African Violets - Saintpaulia


Streptocarpus ionanthus - Formally known as 'Saintpaulia ionantha'.



Contents

  1. Top Tips
  2. Location, Water, Humidity & Fertilisation
  3. Dormancy Care & Annual Flowers
  4. Common Issues
  5. Origins, Temperature, Propagation, Repotting & Toxicity.


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Top Tips & Info

  • Care Difficulty - Moderate
  • African Violets will require bright, indirect light with a good level of humidity & temperature. Avoid excessive dark locations due to the risk of soil mould.
  • Allow the soil's top third to dry in between waters, reducing this slightly further in the autumn and winter.
  • A good level of humidity and air circulation is crucial for a long-lasting specimen. Be sure to introduce a pebble tray to maintain a reliable level of atmospheric moisture. 
  • During the spring and summer, use either a 'Houseplant' or 'Orchid'-labelled fertiliser at fortnightly intervals. Reduce this to monthly once the growing period is over to replicate its dormancy period. 
  • They won't need frequent repotting, so transplant the specimen into the next sized pot with adequate drainage. We'd recommend a 'Houseplant' labelled potting mix for aeration and drainage reasons. 
  • Keep an eye out for Mealybugs & Scale that'll inhabit the cubbyholes of the foliage and flowers.




Location & Light - 🔸🔸

Provide a location that offers bright, indirect light away from the risk of sun-scorch. Although a splash of morning or evening sunlight is accepted with this species, the risk of dehydration and terminal damage on its foliage is too risky for non-acclimated specimens. 

We'd recommend situating yours within two metres of a window or within a north-facing windowsill. Avoid nearby radiators to downplay dry air. 


Water - 🔸🔸

African Violets are picky creatures. Not only can the amount of both irrigations and frequency hurt your plant, the type and temperature of the water used can also anger it too. During the growing months, allow the top third of the soil dry out between waters, reducing this further in the autumn and winter. To explain this further, here are some ground rules: 

1. Either use fresh bottled water or tap water that has been allowed to sit for at least 24hrs before application. 

2. Never use cold water; make sure it's tepid and try not to wet the foliage or flowers too often. Foliage that has been left saturated for too long (as little as just a few hours) could start to develop rot, whereas the flowers will adopt Botrytis (otherwise known as Grey Mould). Click on this link for more information.

3.  Irrigate using the bottom-up method. Although this isn't mandatory, wetting the foliage unnecessarily could cause basal rot to develop within its cubbyholes. Place the Violet on a plant saucer and fill the bottom quarter of the pot, allowing the plant to soak it thoroughly.

Under-watering symptoms include rapid flower loss and dry, crisping leaves - these issues are commonly down to forgetfulness, too much sunlight or high temperatures. Even though an under-watered Violet is far better than a soggy one, never allow the soil to fully dry out for too long as this could reduce the chance of new buds forming. Over-watering symptoms include rotting lower leaves, yellowing leaves, a loss of buds or flowers and root or crown rot. Allow most of the soil to dry out in between waters and do not allow a pool of standing water accumulate beneath the pot as failure to keep its environment relatively dry will result in plant death.


Humidity - 🔸🔸

Average room humidity is enough to satisfy this plant, as long as you don't live in an overly-dry climate. Never situate it within a few metres of an operating radiator due to the enriched chance of browning leaf-tips. If you are indeed worried about dry air, create a humidity tray to provide a moist and stable environment for your plant, which will also have the added benefit of slowing the rates of drying soil!


Fertilisation - 🔸

We'd recommend fertilising your specimen once every two to four weeks in the spring and summer, and monthly thereafter using a 'Houseplant' or 'Streptocarpus' labelled feed. A general plant fertiliser is acceptable too, but remember to dilute the solution by half to prevent the burning of roots.




Streptocarpus ionanthus




Dormancy Care & Annual Flowers

Provide a bright, and cool autumn and winter period around 15℃  (59℉)  to reinforce its dormancy. Keep the roots pot-bound to add further stress onto the specimen, which in turn will heighten the chance of flowering. Blooms will generally appear in the spring and summer months, during active growth. 

The following steps should be taken from early autumn until the end of winter. 


Sunlight & Location

Be sure to provide a bright location with no direct sunlight; those kept on a north, east or west-facing window is most happy. Avoid deep shade and the use of artificial lighting at night or locations that boast temperatures higher than 18℃  (64℉).


