The Ultimate African Violet Care Guide

2024 was named The Year of the African Violet by the National Garden Bureau and I am so here for it. The cheerful, compact, easy-care African Violet is a plant I've always had a few of for the last 30+ years. They should come with a warning though. They're very addictive! 

As well as my many mature African Violets, I have a converted Ikea cabinet with 20 or so variegated and girl leaf propagations growing right now, tucked up nice and warm and humid under grow lights. And no, I did NOT think ahead on what I'll do with them all once they get big, so I guess it's African Violets on everyone's gift list this year. I love how a simple single-leaf cutting can be popped in some Starter Mix and voila! Hello cute new plant. PS: These mini pots with humidity domes are superb for African Violet propagation and baby plants.  



However, these adorable plants seem to be hit-or-miss with plant parents. Either you find them super-easy, or you kill them. There certainly are some African Violet 'rules' that make them MUCH easier to care for once you know what to do (and not to do), and how to 'read' their leaves. Here are the rules, African Violet tips and tricks, the care essentials covering watering, substrate, light, temperature, humidity and more, plus trouble-shooting tips throughout, including how to get your African Violet to flower. Let's jump in...

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 Where do African Violets come from in the wild? 

Knowing where they come from tells you a lot about their care. In saying that, I've found them quite tolerant of conditions outside of their ideal range, although you might miss out on those gorgeous blooms. African Violets were discovered in 1892 by Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire, where they get their botanical name from: Saintpaulia ionantha or just Saintpaulia.

They are native to rainforests in the mountains of east African countries such as Tanzania, where temperatures vary from around 18 to 32 degrees Celsius (64 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit). They grow naturally in the coastal mountains and forests with average annual humidity of 77%. They are low-growing plants, protected from direct light by the forest tree canopy above, often found growing between rocks in pockets of soil. 


 The dangers of wet leaves 

A bit like the warning in the movie Gremlins: Never get your African Violet's leaves wet (and if you do, always make sure to dry them). If you have a mature or full plant, it's tricky to top water without the foliage getting wet, but if that does happen, have a paper towel on hand and dab the leaves dry right away, paying special attention to the crown. 

Coming from a humid, sometimes very wet rainforest habitat in the wild, of course their leaves get wet, but it's the staying wet that's the problem. Indoors the conditions mean they don't dry out as fast as they would outdoors in the wild. I personally prefer bottom watering or wick watering rather than risk getting the leaves wet when top watering (more about all watering methods coming up).

Water sitting in the crown of the plant in particular - where the stems of the leaves are tightly bunched together - can quickly lead to stem rot or crown rot. A common problem caused by the fungus Pythium or Phytophthora which can attack the roots and crown of African Violets, and tends to spread fast. I've lost more than one African Violet to rot and it's often a sentence to a quick death. Wet leaves can also develop botrytis or mildew. If you're wanting to clean the leaves of your African Violet, instead of water just use a small, soft brush. I use a soft toothbrush for mine. 


 Why your African Violet won't flower 

The number one reason an African Violet refuses to flower is light, or rather, not enough light. Shift your plant to a brighter spot or if you don't have somewhere suitable, consider a grow light, but it's best to avoid direct sun, as that can burn the leaves.

When using a grow light, give your African Violets at least 6 hours and ideally up to 12 hours of good light a day. If the spot yours are in only gets good light for part of the day, use a grow light to get those good light hours up for the rest of the day. 

Another reason for no flowers may be not feeding at all, or using the wrong fertiliser. Flowering takes a lot of energy and if we don't supply all the nutrients they need, flowering can be the first thing a plant stops doing. Start feeding, and pick a suitable flower fertiliser. Foliage fertilisers, including most indoor plant fertilisers (even if they don't say they are for foliage), tend to be high in nitrogen. Great for foliage, not for flowers. There's more coming up in this guide below on how to pick the right fertiliser.

When you've got the right fertiliser, use it little and often, also called the Weekly Weakly Method. I find African Violets do best with regular feeding. I personally feed mine every time I water, or every time I change or top up the water in their reservoirs for those of mine that are wick- and mat-watered (more about watering methods coming up). For the purists, feed isn't really the right word. Plants make their own food. Fertiliser just provides the nutrients that our plants use along with air, light and water to make their own food.  

Another reason for no flowers is your pot's too big. Check further down the guide to find out if you've got the right size pot for your African Violet. It's smaller than you might think!

Related to fertiliser is calcium. Bud blast, where buds form but fail to flower, can be caused by a calcium deficiency. If you do fertilise, go get it now and check if the label lists calcium. Not all fertilisers include calcium. A deficiency can also cause small or deformed leaf growth, as well as flowers that brown and die prematurely.

Low humidity can also cause buds to form but fail to flower. Dry air and being in the path of drafts can both be to blame. You want to maintain a humidity level between 40% to 60% for African Violets. Grab a cheap hygrometer to keep an eye on humidity levels.

