We’ve all, at one time or another, heard suggestions or advice about how best to grow African violets. Maybe you heard that the leaves should never ever get wet or that they don’t like to sit in water. Maybe your grandmother told you to always use good, dark garden dirt or put the plant in an east window. There have been so many years of misinformation and old wives’ tales about these plants that it’s difficult to convince new growers that these are actually super tough little plants.
I have seen violets that are on death’s doorstep from neglect and lack of water. There’s a long leafless stalk, several rows of crispy, dead leaves and then, at the tippy top is a little crown of 3 tiny, green leaves. (If there’s still green, it ain’t gone yet!) It’s possible to have this same, sorry plant perched happily on a show table in less than 5 or 6 months. Yes, it’s possible! I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve even been known to have this same thing happen to me with my own plants. I don’t make a habit to neglecting them, of course, but with hundreds of plants, sometimes one slips through the cracks.
But if there is just one single most important aspect, it’s water. They will die overnight if they are drowned, have waterlogged soil or have water in the crown. They rot quickly if attention isn’t paid to the watering. Yes, the soil is very important, but violets can grow in many different types of media. It’s the water that matters, though. By tweaking the water amount and methods of administering it, we can still grow a pretty violet in less than ideal soil. I’m of the opinion that if you can master the art of proper watering, you can keep an African violet alive forever. (Seriously, I have no idea why one would die if given good care.)
Of course good care goes beyond water, and it is true that most serious show growers will dote on their plants throughout the year. But no one can convince me that these plants aren’t fighters. I’ve seen great plants grown in all sorts of different media, getting different types of lighting or fertilizers. It has proven to me over the years that everyone can use different products, different supplies, give the plants different care and yet still have pretty plants that are happy and blooming – and winning awards at shows!
The bottom line is that there is no single best way to grow these plants. There is no single magic soil recipe written in stone that you must follow in order to get on a show table. There is no single best fertilizer or lighting requirements. Many different combinations of these work just fine, and the journey of finding your own way is fascinating and fun. Yes, you will lose some plants. Yes, you will make mistakes along the way. It’s ok! We all have! Don’t be afraid to try something new if it will be more convenient for you to care for your plants. For example, I don’t mix my own soil. If I had to buy huge bags of components and mix them all together like a chemist, I’d be forever putting if off until next week! I need a quicker, easier way, so I simply buy premixed soil from a violetry. So, don’t be discouraged if one grower swears by a certain method that you think sounds like way too much work to be enjoyable. We all have our limits, and each of us will find our way to our own best way of growing.