African violets are one of the great divas of any garden in which they take up root. As with so many divas, they’re fussy and demanding enough to leave their handlers perpetually on the point of exasperation. On the other hand, as with any great diva, they know how to bloom into beauty and really put on a show when given the chance.
Of course, whether yours ever get that chance is another matter. African violets can be hard to grow and maintain compared to other violets, let alone other garden mainstays.
This doesn’t mean that they aren’t well worth it, however, so let’s take a closer look at this exotic hothouse beauty, what makes it grow, what causes it to droop, and how you can make this plant prima donna give your garden a little pop.
Intro to African Violets
Just as their name implies, these violets are native to Africa. They were first introduced into the US in the 1890s, and since then have become favorite flowers for gifts on Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day.
African violets, which are also known as Saintpaulia, face something of a Catch-22 in terms of their worldwide flourishing. While in captivity it continues to be one of the most popular houseplants for gifting across the globe, several subspecies in the wild face varying degrees of endangered status due to deforestation in Africa.
Places such as Tanzania and Kenya, where these flowers first originated and flourished, now see human activity leaving these natural treasures critically endangered.
Despite the name, African violets are different from “true” violets, which are a different genus, Viola.
African violets can reach between 6 and 15 centimeters tall, with leaves being rounded and oval-shaped at around 2 to 3 centimeters in diameter. They feature five-lobed petals, with the flower featuring a unique fuzziness.
How African Violets Grow
Before we get into what can go wrong with African violets (and there’s a lot), let’s first look at how things can go right. What do you need to do to make sure that your African violets grow well?
Some of the most important factors to consider here include:
1 – Soil Quality
In order to get the most out of your African violets, you’ll need to make sure that they are in soil that is nice and moist. On the other hand, there’s a big difference between wet and soggy, and you need to make sure that you avoid the latter.
Inspect the soil for yourself, and only water the plant when it feels dry to the touch. Avoid watering the leaves, however, as doing so can cause them to start spotting.
2 – Proper Lighting
Prima donnas may demand the spotlight and insist that they never be left in the shade, and that’s true of African violets as well. Remember that they are used to growing in a climate that’s often quite sunny and warm, so you’ll need to replicate those conditions to get the most out of these flowers.
In order to do that, you may need to turn to fluorescent lights if you are growing your African violets indoors, or else ensure that they get plenty of sunlight outside. That said, you don’t want to fry these delicate flowers to a crisp, either, so while they need plenty of natural or artificial light, you may want to make sure that it is somewhat filtered.
3 – Water
Just as divas need things “just so,” the same is true with your African violets and water. Giving them even a little too much or too little can cause big problems, as demonstrated below, so you’ll want to make sure that they get just the right amount at exact intervals.
Speaking of moisture, these plants grow in tropical, humid parts of Africa. You may not be able to recreate an African rainforest in your home, but you may still want to consider getting a humidifier or something else to help keep your African violets at the proper humidity.
Finally, you’ll want to be extra careful when watering them to make sure that you don’t accidentally drown them. Use tepid or lukewarm water that’s neither too hot nor too cold, water them near the base, and make sure that they never dry out or are left standing in water.
4 – Fertilizer
Only the best for a diva. African violets are at their best when you eschew normal fertilizers and instead look to specialty options that best emulate or improve upon their native growing conditions. Fertilizers that work best typically have a greater phosphorus number than normal ones.
You can mix them with water to use them at one-quarter strength. If the flower or leaves start to lose some of their coloring, it’s a pretty sure sign that they aren’t getting enough fertilizer.
Why African Violets May Not Bloom
There are several reasons why your African violets may not be flourishing the way you had hoped, not the least of which being a bad watering routine. As mentioned, African violets are already finicky plants that require a lot of close attention and care, and so “the same old same old” so far as your watering routine simply won’t do.
If you notice your African violets’ leaves drooping, chances are that you have a major blooming problem on your hands. For example, if the soil is too dry, the leaves are certain to start drooping as they lack the necessary moisture to stay healthy.
On the other hand, as mentioned, for as much water as these plants may need and as moist as the soil should be, you cannot leave the latter soggy or the former drowning in water, either. As such, you cannot overdo it with your watering routine.
Doing so will make the roots wet and drowned, which in turn can lead to root rot and fungal infections, causing your African violet to droop.
Root and crown rot themselves are caused by Pythium ultimum, which is a fungus which results from overwatering. You can notice this happening as the crown and roots of your plant start to turn dark while the leaves wilt.
Even before things get that far, you may notice this taking place if you see your plant starting to become limp and stunted with leaves turning black and dying.
Finally, there is the prospect of “fertilizer scorching,” also known as “fertilizer burn,” in which the salts included in fertilizer are present to such an extent that they scorch the plant and, rather than help it grow, start to kill it.
This can also lead to the fertilizer causing petiole rot, which happens when petioles come into contact with the edge of the pot in which you’ve planted your African violets.
Excessive light can also be a problem, causing leaves to curl or droop downward, turn yellow or brown, or even develop scorch marks.
As with many plants, African violets are also susceptible to powdery mildew due to fungal infections.
Finally, they are likewise prone to cyclamen mites.
What You Can Do About it
To deal with the last potential cause of African Violets drooping first, you should immediately isolate cyclamen mites; otherwise, they can and will spread, and wreak havoc with all your other plants.
Infested plants are very hard to treat and may need to be thrown out entirely, with the best bet being chemical sprays such as Difocol or, if you’re going for an all-organic garden, insecticidal soaps.
To tackle root rot, you’ll need to make sure that soil is dry to the touch before you add more water so as to avoid overwatering your plant. Again, you want to avoid using cold water since this can cause problems for African violets’ cells.
You can technically water these plants from the top or the bottom, but if you choose the former, again, you need to make sure that you don’t get any on the leaves given the damage that can do to them. On the other hand, if you choose to water them from the bottom, add about an inch of water.
You can also try putting water into a saucer beneath the plant and add a bit every few days so as to allow the dirt to become saturated and thus the plants’ roots to soak up the moisture as they would naturally in the wild.
Try to use sterilized soil mixes so as to mitigate the potential for infection, and make sure that you are planting and potting your plants in clean containers. If you choose to use a self-watering planter pot, you’ll want to keep an eye on the reservoir.
In the case of petiole rot, you’ll want to wax the rim of the pot or cover it with aluminum foil.
To prevent fertilizer burn, you’ll want to make sure to feed your African violets sparingly. They only need a little bit, so give them small amounts at short intervals.
African violets may be demanding floral divas, but by dealing with causes of drooping, you can make sure that they stay brilliant enough to remain the stars of the show in your gardens.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.