African violets not as tough to take care of as you may think

I received an African violet as a gift and am terrified I’ll kill it (it already looks kind of wilted).

Do you carry self-watering African violet pots? I read up about watering them from the bottom, and will probably keep it somewhere out of the direct sun, but don’t know much about babying them. Anything you can tell me will help. I have a phobia about them, knowing that they tend to be picky.

— Jennifer

Actually, you shouldn’t be that terrified of African violets. They have this reputation for being fussy, demanding plants and though they do have their quirks, they’re really not all that hard to take care of.

African violets like pretty bright, indirect light. They’re not that tolerant of direct sun (their leaves will burn), but the more light you give them the better they’ll bloom.

They’re surprisingly tolerant of low light areas, but they won’t bloom as well even though the plant will do OK.

African violets are pretty heavy feeders so do a consistent job of fertilizing them. Though there are a lot of specialty fertilizers out there, any good general purpose houseplant fertilizer will work fine. Just follow the label directions for how often to fertilize.

Soluble fertilizers such as Miracle-Gro or Jack’s should be done every week or two (certainly not less than once a month). Slow-release fertilizers such as Osmocote and fertilizer spikes will vary on their makeup so, again, read the label and apply accordingly.

Far and away the most common reason people have problems with their African violets is watering improperly.

African violets aren’t drought-tolerant at all, so you can’t let the soil go too dry or you can run into problems. However, the most common problem I see is from people overwatering their plants. The plant has a fat, succulent base and it will rot if the soil is kept too wet. This “middle ground” of watering isn’t that hard to hit, you just need to be aware of it.

Before I talk more about watering, let me state for the record that I hate those “self-watering” African violet pots. I hate them, I hate them, I hate them.

People like them because they’re pretty easy at first, but eventually I almost always see problems develop. I like keeping African violets in a regular flowerpot with drainage holes. When you buy an African violet, that’s the type of pot the plant comes in, and I think the greenhouse grower who produced it knows what the plant needs.

When you water, soak the potting soil thoroughly so that water drains out of the bottom. You can put the pot in the sink and fill the pot with water two or three times. Then, stick your finger into the soil every day or two to monitor the moisture. As the soil starts to show a bit of dryness, it’s time to water again and be sure to soak it well.

People think you have to keep water off of the foliage. That’s part of the rationale for the self-watering pots. Getting water on the leaves can sometimes cause pale spots. This isn’t the end of the world. The plant is not going to die.

But the reason the leaves spot isn’t because of water. It’s because of temperature. Cold tap water is what causes the spotting. When you water, make sure the water is tepid, about room temperature, and you shouldn’t have problems with leaf spotting.

See, African violets aren’t so scary after all.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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