Those of you who have been reading my columns for the past eight years know that I will admit that I have killed a few plants in my day.
It takes time for any gardener to discover which plants work for them, for the soil in their yard, and the particular style of gardening they engage in. The same can be said for growing houseplants. Some folks have indoor jungles, while others have a few bedraggled plants lurking in corners.
While I was successful with a fair number of houseplants, African violets have never thrive in my care. Until now. What has changed? I have no idea. This just proves the old adage, “If first you can’t succeed, try, try again.”
First, the good news. African violets thrive in normal household temperatures. You could keep them outdoors on a shady porch in spring and autumn, but they prefer 65 to 85 degrees.
Now the not-so-good news. African violets come from a humid part of Africa, and thus they do best where the humidity is higher (between 50 and 70 percent) than our average homes (generally 30 percent or less in the Old Pueblo). Books say to increase the local humidity around your plants by placing their pots in trays of pea gravel filled with water. Do not let the pots actually sit in the water, the roots will drown. This works. You can use a tray of decorative marbles or aquarium gravel if you prefer.
African violets do not want direct sunlight ever, so our Arizona windowsills are out, unless you have sills facing due north. Since I have cats, windowsills are out, period. Find a site indoors that is neither too dim nor overly bright.
Soil is important for all plants, but especially African violets. They prefer a porous soil, and cactus mix appears to suit them. Avoid any heavy loam soil even though the label may say it is specifically formulated for African violets. African violet enthusiasts universally endorse light, porous, soil-less or nearly soil-less mixes.
Water your African violet from the bottom. Remember the moist tray for humidity? Make sure it is deep enough that you can add water so the pot has a bare eighth of an inch submerged — but only once a week. Then let the soil dry out. If you don’t go with trays of gravel, at least always water African violets from the bottom.
African violets will bloom best with regular fertilizer in small amounts. Select one that high in phosphorus for more prolific blooms.
Plastic pots or clay pots? Everyone has their favorite, but for me, it seems that the plastic pots work best.
I do hope that with these tips you will feel inspired and adventurous enough to add an African violet or two to your home. The plants are pretty, plus in exchange for a little care they reward you with charming blooms, help clean the household air, and release oxygen. What’s not to like?
As always, enjoy!
Dr. Soule’s book “Father Kino’s Herbs and How to Grow Them Today” has gone to press. The book will be released as part of the commemorative events surrounding the 300-year anniversary of Padre Kino’s passing. For information on how to buy a copy of the book or about the classes I offer in the Tucson area, give me a call at 292-0504. Please leave a voice message.