One of the most popular posts I have ever written on this blog is this one on how to look after African violets.
I have had a couple of questions from readers of late on how to care for their Saintpaulias, so I thought I'd return to the subject. I recently bought Andy Sturgeon's excellent book on indoor plants, Potted, and loved it all, barring one thing - he includes African violets in his list of plant "pariahs" - the deeply naff species that render you deeply uncool.
I love African violets, though, and my one-woman campaign to rehabilitate the Saintpaulia as a cool plant begins here.
Admittedly there are some rather tasteless confections on the market - I am not a big fan of the pink frilly ones that look like your nanny's knickers. But the deep purple of the classic AV is enchanting, and they look great grouped together, and I like the white ones too. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that one of these plants was the first thing I managed to coax into flowering, aged about 10 or so.
Part of the problem is that while they're pretty easy to grow, unless you do a few easy maintenance tasks, AVs don't stay looking like the plants you take home from the garden centre. I can't remember how many times I have seen a pot crowded full of AVs, usually a parent plant that's grown lots of offshoots - so it looks like a vesuvius of furry leaves.
The flowers are long gone, of course. When offshoots appear, usually from the base of the stem, they should be removed - and preferably potted on to make a new plant. Then there's the problem of overwatering, which tends to be the fate of most houseplants that die. African violets are - duh - from Africa, so they prefer things on the dry side - it's best to let them get completely dry and even a little limp before watering. Head back to my original post for the full monty on AV care.
On to the questions. Bonita Goodman says:
My violet leaves gets to the edge of the pot and then break in the middle. The whole plants seem to take up the pot. The pot is 4 ¾ “across, and it has only bloomed once since I have had it. That was 6 weeks ago. It was in bloom when I brought it home, and I removed the dead flowers when wilted. Should I repot, and if yes, then do I have to use African violet soil?
Not quite sure what Bonita means here, but suspect she's got an overcrowded pot - if there's more than one plant in there, they need separating out. If it's a single plant, however, it can probably stay put as their roots like to be a little bit on the crowded side. Yes, it is wise to remove dead flowers - make sure you pull them off cleanly so no stump is left behind. And African violet compost? Well that's a new one on me, but having Googled it seems such a thing does exist - J Arther Bower sells it for one. I don't think it's necessary - any regular peat-free multipurpose compost that states it's suitable for houseplants will be fine.
Bonnie has another good question:
In reading all the different articles on violets there is no mention of the little tiny black flying bugs I have on my one violet. How can I get rid of them? I think I read one time that you can use soapy water?
Hmm. Very hard to know without seeing the plant, but I think that you may have a case of fungus gnats, little beasties that thrive in damp compost. Fortunately Emma Cooper has a great post on her blog that explains the best way to get rid of this problem - installing a couple of sundews. If, however, it's a case of some blackfly - a kind of black aphid - then yes, a spray with some soapy water would usually do the trick. BUT this is a bad idea for an AV - their furry leaves abhor getting wet and you're likely to end up with a very unhappy plant. The only solution then would be picking off by hand, or brushing off with an old (clean) makeup brush. Hope that helps Bonnie!