It’s no surprise that African violets are called America’s favorite houseplant. These pink, white, and lavender beauties blossom all year round and thrive with relatively little maintenance.
African violets are generally hardy and healthy, but they aren’t immune to infection by pesky insects and illnesses.
Infestations on your beloved blooms can range from light to heavy, and the effects that they have can be mild, severe, or even fatal to your plant.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the most common African violets diseases and problems, including appropriate remedies for every condition. Read on to keep your plants safe, healthy, and pest-free!
Here are the most common bugs, fungi, and illnesses that affect African violets as well as the ways how you can prevent and treat them:
Do you keep spotting small and cotton-like specks on your leaves, with no idea what they are? Well, chances are you have a mealybug infestation on your African violets
Mealybugs are small insects frequently found on the stems, leaves, and leaf crotches of plants. Their tender bodies can range from 1/16 inch to ¼ inch in size.
These insects’ bodies are coated with a white and waxy substance, making them resemble cotton. They suck on your plant’s sap and leave a sticky and sugary trail on the leaves in the process.
To prevent mealybugs from infesting your garden, always inspect new plants thoroughly to make sure they don’t have mealybug eggs. African violets are particularly vulnerable to two types of mealybugs: citrus mealybugs and Comstock mealybugs.
Severe infestations can cause distorted leaves, stunted growth, and even plant death. If you notice any of these symptoms on your plant, isolate it from the other plants immediately.
To treat a minor infestation, simply dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and touch the insects with it. Rinse with lukewarm water and repeat, taking care not to leave any residual water on the plant.
Major infestations might require the use of insect sprays containing acephate or malathion. Strictly follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use to avoid damaging your plant or harming your health.
Cyclamen mites are even smaller than mealybugs, which makes them hard to spot without the aid of a magnifying glass. They’re minuscule arachnids with eight legs, and bodies that measure only 1/100 inch when fully grown.
These mites come in brown, white, or yellow colors, and they thrive in high humidity and cool temperatures. Cyclamen mites hide from the light and tend to attack the plant’s leaf folds or crown first.
Despite their small size, cyclamen mites are considered the most dangerous of mites that infest African violets. Symptoms such as stunting of leaves, leaf curling, hairy and grayish leaves, or misshapen buds indicate the presence of these pests.
To prevent the spread of cyclamen mites on your plants, separate new or infected plants until you’re certain that they have no mites in them. Spacing apart your plants also prevents contamination.
For infected plants, take them outdoors during mild temperatures and spray with a miticide, such as Dicofol. Some products need to be sprayed three times every four days.
You can also choose to spray neem oil on your infected African violets. Neem oil serves as an organic pesticide and fungicide, repelling the cyclamen mites and disrupting their feeding process.
Thrips are yellow or brown insects that measure 1/50 inch in size. The species of thrips that commonly attacks African violets is called Western flower thrip.
One of the telltale signs of a thrips infestation is yellow pollen spilling from the anthers and onto the petals of your plants. This is the result of thrips feeding on your flowers’ pollen and spreading them out in the process.
Thrips also leave gray or silver streaks on the underside of your plant’s leaves. These insects suck and scrape the leaves of your violets, causing distorted growth.
When handling your African violets, make sure you have clean hands and clothes. Additionally, you need to keep pets that have been wandering outdoors away from your plants to prevent infestation.
In treating infected plants from thrips, it’s best to use household insect sprays that have acephate in them. Check to see if a particular product is suitable for African violets first before using it, as some sprays have additives that can damage the plant’s leaves.
Neem oil is an organic alternative to using chemical treatments on your plants. However, it may not be effective enough to completely and permanently wipe out all thrips.
Removing your African violet flowers and buds is another step you can take to eliminate thrips. Without these parts, the thrips won’t have anything to feed on and will eventually disappear.
Another common pest that likes to attack African violets is aphids. These insects have long legs and antennae, and may or may not have wings.
Aphids’ pear-shaped bodies can be green or brown and are ⅛ of an inch in size. They like to gather on the underside of leaves, leaving behind a sticky material called honeydew.
Honeydew often causes a dark and powdery fungus called sooty mold to appear on the plant as well. On top of that, honeydew attracts ants, which can cause further damage to your plants.
To prevent aphids from causing severe damage to your African violets, immediately isolate plants that show signs of infestation. Fortunately, you can easily treat light infestations by dabbing rubbing alcohol on the insects and using it to wipe off the honeydew.
Don’t forget to thoroughly rinse out the alcohol from your plant with lukewarm water afterward. An alternative to this method is using mild dish soap to wash off the aphids.
Mix two teaspoons of mild dish soap with a gallon of lukewarm water, and use a brush or a piece of cloth to clean the leaves before rinsing thoroughly. Avoid using harsh soaps, like laundry detergent, as these might damage your plant’s leaves.
Commercial plant sprays and insect formulas are also good options for eliminating aphids from your African violet. Just be sure to use the right product and test the spray on a small area first to ensure that it doesn’t burn or damage the leaves.
In addition to pesky insects, another common problem for African violets is root rot. The culprit behind pythium root rot is a fungus called Pythium ultimum.
This fungi species thrives in unsterilized and wet soil with inadequate drainage. This type of root rot also occurs in plants that are watered excessively.
