African violets, also known as saintpaulia, are popular houseplants and in warmer climates, the plants are used in outdoor gardens. African violets are prolific bloomers, often producing flowers throughout the year and they come in a variety of colors. African violets usually require little care after initial planting and will grow and produce flowers in small or large pots. The Plants are native to Africa, more particularly Tanzania and were first introduced to the Western world in the late 19th century.
In the 19th century, Baron Walter Von Saint Paul Illaire, a German officer stationed in Tanzania, discovered and introduced African violets to the world. An amateur botanist himself, Illaire sent samples of the plant home for evaluation. The plants became popular with European gardeners and were soon called African violets due to similarities with true violas and violets.
African violets have a distinct fur or fuzzy pattern on the foliage and grow in a variety of colors and bloom shapes. Depending on the species, African violets can grow in small pots in cluster form or as trailing plants used in borders or hanging baskets. Miniature African violets rarely grow larger than 6 to 8 inches across and larger varieties grow up to 2 feet in diameter, making them a popular choice for garden ground-cover in warmer climates.
African violets require at least 8 hours of light, either natural or artificial, for blooming and optimum growth, but they also need equal amounts of darkness each day and prolonged direct sunlight can damage some species of the plant. African violets need enough water to keep the soil damp, but too much water will hinder growth and possibly produce rot in the plants roots. The best way to avoid damaging African violets with too much water is to only water the plants to keep the soil moist and making sure the plants have proper drainage.
The right soil and fertilizer will help African violets stay healthy and promote flowers. The soil should include a mixture of perlite, moss or other substrate to help with drainage. Fertilizers made for violets, or more specifically African violets are blended to produce healthier plants. When choosing a fertilizer, it’s important to use a water soluble solution for optimum absorption and to prevent burning the plant roots.
African violets are prolific reproducers. The plants can be propagated via leaf cuttings with very good success. Cuttings taken from healthy adult plants and planted in their own pots have very high success and survival rates. The newly planted cuttings will generally become established plants with their own roots systems in about a month.
Some of the most common problems associated with African violets are ones that can be avoided with proper care. Yellow or brown spots may be the result of too much direct light, while limp and droopy plants and fungus are often the result of over-watering or drainage problems. Pest such as mites and mealy bugs are more common in outdoor African violets and if caught early can be remedied with commercial insecticides.