Saintpaulia African Violet; 13°C/55°F; Central Africa

The man who first set eyes on some scruffy little violet-like plants in what was Tanganyika could not possibly have realized what a startling discovery he had made. Countless millions are produced by the commercial growers annually, and countless millions more are raised by almost everyone who has a windowsill and an interest in these amazing plants. The numerous varieties come in single- or double-flowered forms, the violet-shaped flowers ranging from white through shades of pink, red, purple and blue. Leaves are almost round in shape, light or dark green according to the variety, and are covered in fine hairs. There are also varieties with leaves that are cristated, waved and what have you, but most are as described.

Leaves that are fresh, of good colour and generally sound will root with little bother in small pots filled with a peat and sand mixture. They can be rooted in water, but the soil mixture method is best. A small, heated propagating case will speed the rooting process, as will treating the ends of the cuttings with rooting powder. When little bunches of leaves have formed at the base of the leafstalk (don’t poke about in the soil, they will come naturally in their own good time!) the plant should have all the mixture gently teased away and the young plantlets can then be gently separated and planted up individually in shallow pans of peat and sand. When of reasonable size, pot them in soilless mixture individually, and keep them in the propagator if possible until they have become established. Treated in this way plants of more attractive appearance will result-it will take longer to get plants of any size but they will show off their flowers very much better.

Saintpaulias are best grown in a peat-based soil; they must have adequate light, and this will mean the light windowsill during the day (but shaded from sun scorch) and going underneath a light of some kind in the evening during winter. Placing plants on a bed of moist pebbles will help to provide the essential humidity and they should ideally be watered with tepid, rather than cold water. Keep water off leaves and flowers – it is usually best to stand the plant in a saucer of water and allow it to draw up all that is required by capillary action.

Established plants will benefit from feeding with a balanced liquid fertilizer. But if plants produce lots of lush leaves and seem reluctant to flower it may help if the fertilizer normally used is changed to a tomato fertilizer. Use the latter at weak dilution and feed with a weak dose fairly often – every week – rather than give heavy doses occasionally.

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