The main symptoms of Pythium root rot include wilted, falling, and yellowing leaves. You’ll also notice your plant’s crown turning gray and the stems slowly rotting.
You can prevent root rot from infecting your African violets by planting them at the right depth and using sterilized pots and soil mixes when planting. Additionally, make sure that the soil of your plant is well-draining.
To avoid overwatering your plant, insert your finger one or two inches into the soil to see if it’s thoroughly dry before watering. Frequently moist soil is a breeding ground for root rot, so make sure that your soil dries completely between watering sessions.
Because your African violet’s roots are hidden from sight, Pythium root rot can be challenging to spot early. Usually, when symptoms show on the leaves and stems, the disease has already spread.
The best thing to do for a severely affected plant is to throw it away, including its soil. You can save lightly affected plants by removing the rotting parts, dusting them with sulfur, and repotting them in sterilized soil.
The presence of the Oidium fungus causes powdery mildew to appear on your beloved African violets. Environments with high humidity, poor air circulation, or sudden temperature changes are the breeding ground of this fungus.
As its name implies, you’ll spot gray or white powder evenly covering an infected plant’s leaves and flowers. Other symptoms include discoloration of blooms, falling of flowers, and the plant’s stunted growth.
To prevent this disease, keep your plants spaced apart to enhance airflow. For high-humidity environments, you may use an electric fan to help circulate air.
If possible, keep your African violets in areas with a constant temperature. Use clean hands, clothes, tools, and pots when handling your violets as well.
The first step in treating a plant with powdery mildew is to isolate it from the rest. Then, use a mixture of one teaspoon of baking soda and one quart of water to coat the plant.
Another option is to spray a teaspoon of laundry bleach mixed with one liter of water to eliminate the disease on your plant. You can opt for commercial fungicides specifically developed to treat powdery mildew, too.
An African violet’s leaves can turn light green when it’s receiving too much light. Overexposure to direct sunlight dehydrates your plant and causes it to absorb excessive energy.
As a result, the leaves experience discoloration, which is more commonly known as bleaching. Excessive light also causes chlorophyll destruction and hinders your plant from performing photosynthesis properly.
On the other hand, too little light is also damaging to African violets. This causes their leaves to become unusually dark green and surprisingly thin. Their leaf stems will also become leggy and no new flowers will appear.
Aside from turning light green, African violet leaves can also appear yellowish in color. In some instances, the yellowing is part of a normal process.
Lower leaves on an African violet can turn yellow as they age, die, and eventually fall off.
However, if healthy and young leaves of the plant become yellow, it might be an indication of the following issues:
- Excessive moisture or water on the leaves
- Extremely hot or cold water temperatures
- Nutrient deficiency, specifically Zinc, Iron, or Magnesium
- Dry air or low humidity levels
If you notice a healthy African violet’s leaves start to turn pale green, consider improving the plant’s lighting conditions.
Generally, African violets need at least eight hours of indirect sunlight and eight hours of darkness per day to thrive.
Choose a spot that’s a few feet away from a sunny southeast or west-facing window to position your violet. A sheer curtain can help you maintain the right amount of sunlight and prevent your plant from overexposure.
For areas with insufficient light, you can use artificial lighting to supplement the amount of light that your plant is receiving. Grow lights and LED lights with the right intensity can provide your plant with the light that it needs to photosynthesize properly.
African violets thrive when their roots are in a slightly bound condition. Thus, there’s no need to transfer your plant right away when it starts to outgrow its container.
However, being extremely root bound isn’t good for your African violet, either.
A good rule of thumb is to transplant your violets when they’ve doubled or tripled the size of your container, and if their leaves start wilting.
When you notice your violet developing long and leafless stems or roots that escape drainage holes, it may be time for a repotting session.
Repotting doesn’t just give your violet additional space to grow. It also rejuvenates your plant with a fresh batch of nutrient-rich soil.
1 – Start by loosening your plant from the pot. You can do this by sliding a knife around the edges of the pot or lightly tapping its sides.
Then, take hold of your violet at its base and gently remove it from the pot.
2 – Next, carefully clean the root ball by softly brushing, raking, or removing the loose soil with your hands. Use a knife to cut off mushy or black sections of the root ball as well as any wilted and brown leaves you can find.
You can also propagate your African violet by dividing it into several foliage clusters. Only do this if your plant has grown multiple crowns.
3 – Now, it’s time to prepare your pot! Note that the ideal container size for African violets is ⅓ of the diameter of their entire leaf spread.
Use a clean clay, ceramic, or plastic pot and fill it halfway with fresh potting soil that’s suitable for African violets.
4 – Make a small indentation on the soil and gently position the root ball on top.
5 – Lastly, add more soil to cover the root system up to the plant’s leaf base. Lightly pat down the soil for stability.
Now that you’re aware of the most common African violets diseases and problems, nothing can stop you from protecting your blooms and nursing them back to health when they’re infected.
Always remember to keep a watchful eye on your plants and periodically check the undersides of their leaves for any critters that might be lurking underneath.
Additionally, don’t forget to isolate and treat an African violet once you spot the early signs of an infestation.
With the right soil, water, lighting, and pest-free conditions, your African violets will survive and thrive for many years. All it takes is a little TLC for these beauties to liven up your life and home.
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.