Growing great violets
African violets (Saintpaulia) beguile novice and experienced gardeners alike with their tidy foliage topped by perky sprays of nonstop blooms. Include a violet in your houseplant collection; our basics will help you cultivate a flowering virtuoso. Leaves. Healthy African violet leaves have a shiny tint beneath their hairy exterior and boast a flat crown of foliage. Limp or drooping leaves indicate overwatering or bone-dry soil. Upright leaves are reaching for light. Increase light levels by moving your plants closer to a window or by adding artificial light. Hard, curled leaves in the center of the crown signify cyclamen mite infestation. If you grow other African violets, forget trying to treat it; just toss the plant. It's not worth the possibility of infecting your other plants. Temperature. African violets' origins reach back to East Africa. They like sultry warm days (75?F or higher) and high humidity, paired with nights in the upper 60s. In climates with harsh winters, plants located near windows may show signs of cold damage (brown spots on foliage) or may stop blooming abruptly. Light. Bright, indirect light suits African violets best. A northern or eastern exposure brings the best results. If your light source is a western or southern exposure, hang sheer curtains to filter the strong sunlight in spring and summer. Food. Fertilize monthly with a liquid fertilizer at half strength applied directly to the soil (avoid bottom feeding), or use a specialized African violet fertilizer. Water. African violet aficionados prove as passionate about the topic of watering as they are about the plants themselves. Use room-temperature water to avoid cold-water splashes on leaves, which create splotches. Water plants from the top or bottom, whichever works best for you. Many violet growers prefer using a wick (short nylon cord) inserted through the drainage hole and dangling into a water source. Keep the soil consistently moist. Flowers. Newer African violets should bloom year-round. Typically they have a heavy flush of flowers several times a year; in between, plants bear fewer flowers but still bloom. Flower buds will fail to form when temperatures fall below the mid-60s or when light levels are too low or excessively high.