Care of African violets depends on a number of different things. Mostly they are just commonsense, and being not very different from what you would expect with any living plant.
There are no magic tricks and no arcane formulae. Anyone can do it.
Every plant has one. Don’t believe that any particular pot is better than any other. African violets can be grown in any form of container so long as it is no larger than around 4 inches (100 mm) across the top and less than that in height. That is for a mature plant. Young plants and smaller ones (miniatures) need correspondingly smaller pots.
The potting mix is just the material in the pot. These days actual soil is not normally used for pot plants, so the mix will have various other components. By far the most important things in the potting mix are air and water. It may seem strange to think of air and water as components of a potting mix but the proportion of these is what makes the mix suitable or unsuitable.
The mix usually has both coarse and fine particles in it. The fine particles help the mix to hold moisture and keep it available to the plant. The coarse particles, by the fact that they cannot fit closely together automatically allow air in the mix. This will help the plant to grow much better, and because it means that it will not be overly wet, thereby helping to prevent rot in the roots. Air around the roots also provides a beneficial amount of oxygen to the plant.
All life needs water. African violets are no exception. The potting mix should be kept evenly moist at all times. It doesn’t matter at all how you do it, just so long as there are no long dry periods allowing the plant to wilt, and no flooding of the root system.
Of all possible methods, and there are many, my preference is for wick watering. With this system it is easier for me as a grower to keep the mix evenly moist, and it allows for me to have days when I cannot deal with plants, and even to go away for a holiday.
These two photographs illustrate what is meant by wick watering. Take a container (it doesn't really matter what it is) and fill it with water. In the pot you need a wick made of synthetic material that goes through the drainhole and makes good contact with the potting mix. Now the pot must be suspended above the water with the wick in the water. If the wick and the potting mix are moist to begin with the water should be drawn up into the pot as it is needed.
Note: The potting mix must be especially porous to use with wick watering.
Just as African violets need moisture, so do they need food. There are many fertilisers that are formulated for growing African violets, but if none of these are available to you then a fertiliser intended to produce flowers or even one intended to produce fruit will do, at least as a temporary. When I first grew African violets I used tomato fertiliser on them. They did fine on it and I got lots of flowers.
If you are wick watering, a liquid fertiliser is ideal as it allows you to always fill the wick watering reservoirs with a dilute fertiliser solution. And dilute is the operative word. Less is better than more when fertilising.
Plenty of light is crucial to success with African violets. Dedicated growers use artificially lit shelves where the plants sit only 10 inches (approx 25 mm) below the fluorescent lights. Not so well set up as that? Just keep your plants near a window where they will get 10 to 12 hours of bright indirect light each day. A little early morning sun will help and a little sun during winter will be good. The brilliant light of a hot summer afternoon may burn the leaves and flowers, however.
If an African violet is refusing to flower, the first thing to look at is light. Too little light and they will look pale and sickly with long thin stems and small leaves. Too much light and you might burn the leaves. Just right and should have a reasonably flat plant with lots of flowers.
No plant can do well if it isn’t healthy. Attention to the points above will help to keep the plants healthy. So will keeping the plant as clean as possible by brushing off any dust or dirt and removing all spent flowers and old or damaged leaves.
Other problems can occur, however. Bugs of various kinds can attack and there is the possibility of disease. We all hope these things won’t occur but they do. Always treat problems the moment you become aware of them. The first thing to do is to remove the infected or infested plant away from others to minimise any contamination.
The care of African violets isn’t hard. In fact it’s a pleasure. What could be better than spending a few moments each day looking at something beautiful? Above all, do enjoy your African violets.
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There are a number of articles on this site to help in caring for African violets. New material will be added from time to time.
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