Hydration

Reduce waters so that at least half of the soil becomes dry. It's essential to keep them on the drier side to life, as they'll think that hard times are ahead and therefore will need to pass its genes on to the next generation.


Occasional Feeds

During the autumn and winter, fertilisation should be performed at monthly intervals with a 'Houseplant' or 'Streptocarpus' labelled feed. While the flowers are budding or in bloom, use a Tomato fertiliser to provide fortnightly nourishment of potassium.


Reduce Everything

This is to remind you that everything needs to be reduced - especially the temperature.


Temperature

This is the most significant step; reduce the temperature down by around 5℃ compared to the summertime or place in a room that's between 14º - 17℃  (57º - 62℉). You'll be at a significant disadvantage if the ambient temperature is kept constant throughout the year, as African Violets will only respond in locations that have daily fluctuations of around 5℃. Never exceed the minimum temperature as it may lead to plant death or yellowed foliage at a bare minimum. If these steps are followed successfully, you could see a show of blooms in the following summer - but remember, dealing with nature may not always provide the results you'd relish.




Common Issues with African Violets

Dry soil is can be a big issue with African Violets. Although they can withstand a short-lived drought, persistent dry spells will considerably weaken the plant, potentially causing plant death. Stunted growth and flower loss are the typical signs of under-watering; if it doesn't bounce back after severe wilting, and is sat in overly moist soil for over a week, this could spell the end of its life. Be sure to avoid direct sunlight or extreme temperatures and create a schedule if you're a forgetful waterer.

Green Aphids are also a common issue - small, lime-coloured critters can easily blend in with the foliage, thus leading to rapid infestations. They are most likely to infest the juvenile leaves or the flowers and stalks themselves. Each Aphid can lay up to five or six eggs per day, meaning that an infestation can develop rapidly. The best way to prevent an attack before it becomes a threat is by keeping the windows and doors shut, with regular pest inspections on newly-purchased specimens. Click here to learn more about eradicating Aphids.

Mould developing on the soil means two things - too little light and over-watering. Despite the harmlessness, it'll prove unsightly to most gardeners and is therefore removed once known. To remove, replace the top two inches of the soil for a fresh batch of 'Houseplants' compost. Either increase the amount of light received (no direct sunlight for the first few

A lack of flowers is caused by an insufficient dormancy period, where the temperatures are kept more or less the same over the year. Reduce the temperature by a couple of degrees over the autumn and winter months, along with fewer irrigations to ensure a well-spent dormancy. As spring arrives, the natural temperature will begin to increase, with this is being the perfect time to increase waters and fertilisation. Remember, the warmer the summer days are, the more likely a specimen is to reflower.
While we're on the subject, if you'd like to prolong the flowering period, use a fertiliser high in potassium to promote longer lasting flowers; Streptocarpus Food is an excellent choice. Other tips to extend this period are: avoid temperature fluctuations and droughts, maintain good humidity and place in a well-lit room with little to no direct sunlight.

Failed leaf-cuttings are another common issue among gardeners. Not only does the size of the leaf matter, but the time in which propagation is done can greatly affect the rooting process. Cuttings should only be taken during the spring when the plant is most active. Be sure to use leaves that are at least 5cm in diameter as smaller specimens won't have enough stored energy to re-root. Provide a location that offers an adequate level of humidity and air circulation; you can achieve this by placing the potted cuttings in a transparent bag. Locking in air moisture around the leaf is vital to reduce the amount of water loss caused by respiration. If the cuttings are starting to rot, this is because of not enough light, over-watering or poor air circulation which must be dealt with immediately.




Origins

'Saintpaulia' is a redundant genus in the Gesneriad family, which held around ten species originating from central to south Africa. Within the last decade, all of the species have now been reclassified in neighbouring Streptocarpus. Saintpaulia was first penned in 1892 and named in honour of the district commissioner of Tanga (Kenya), Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire. John Lindley first described Streptocarpus in 1828, using the Greek words' streptos' and 'karpos' in reference to the twisted seedpods when fully matured.


The Distribution of the most popular 'Saintpaulia', the Streptocarpus ionanthus.


