Since it was discovered by Baron Walter von Saint Paul in Africa about a century ago, the African violet has become one of the most popular flowering houseplants. There are thousands of varieties of Saintpaulia, as it is known botanically. Those with purple blossoms and flat, slightly fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves are the most familiar, but their flowers can also be white, mauve, pink, magenta and single, double, or frilled; leaves may be variegated, serrated, velvety, or smooth.
Growing African Violets
African violets can bloom all year and are not difficult to grow, but they are a little fussy about their conditions. Most often, if an African violet isn't flowering, it isn';t getting enough light. The plant needs a lot of light throughout the day but can't take hot, direct sun, which can scorch the leaves and blooms. Indirect or filtered sun is ideal, as are fluorescent grow lights. African violets like the same temperatures most people do: Between 70°F and 75°F is best, so in the winter, make sure the violets are not in a drafty window.
Keep the soil moist, but do not overwater. Water can mark the leaves and flowers, so you may want to water from the bottom: Stand the pot in a saucer of room-temperature water for about 1/2 hour to let it soak up moisture. Over time, this method can cause salts to accumulate in the top layer of soil, so water from the top occasionally. Feed the plant regularly with liquid houseplant fertilizer. Use a light, porous, sterilized potting mix, and don't repot the plants until they really need it-African violets bloom best when they are somewhat pot bound.
Propagating African Violets
African violets are also very easy to propagate from leaf cuttings. Use a soilless mix of 3 parts peat moss, 2 parts vermiculite, and 1 part perlite. If you don't make your own mix, Pro-mix is a good substitute. Insert the cutting so that the leaf is anchored in the soil, and you'll begin to see small roots in about 3 weeks.
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