How to Grow Beautiful African Violets
Violets are beautiful flowers that you will no doubt want to plant in your home garden. Whether you want to cultivate blue, African, or any other variety of violets, you should have a basic comprehension of how to successfully grow the plants. Sowing the seeds is simple, and you should expect a new violet plant to sprout after as little as nine weeks.
Planting African violet seeds requires a basic understanding of the requirements for successful seed germination: light, warmth, and moisture. Sowing seeds is a simple but rewarding process, with new African violet plantlets sprouting as early as 9 weeks.
The following are basic instructions on how to grow plants from African violet seeds. This method of seed sowing can also be used for gloxinia seed, streptocarpus seed, and most other gesneriad seeds.
How to Grow African Violets from Seed
Choosing a Growing Medium – Potting Soil or Soilless Mix
There are many options for seed starting, and you should choose a medium based on your particular growing conditions. The most important consideration is that the surface medium is fine grade and well-aerated. If you live in an area with high humidity you should aim for a lighter mix. One option is to use pasteurized peat moss or milled coconut coir mixed with fine, crushed perlite. You can use commercially available seed starting a mix, but be sure to pasteurize it to reduce the opportunity for molds, fungi, and pests to take hold. Some people have success with 100% fine-grade vermiculite, and many use a combination of peat, perlite, and vermiculite.
Choosing a Growing Container – Open Tray, Closed Propagation Dome, or Mini Greenhouse
The best type of growing container is a shallow one with drainage holes and a clear cover. Large salad bar or take-out containers work well. Holes can be punched in the bottom with an awl or ice pick, drilled with a hand drill, or burned through with a soldering iron. (If you use a soldering iron be sure to have adequate ventilation ~ plastic fumes are toxic.) The container should be large enough to accommodate the number of seeds being planted, so if you are sowing 25 seeds the container should be 10 x 12 in. minimum.
Planting African Violet Seeds (or any Gesneriad Seed)
Thoroughly moisten the growing medium and allow it to drain. It should be moist enough to just hold together when squeezed by hand. It is important that the medium not be too wet since the container will be covered to minimize evaporation. Fill the container with medium to a height of about 2 in. deep. Spray the top of the medium lightly with water. (Now would be a good time to close windows and turn off fans since African violet seeds are like dust and can be easily blown away.)
Take a piece of heavy, white paper and make a crease down the middle ~ this will make it much easier to direct the seeds into the container. Gently shake the seed packet to bring all the seeds down to the bottom and cut open the top. Gently tap out the seeds onto the paper ~ they should roll into the crease. Carefully pick up the paper and slowly distribute the seeds evenly across the surface of the growing medium.
This can be tricky, but a skill that develops over time. If the seeds roll too quickly and appear to land mainly in one spot, most will still germinate (if viable) and the seedlings will simply have to be moved apart later to allow room for growth. The seeds should not be covered over with medium ~ they need to sit on the surface where they will receive the light needed for germination to occur. Cover the container with a clear plastic cover or plastic wrap and place about 10 in. beneath grow lights or fluorescent tubes for 12 to 14 hrs. each day.
Germination times vary by a cross and by cultural conditions, but most seeds will germinate within 9 to 60 days, some may take longer. Monitor the container regularly to make sure the medium does not dry out. If the weight of the container feels very light, spray the top of the medium with water and recover. If too much condensation builds within the container, remove the cover for a couple of hours to allow it to dissipate.
Note: Sometimes seeds don’t germinate even when the grower provides the right care and cultural environment. This usually indicates that the seed itself was not viable, which can result from inadequate development within the pod (early maturation) or an infertile parent plant.
Transplanting African Violet Seedlings
Once the seedlings have germinated they will grow fairly quickly. When they are a size you feel comfortable handling (usually when the individual leaves are about 2-3 cm. in diameter) you should separate the ones growing very closely together and redistribute them in the container and begin bottom-watering with a weak fertilizer solution. When the seedlings reach about 5 cm. in leaf span they should be transferred to small individual pots such as condiment or pill dosage cups with a hole drilled in the bottom for drainage and treated the same as mature plants.
Where to Buy African Violet Seeds
African violet seeds can be obtained through the seed fund of The Gesneriad Society, when available. Although membership is required for access to the seed fund, your membership helps support the hobby and includes a subscription to their excellent quarterly magazine, “GESNERIADS‘.
The ultimate way to obtain African violet seeds is through hybridization: producing your seed pods through cross-pollination. It takes approximately four to six months for an African violet seed pod to mature.
Rooting leaves in water is one of the traditional methods of African violet propagation dating back to the early days of the plants’ popularity in North America. If your grandmother grew African violets from leaf cuttings she may have used this method (or merely pinched off a leaf and stuck it in the soil of the nearest house plant).
To root leaves in the water you will need a rooting container to hold water and a means of suspending the leaf above the water while the stem remains in the water. We like to use small, colored glass bottles (colored glass slows the growth of algae) and aluminum foil. Cheap and easy.
First, choose a healthy, firm leaf from one of the middle rows of the parent plant. Make sure you choose a leaf with a long enough stem (petiole), preferably 1-1/2 to 2 inches long. Cut the tip of the petiole at an angle with a sharp blade.
An alternative to using additional leaf supports is to create support from the aluminum foil covering the rooting jar. This works well for smaller leaves:
Monitor the water level in the rooting jar daily to make sure the stem is sufficiently covered. Plantlets should begin to grow and become visible along the stem within a few weeks.
This is a leaf of African violet ‘Cherry Dots’ showing several babies growing from the stem after approximately 3 months in water.
Have you tried rooting leaves in the water? Share your experiences by leaving a comment!