charming colors. You may have tried them before and not been successful, but I believe they are worth another chance.

If First You Don’t Succeed

If you have been reading my magazine articles, newspaper columns, various books, and blogs for a while – you know that I have killed a few plants in my day. It takes time for any gardener to discover which plants work for them, for the soil in their yard, and for their particular style of gardening. The same can be said for growing houseplants. Some folks have indoor jungles, while others have a few bedraggled plants lurking in corners.

While I am successful with a fair number of houseplants, African violets have generally failed to thrive in my care. Until now. What has changed? I have no idea. This just proves the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

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African Violets in the Southwest

Temperature

First, the good news, African violets thrive in normal household temperatures. While you might think of Africa as a hot place, remember the snows of Kilimanjaro! African violets like temperate temperatures – between 65 and 85 degrees.

Humidity

Now the not so good news. African violets come from a humid part of Africa, and thus they do best where the humidity is between 50 and 70 percent. Homes (and offices) in the Southwest tend to run around 25 to 35 percent humidity.

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Visit your local nursery and discover that African violets come in a blend of colors and leaf types. Image courtesy S. Sarah.

One way to increase the local humidity around your plants is to place their pots in trays (or saucers) of pea gravel filled with water. Do not let the pots actually sit in the water, the roots will drown. Just the littlest bit of water contact. You can use a tray of decorative marbles or colorful aquarium gravel if you prefer.

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Light

African violets do not want direct sunlight ever, so our Arizona windowsills are out, unless you have ones facing due north. Since I have a brat cat, windowsills are out. Find a site indoors that is neither too dim nor overly bright.

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Not my cat, but a if your cat will share the windowsill, one that never gets direct sunlight will work for African violets.

Soil

Soil is important for all plants, but especially African violets. They prefer a porous soil, and cactus mix appears to suit them. Avoid any heavy loam soil even though the label may say it is specifically formulated for African violets. That soil may be why they previously died on my watch. Some African violet keepers use soil-less mixes such as pure perlite, but then you have to watch your fertilizer schedule, so for the casual grower, cactus mix is good.

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Water

Water your African violet from the bottom. Remember the moist tray for humidity? Make sure the tray is deep enough that you can add water so the pot has a bare eighth of an inch submerged – but ONLY once a week. Then let the soil dry out. If you don’t go with trays of gravel, try to water African violets from the bottom. Or use top dressing.

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A deeper saucer that allows the bottom 1/8 inch of pot to sit in water can work.

Top Dressing

I could make a joke here, but let’s keep our family rating. Top dressing means placing a layer of “dressing” on top of the soil. Top dressing is like mulch in the garden, but here we use a material that will NOT decay. The leaves and stems of African violets are very tender and can easily be wounded, so I suggest smooth pea gravel the nursery. My favorite local nursery offers bags down amongst the other houseplant supplies.

Fertilizer

African violets will bloom best with regular fertilizer in small amounts. Select one that high in phosphorus (the middle number) for more prolific blooms. Fish emulsion works too. Due to top dressing, I dissolve this in water then apply.

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The blooms are worthy of a closer look.

Containers

Plastic pots or clay pots? Everyone has their favorite, but for me, it seems that the plastic pots work best for African violets. Plastic because the temperature and moisture levels of the soil will stay more uniform. Terra cotta pots are porous, and the sides can become cool as moisture evaporates through the clay. Some plants don’t appreciate that.

You Can Grow That  soule-grow-arizona

I do hope that with these tips you will feel inspired and adventurous enough to add an African violet or two to your home. The plants are pretty, plus in exchange for a little care they reward you with charming blooms, help clean the household air, and release oxygen. What’s not to like?

For More About Houseplants

I offer an online class on the topic Houseplants for the Southwest which includes a three part video, a care sheet, and an extensive plant list.  

As always, Enjoy!

Jacqueline

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soule-southwest-gardenMore about growing colorful flowers (outdoors) every month of the year in this book: Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press).  This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.

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