Temperature

12° - 30°C  (54° - 86°F)
H1b (Hardiness Zone 12) - Can be grown outdoors during the summer in a sheltered location with temperatures above 12℃  (54℉),  but is fine to remain indoors, too. If you decide to bring this plant outdoors, don't allow it to endure any direct sunlight as it may result in sun-scorch and dehydration. Regularly keep an eye out for pests, especially when re-introducing it back indoors.


Spread

Up to 20cm in height & 35cm in width. The ultimate height will take around five years to achieve.


Pruning & Maintenance

Remove yellow or dying leaves, and plant debris to encourage better-growing conditions. While pruning, always use clean utensils or shears to reduce the chance of bacterial and fungal diseases. Never cut through yellowed tissue as this may cause further damage in the likes of diseases or bacterial infections. Remember to make clean incisions as too-damaged wounds may shock the plant, causing weakened growth and a decline in health.


Propagation

Via Seed, Division or Leaf Cuttings.

Basal Offset Division (Easy) - The ideal time to divide is during the repotting period. Gently tease away some of the soil, and separate a few basal offsets which have its own root system. Place the plantlet in moist 'Houseplant' compost and be sure you don't submerge its leaves or basal cubbyhole into the soil. Keep the soil relatively moist and place it in a bright, indirect location to avoid the risk of dehydration (a common trait of death). This method can be relatively straightforward; however, be mindful of transplant shock, whereby its root systems are severely over-touched, which may result in excessive wilting. 

Leaf Cuttings (Easy to Moderate) - This method of propagation is by far the most enjoyable, and the easiest way to identically duplicate the original plant. High levels of 'Cytokinin' found in the leaves enable them to root and produce new lateral growths along its serrated wounds. Leaves that are at least 5cm long and part of an established plant are most successful. Use clean scissors and cautiously remove closely to the main stem, empathising the simpleness of the wound. Directly cut along the midrib (central column of the leaf) and place this end into the soil.

For its soil, choose a well-draining potting mix, ideally 'Houseplant' compost, but ordinary multipurpose with a splash of perlite is acceptable, too. Place the leaf sections wound-down in around an inch into the soil, applying slight pressure around the base of the leaf for support. Keep the pot in a sealed transparent bag to maintain high humidity and puncture a few small holes for air circulation. Open the bag every couple of days to monitor how the cuttings are performing and to check if the soil needs watering. If propagation is successful, you'll start to see new shoots surfacing the soil line after around eight weeks. Keep growing conditions moist and always avoid direct sunlight - do not let the soil thoroughly dry out or become waterlogged. Once the shoots are big enough to pot on (3 - 5 leaves on each growth), they may be potted up in 'Houseplant' compost or another well-draining potting mix in 7cm pots. Repot as necessary and care in the same way as adult specimens.


A selection of Streptocarpus leaf cuttings.


Flowers

African Violets are perennial, with flowers typically appearing in the spring and summer months. The individual flower can last up to six weeks, with the overall show can last several months. It's heavily important not to allow moisture to sit on the flowers' cubbyholes, as Botrytis Petal-Blight is a serious threat among Violet growers.


Repotting

Repot biannually in spring using either a 'Houseplant', 'Streptocarpus' or 'Gesneriad' labelled potting mix and the next sized pot with adequate drainage holes. African Violets are far better potbound for several years due to the heightened risk of root rot and repotting-issues (like transplant shock), so only repot if you feel it's wholly necessary - restricted root growth will also increase the chance of blooms, too.

Hydrate the plant 24hrs before tinkering with the roots to prevent the risk of transplant shock. For those situated in a darker location, introduce an extra amount of perlite and grit into the deeper portion of the pot to downplay over-watering risks. Click on this link for a detailed step-by-step guide on transplantation, or via this link to learn about repotting with root rot.


Pests & Diseases

Keep an eye out for mealybugs, aphids, scale, fungus gnats, blackfly, vine weevils & root mealybugs that'll locate themselves in the cubbyholes and undersides of the leaves, with the exception of the latter two in the soil. Common diseases associated with these plants are root rot, leaf-spot disease, Botrytis, rust, powdery mildew & southern blight - click here to learn more about these issues.


Toxicity

Not known to be poisonous when consumed by pets and humans. If large quantities are eaten, it may result in vomiting, nausea and a loss of appetite.


Retail Locations

Dobbies,  Dibley's Online Store,  Online Stores.



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