March 2022 Plant of the Month from our monthly newsletter:  “African Violets”

Let’s take a moment to appreciate what is still the most popular flowering houseplant in the United States even after all of these years: the good old “African violet”. Known botanically since its discovery over 150 years as Saintpaulia ionantha, it has very recently been reclassified as a member of the genus Streptocarpus 🙄. However classified, it’s an indoor classic for a reason: beautiful flowers in an array of colors, that can be produced year-round when happy. Despite images of dark African jungles, African violets want more light than many people imagine. Full sun in winter is absolutely fine when days are short and the sun is week—just be sure to move them to morning sun (only) by the first day of spring (late March). Stick with morning sun all spring summer and autumn, then move them back to full indoor sun by late autumn. African violet leaves should lay flat against the soil—it the leaves are reaching up, they want more light. African violet flowers appear from newly formed leaves, so the key to flowers is new growth. That means plenty of light, plenty of fertilizer, and re-potting into fresh potting mix once or twice a year (anytime but winter). Once a plant has reached the maximize size you want, you can un-pot it, slice off the bottom inch of roots and soil with a bread knife (for garden use only, please), plop it back in the same pot, and put new potting mix on the TOP, where new roots will form on the newly buried neck. African violets are surprisingly juicy and succulent, so let their soil get lightly dry between watering.   Besides being easy to grow, they’re easy to propagate too: just snap off or cut off a leaf with some stem (technically a petiole since it’s attached to a leaf) and root in water (putting foil on top of a small glass of water then poking a hole in it with a pencil makes it easy to keep the leaf positioned nicely). When roots are an inch long, plant the rooted leaf in potting mix (try to angle it somewhat similar to how African violet leaves grow on the plant) and in a month or two baby plants will emerge from the soil. When they’ve reach a good size, separate them into individual plants and grow just like the parent plant. Easy! The number one reason African violets don’t flower is insufficient light, so if that’s the case slowly move yours to more light. Prize-winning African violets are often grown under artificial “plant lights” so that’s also an option. I hope you’ll give these flowering houseplant elders a try and let me know how they do for you. Happy gardening! Grant

Submitted by Member and Club President (2020-2022) Grant Meyer