African violets

African violets dress up a windowsill.

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Interest in African violets has been on the uptick for the past couple of years. Whether it’s the renewed appeal of house plants in general, or because violet breeders are introducing new colors and styles or larger flowers, African violets are ready to enjoy another moment in the sun.

Usually people fall in love with African violets for one reason: Those pretty blooms. And the colors are charming — all shades of purple from dark to light, pinks from baby soft to bright fuschia and whites, then details such as splotches, splashes, dots and contrasting and ruffled edges.

Like most house plants, African violets require some care to keep them blooming and in good shape. First, when you bring a new African violet — or any house plant into your home, isolate it from other plants. You want to be sure you aren’t bringing home “riders” — insects like thrips that can quickly spread to other plants. If you notice what looks like flour or powdered sugar on plant foliage, lightly blow on it, and you’ll see it move. Those are thrips. Remove blossoms and repot the plant in fresh new potting soil. (Thrip lay eggs in the top layer of soil.)

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African violets need the right growing medium, pot size and maintenance to thrive. Plants require 12 to 14 hours of uniform light (not direct sunlight) and about six hours of total darkness out of each 24-hour period. Protect violets from heat, cold drafts and freezing. Temperatures should be between 65 and 80 F and humidity from 40 to 60 percent. When temperatures dip into the 60s or lower, plants stop growing. Temps below 50 are fatal to African violets.

Water with room temperature water, not cold. Softened water will kill violets. Use the finger-tip method to check dryness: poke a finger into the soil to the first or second knuckle. If it feels dry, water. Let the water run out the drainage hole, and don’t let plants sit in water. Many growers recommend setting up a consistent watering system such was wicking or capillary matting.

Use a 15-30-15 fertilizer or violet fertilizer, about 1/4 teaspoon to one gallon of water, for watering plants. Don’t use a fertilizer high in urea nitrogen, which can harm African violets.

Understand the difference between transplanting and repotting. Transplanting is moving the violet into a larger pot. Violets should be in pots that are 1/3 the diameter of the plant and never larger than a 4-inch pot. African violets grow best with their roots in tight spaces.

Repotting is removing old potting soil and replacing it with fresh. African violets should be repotted every six months, according to violet experts. Use an African violet soil mix or make one containing perlite, vermiculite and good quality peat moss.

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