Not flowering when everything's ideal can also signal it's time to repot. A little disruption and fresh substrate can trigger blooming for African Violets who are happily in foliage mode and see no reason to flower. 

When in bud and flower, African Violets become less tolerant of drying out. Leaving them to get too dry can cause buds to abort flowering, and flowers to brown and die early. Check the section on when to water below, to get your timing right so you avoid both over-watering and under-watering.


 When to water African Violets 

If you prefer top watering or bottom watering, instead of wick watering (more about all three coming up), you'll need to keep an eye on your African Violets to know when to water again. With wick watering you don't need to worry about when to water as the substrate will suck up more water as it dries out, providing your wick is still working and you keep the water reservoir topped up.

Since African Violets prefer to stay lightly, evenly moist at all times (but never water-logged or soggy), the first sign you need to water is when the top few cms or inch of substrate is dry. Don't let your African Violet fully dry out as their fine, delicate roots can dry out and die, risking root rot when you do water again.

If your plant's pot isn't too full of foliage, you can stick a finger down into the substrate to check if the top couple of cms / or half inch are dry, otherwise a slim water meter designed for smaller, shallower pots is a great way to check without getting your fingernails full of soil or disrupting the foliage. I've found the 3 in 1 type meters (the ones with long metal probes), don't work well in smaller pots.

If you prefer a budget-friendly water meter solution, go for a Soil Sensor as you only need one for all your smaller plants. That's the type you slide in to check the moisture level, but cannot leave in the plant. It has a very slim, shorter probe, and when you press the sensor on top it changes colour according to how damp the soil is at the tip of the probe.

Otherwise, have a look at Sustee water meters. They are superb if you prefer leaving a water meter in the plant. Sustee change colour as the substrate dries out so you can tell when to water again at a glance. If you're outside of New Zealand, you can get Sustee from Amazon also.

Another way I judge when to water is the pot weight. Once you get used to the 'wet weight' of a pot, it's surprisingly easy to know when it needs watering just by picking it up because the pot is lighter than it should be. If you gently squeeze the pot you might also notice an air space has formed between the substrate inside and the sides of the pot, telling you the soil's dried out and drawn inwards.

Foliage also gives you a clue, although by the time you notice a change in foliage you may be going a little too long between watering. Most African Violets have firm, rigid leaves. Left dry too long, the leaves will start to wilt, droop down and become soft, which happens in the bottom leaves first (that's because the plant sucks the moisture it can't get from the roots, out of the bottom leaves to direct it to it's newer top leaves).


PS: I have to give a shout out to clear pots too. I love being able to judge how moist the soil is by just looking directly at the substrate through the pot! 


 How to water an African Violet 

As you can probably guess from their natural rainforest habitat, African Violet's prefer not to fully dry out. You want to maintain a lightly, evenly moist substrate (but never soggy!). Once you find the right combo of watering and substrate it makes watering African Violets so much easier.

There are 3 common methods for watering African Violets. My preferred method is bottom-watering. There's also top-watering and wick-watering. More about each method coming up. For all methods it's best to use room temperature to lukewarm water. Too cold and you can shock their delicate roots and leaves, causing leaves to curl down and develop brown or yellow leaf spots, called ring spot or leaf spotting.


 What's the difference between lukewarm vs room temperature vs tepid water? 

Although I use these three terms interchangeably, I shouldn't. Technically they are different. Lukewarm is warmer than room temperature and tepid tends to cover the widest temperature range. They don't have exact temperatures but as a general guide:. Room temperature is around 20 to 24 degrees Celsius or 68 to 76 Fahrenheit. Lukewarm is around 35 to 40 Celsius or 98 to 105 Fahrenheit. Tepid tends to be a broader range, around 15 to 27 Celsius or 60 to 100 Fahrenheit. I aim for somewhere between room temperature and lukewarm for watering all my indoor plants, but especially for my temperature-sensitive African Violets. 

 How to bottom water African Violets 

To bottom water, just pop the nursery pot inside a larger outer pot or container about quarter-filled with room temperature to lukewarm water. That way when you put the nursery pot into the outer pot, the level of the water ends up about half way up the nursery pot. You can also use this same method with a saucer, it will just take longer to fully soak to the top, and you'll likely need to top-up the water in the saucer. Don't leave your African Violet sitting in a saucer full of water all the time though, that's a great way to end up with it rotting and dying.

If you find your substrate isn't great at absorbing the water right to the top, add more water to the outer pot so the water level is closer to the top of the pot. There is such a thing as substrates made for bottom watering (and wick watering), so if your substrate doesn't 'suck up' the water relatively fast, right to the top, I'd consider repotting.

Let your African Violet have a good soak. Long enough until the top of the substrate is wet to the touch. Remove the nursery pot to completely drain. Job done. For mine I bottom water soak for about 30 minutes but it does vary depending on factors like your substrate (more about good African Violet substrates coming up). 

