How to Care for African Violets – 9 Easy to Complete Steps

African violets are a small, flowering houseplant that comes from tropical East Africa so they love warmth and sun. Whilst some may view African violets as an outdated houseplant, I disagree. They were popularized in the 1960s and 70s but recently have gained new popularity. There’s now a whole range of colors that were previously nonexistent thanks to innovative new growing techniques. 

Personally, I LOVE African violets. Learning how to care for African violets has been challenging and rewarding. But seeing my beautiful baby bloom just makes me so proud!

I’ve had a few wobbles with my care routine, I didn’t know much about African violet care specifically. Since their needs are just a bit different from other plants you grow indoors I’m going to lay out everything I’ve learned from getting things wrong myself and then carrying out my own research on growing these plants.  

Unlike many other indoor plants African violets can flower continuously without a long dormant season – they’re just so handsome and the flowers bloom in so many colors.

Unsurprisingly, this consistent flowering means that African violet indoor care is a touch more hands on as they require bright light and a lot of feeding. 

how to care for african violets

Table of Contents: 

How to Plant the African Violet? 

While you can grow African violets from seed, it’s easier to buy a plug plant (small plants to grow at home) from your local home store or florist shop – they’re quite cheap! The best time to buy them is just as summer is starting to kick in as they grow really during this time. Once you bring them home you can then transfer them into your favorite houseplant pot with a good soil mix.

Many types of potting mixes are available on the market so it’s no surprise that you should be able to find a specialist soil in most garden stores. Personally, I choose to mix my own soil, it’s cheaper and I get complete control of what goes in, but either option is completely fine.

To make your own mix I’d recommend a well-draining compost on the slightly acidic side. Mix regular compost with perlite and coco coir. 

Sustainability tip: avoid soil mixes containing peat which is a great carbon sponge in nature.

Handle the plants with great care as they will be fragile when young.

What Light Requirements Make It Happy?

All different cultivars of African violets require slightly different levels of light so always read any labels that come with the plant. However, a general rule of thumb is the darker foliage plants will need slightly more light than those with lighter leaves. 

These plants thrive best in bright, indirect sunlight. This is light which shines onto the plant but is not bright enough to cast a distinct shadow. 

pink african violet in bright indirect sunlight

If possible, have your African violet near a south facing window where it can receive about eight hours of light each day, this is really important because light affects flowering.

Always remember to rotate your houseplants when you water them – this helps to make sure they grow evenly and don’t fall over. 

One thing that’s not normally talked about is the importance of darkness for your plants, it is important that they have at least eight hours of darkness each day. They use this time for growth and respiration – it’s a bit like going to bed for them. If they don’t get enough darkness their metabolism will be affected and they won’t be able to flower. 

To ensure a good level of flowering try to make sure your African violet plants get enough darkness.

When Should I Water?

When it comes to the question of how to care for African violets one of the most important factors is watering because these plants are very particular (fussy) about how they like it. In the jungle their dark green leaves are sheltered from rain storms and bright light, the inside of your home isn’t quite the environment to which houseplants are adapted. 

Take care to only water the soil and to not get splashes of water on the foliage as it puts the plant at a higher risk of sunburn. 

drops of water on african violet flower
Remember to only water the soil. Excessive water on flowers and leaves invites pests and encourages sunburn.

The roots of African violet plants can only absorb water in small amounts so it’s better to water them frequently in small doses.

It’s important to use lukewarm water as African violets are highly susceptible to water shock from being exposed to more extreme temperatures than it is used to. I would also recommend using rain water or filtered water if you can as the chloramines in drinking water can cause brown spots. 

Water before the soil completely dries out but when it is no longer moist to the touch, I like to use bottom watering as well.

What Are the Humidity Requirements?

African violets will benefit from a pebble tray or humidifier, too little humidity will reduce growth and flowering. 

Don’t mist African violet leaves because they are likely to get mildew, mold or pests.

What you are looking to do here is to simulate the rainforest and jungle type environment that these plants would have thrived in within their natural environment.

Do I Need to Fertilize the African Violet?

There are a number of fertilizers you can use for African violets, but a rule I like to follow is to make sure that the fertilizer has a high phosphorus content. Most fertilizers will have an N:P:K ratio – nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium. For African violets, the middle number needs to be the highest.

Phosphorus is necessary for the production of healthy roots and for the production of bright, happy flowers. 

If your plant appears to have a phosphorus deficiency but you’ve been fertilizing it, the pH of the soil might be too low or too high. A pH imbalance inhibits the plants ability to absorb nutrients from the soil. This is because plant cells take in nutrients from the soil through their roots. A nutrient needs to be broken down in the soil before a plant can use it, nutrients are more available in optimum conditions. Additionally, optimum soil pH aids in proper nutrient cycling which is super important for the long term health of the plant. 

bottle of fertilizer between african violet plants

Solve this problem by using coffee grounds (old ones, if you don’t drink coffee at home you can just ask a coffee shop for them because they just throw them away). Coffee grounds are slightly acidic and will provide nutrients and rebalance the pH too. 

