African violets are popular, simple-to-care-for indoor houseplants. While some cultivars can be white, pink and fuchsia, the plant is traditionally blue-violet with dark green hairy leaves. They flower throughout most of the year and can be propagated easily through cuttings. The plants are vulnerable to common garden pests, but infestations can be controlled with manual and chemical controls.
If you notice that your plant has stunted growth, especially leaves, then pests may be the culprit. Discoloration of foliage is another sign of damage, including grayish or yellowing leaves and spots that look like rust and silvery streaks. Other signs of leaf damage include wilting, brittleness, curling and the appearance of a shiny, sticky substance. Pest can also affect bud development. Buds may be misshapen or fail to open.
Mites, small arachnids that are related to spiders, are among the most damaging pests. Cyclamen mites feed on new growth in the plant’s crown leading to stunted development. They are too tiny to be seen with the naked eye, so look for them using a magnifying glass. If infestations of cyclamen mites go unchecked they will eventually kill the plant after leaves and flower buds die. Mealybugs and aphids suck the sap of African violets and leave behind honeydew, a sticky substance that is a host for mold and attracts ants. Mealybugs are small cottony looking insects with soft wax-covered bodies. Aphids are pear-shaped, can be a number of colors, and may be winged or unwinged. They populate the underside of leaves in large colonies, and they can carry viruses that infect plants. Thrips are small slender pests that are yellowish with brown spots. They feed on leaves and flowers.
For light infestations, you can wash plants with insecticidal soap to remove the pests. Natural spray oils available in garden stores may also help. If damage is more severe, you may have to resort to using broad-spectrum insecticides. Use insecticides that damage the nervous system of insects, such as those containing spinosad and malathion. Plants with severe infestations should be removed and destroyed.
Arrange potted African violets so they are not crowded or touching each other to prevent pests from traveling and infecting multiple plants. Isolate infected plants for treatment. If infestations are severe, discard the plant, and thoroughly clean the pot using a bleach solution before reusing. Inspect plants at least once a week for signs of damage and infestations.