How to Keep African Violets Healthy

My friend is a lecturer in nursing at a big university. Out of curiosity, I once asked her, “how do you even teach someone to be a nurse?” Her reply surprised me.  She said,

"you can't really teach someone to be a nurse. You teach them to understand what normal function looks like, to become very aware of the basic parameters and ask for help as soon as something out of the ordinary is detected."

I’ve often thought about my friend’s advice and how applicable it is to our hobby of growing African Violets.

Over the years, nearly all the problems I’ve encountered can be traced back to me not having a good handle on the basic growing parameters. Also, not recognising how plants typically behave when one of those parameters is outside normal.

For example, last year I started noticing distorted growth on several of my plants. Convinced my plants might be infected with mites, I sprayed several times over the next months, but with no change in the problem. In fact, it became worse and several plants died. I tried several treatments unsuccessfully. Only after I purchased a reliable PH testing pen, did I solve the mystery. My potting mix had degraded and become way too acidic. 

African violet with tight crown

I remember another occasion that I was sure my plants were infected with mites. The plants started growing very tight centres (crowns) and the leaves became very brittle. After a few weeks of stress, I discovered the problem. Accidentally, I’d knocked the dimmer knob on my lights, which had increased the intensity enough to upset my plants but had escaped my notice.

My attempts to solve these problems were like chasing monsters in the dark because I didn’t have all the information and I was operating on assumptions.  In many cases, your plants will behave predictably when any of their growing parameters are out. We just need to learn how to listen to them.

If you want to keep your African Violets healthy, the growing parameters that you need to have a good handle on are:

  • Moisture (watering)
  • Light
  • Temperature
  • Soil PH
  • Humidity
  • Air circulation
  • Fertilising
Nurse taking blood pressure
Just as good nurses rely on objective information (blood pressure, temperature, heart rate), we also have the capacity to use instrumentation that can take some of the guesswork out of growing.

I think the greatest purchases I have made over the past years for keeping my African violets healthy are:

  • A light meter,
  • Digital PH testing pen,
  • Hygrometer,
  • Jewellers loupe (powerful magnifying glass)

Above that, training my eyes, ears, sense of smell and touch to understand what my plants are telling me. For example, get in the habit of picking up your pots. Just the weight of your pot can tell you if the plant is dry or overwatered if you train your senses to be aware of what the pot should normally feel like. Also, run your fingers under the outer leaves. Limp leaves can alert you to a potential fungus or watering problem.

Spend time learning how to read “normal” and your plants will reward you with healthy growth.

Ceramic African Violet Pot

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2 thoughts on “How to Keep African Violets Healthy”

  1. A great summary. Thanks Darren. I downloaded 3 different free light meter apps onto my phone (Android). Each one gives wildly different results. I remember you recommended an actual meter from Amazon about a year ago, but it was no longer available when I looked. Any ideas please? Many thanks.

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