I could go into this much more but I’ll get back to African violet care – if you’re interested in the details, check out this research: Plant science

Is Repotting Necessary?

Repot your African violet plant in the springtime, as they’re more able to cope with change at this point of the year. They’ll usually need a new home every two years. 

When repotting I like to use a well-draining soil on the acidic side. I add perlite and coco coir to mine too. I’d also recommend using a pot that’s only a little bit bigger than the root ball to prevent shock. 

When repotting, check your plant for root rot that can be caused by wet and soggy soil. To solve this, use clean and sharp scissors to cut away the brown, mushy, rotted roots. As you repot your plant make sure the soil is just barely moist to help prevent further rot. 

healthy roots and rotted roots of african violet plant

When Should I Prune?

I like to prune as the flowers die off – I just remove flowers when they start fading. This prevents them from sapping out more energy from the main plant. 

Then, when all of the flowers on a stem are spent, just remove the whole stem by the base of the plant, as this will encourage rapid regrowth.

Apart from deadheading (removing the flowers which are fading) the African violet doesn’t need any pruning as it is a slow-growing, compact plant.

How Can I Propagate African Violets? 

African violet plants can be propagated in a few different ways, the easiest way I have found is just by division. 

My go-to method for propagating is to simply pull the plant in half when I am repotting, or even just to grab a chunk and stick the rest back in the soil. I know it sounds super aggressive and not at all the general advice about being careful and gentle. I do this with all of my plants and I’ve never had an issue.

Just remove as much soil as you can from the root ball and gently tease the roots apart. Then just replant both of the plants in separate pots and they’ll regrow to a bigger size.

Another way to propagate is by taking leaf cuttings, this method is slower but poses a lot less stress to the mother plant. Definitely opt for leaf cuttings if you’re unsure or your plant isn’t healthy. 

The first step is to find a mature leaf and then cut it away from the main plant at a 45º angle.

Then stick the stem in some compost and water it thoroughly.

When plants are little they require more humidity, so try to cover the cutting with a clear plastic bag or an old bottle (just clear plastic of any kind will do the trick) and pop it in a warm spot out of direct light.

In a few weeks you will see new plants growing at the base of the leaf, and when they’re a few inches big you can pot them up.

Can I Diagnose and Solve My African Violets Problems?

You can do everything right and know everything about how to care for African violets but still encounter some problems. Don’t beat yourself up – everyone gets pests sometimes!

No flowersMove your plant closer to the window, more light will help flowering.
Low humidity or a too big pot may also cause problems. Don’t be afraid to downsize your plant pot if needed.
Brown spots on leavesIt’s getting too much direct sunlight; move away from the window.
Long stalks with no flowers It’s not getting enough sunlight. Move it closer to the sun, but not in direct sunlight.
Pale white spots on leavesThe water is too cold when watering – use room temperature water.
Limp and wilted leavesYour plant is getting too much or too little water. Stick to one watering strategy for a few days. If you see no improvement, switch tactics.
Nutrient deficiencies -Potassium deficiency: Yellowing around leaves.
-Phosphate deficiency: Leaf death, green-gray leaves.
PestsThe common pests that African violet owners need to know are aphids, leafhoppers, mealybugs, thrips and powdery mildew. All of these pests and diseases can be dealt with by using a mild dish soap in some warm water to wipe down every stem and leaf of the plant. You can use neem oil too as a natural pesticide.

Caring for Your African Violets

Now you’ve mastered African violet care indoors, try out other cultivars of these gorgeous plants, or challenge yourself to grow some outdoors on a patio or balcony!

Don’t forget these key things, warmth, light and humidity and you’ll have no problems struggling to figure out how to care for African violets. But if you do, just refer back to the table above and hopefully you’ll be able to save your plant (I believe in you!).

Fun tip: for the best value when buying an African violet plant I’d recommend buying them as plug plants (which are just small plants that will grow at home).

Houseplants Always Bring Happiness

When you can have a houseplant as vibrant as the African Violet, why stop there? Take a peek at more of our complete guides below or peruse the whole collection of how-to-houseplant guides here. When you’re ready to get the job started, we’ll make sure you’ve got all the necessary gear to make your houseplanting journey a total success.

Comment below or let us know your thoughts and feedback here. Colorful houseplants are why we love what we do!  

Photo of author
Katie Riggs
Katie’s love of plants began at a young age, in fact it was the first time she went camping and discovered the medicinal wonders of a dock leaf that the fascination with all things botanical took hold. Spending time in nature and frequently visiting the Kew Gardens, she became obsessed with the diversity of plants you could grow at home. Her favorite things to grow are herbs and vegetables outdoors as well as her prized fiddle leaf fig and calathea orbifolia. Hundreds of mistakes later she has become well versed in how not to kill a houseplant. Her passions now involve sharing her love of nature and all things green to help other people keep their plants happy and healthy.

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