 How to top water African Violets 

Top watering isn't my usual method for African Violets but you absolutely can top water with a little care, plus it has one big benefit the other two methods don't. Top watering is an easier method for African Violets that aren't too full, where you can get water directly into the soil, avoiding the foliage altogether. If you have one of those watering bottles with a long spout (like these squeeze watering bottles if you're in New Zealand, or the same bottles here from Amazon), then they do a good job directing the watering safely past full foliage (but do take longer to use, so are better for watering baby plants).

Use room temperature water and water heavily enough so all the substrate ends up fully saturated and water pours out the drainage holes. You want to avoid leaving dry spots in the pot so no roots miss out, which can cause root hairs to dry out and die. Dead roots can also lead to root rot later when you do water again, as the dead roots are unable to absorb water and end up rotting instead.

A handy tip for top watering any plant that prefers not to fully dry out - like African Violets and Peace Lilies - is to double-water. Wait a couple of minutes in-between until most of the water has drained out, then top water again to help you get any dry spots missed. Any water that ends up getting on leaves or stems should be patted dry with a paper towel to avoid common African Violet problems like crown rot and stem rot.

One significant benefit of top watering that wick watering and bottom watering don't offer, is that top watering heavily enough so water pours out the drainage holes, also flushes out any build-up of mineral salts from the substrate, called leaching. Some growers recommend top watering every month for this reason.

It's natural for mineral salts from your water and your fertiliser to build up slowly over time (choosing a reduced-salt fertiliser helps - more about what you feed coming up). Those salts can change the pH of the substrate over time, causing some nutrients to become toxic and others to be locked out, resulting in deficiencies. The excess salts can also damage roots and increase the risk of root rot and fertiliser burn. Another way to avoid that happening over time is to repot at least once a year into fresh substrate. 

 How to wick water African Violets 

Wick watering is a popular method for bigger collections of African Violets but works just as well for just one or two plants. It's great for going on vacation too as you don't need anyone to water your plants while you're away. There are a few ways you can do it. The most common is self-watering.

Add a wick to the bottom of the pot the plant is in, with the wick in touch with the substrate inside the pot. The wick goes from the bottom of the pot, out of a drainage hole, down into a water reservoir below the pot. The pot itself doesn't sit in the water. When setting up for wick watering, start with the substrate already freshly watered before you add your wick.

Capillary action means the wick sucks up water from the water reservoir below as the soil dries out, keeping the substrate above it lightly moist, provided you've chosen a good substrate suitable for wick watering (more about substrates coming up).

Another popular version of wick watering is called mat watering. It uses the same capillary action that causes water to travel up the wick into the pot, but with mat watering the pot usually sits directly on a damp, absorbent mat. Some use a combination of the two, with a wick coming out of a drainage hole and lying on the mat to help with absorption. You can buy purpose-made capillary mats for this method of wick watering, like these capillary mats from Amazon. Felt mats that you can find at craft stores are another solution. 


 What materials can be used to make wicks for a self-watering pot? 

For the wick, a thin stripe of fabric such as felt, or ribbon, rope, twine or shoelace can all do the job nicely. They do need replacing over time so check on them at least once a month to make sure they're still doing their job. I like using braided cotton rope for my plants. Macrame cord works well too (available at craft stores). You can buy purpose-made capillary wick rope from Amazon also.

 How often should you water African Violets 

Humidity plays a big part in how often you need to water your African Violets. The more humid you keep their area, the less often you need to water. Air flow also comes into play. Higher air flow increases watering frequency. Although you can't water on a schedule because conditions change, I tend to bottom water my African Violets about once every one to two weeks.

I would never water without checking the soil first, and lifting the pot, as over-watering (which means watering again too soon), is a bigger risk than under-watering (which can mean watering too little when you do water, or going too long between watering again). When you do water, always water to the point the substrate is fully saturated. Giving your African Violet too little water can cause their delicate roots to dry out and die and later result in root rot.

 Is tap water safe for African Violets? 

Generally, yes, tap water is fine for African Violets. However there are some exceptions, including water that's been softened (normally with sodium chloride), water high in chlorine or chloramine, or water with pH outside their preferred range of 6.5 to 7.5. You can usually find the average analysis of your local water online or you can buy water test kits to check. Clean rainwater is a great alternative.   

 What's the best substrate for African Violets? 

I've found the right substrate key to making African Violets easy care. You can buy a premade mix or DIY your own. Either way a substrate suitable for bottom watering or wick watering will make your life much easier. Something with medium water retention that's slow to fully dry out, with good drainage, a fine grade for those delicate roots, and that's light and airy enough to retain water without getting water-logged (you still want plenty of space for oxygen for the roots).

I love the custom blend Bio Leaf African Violet Mix created by Bio Leaf in conjunction with respected African Violet grower Bruce Andrew. It's airy, fine and well-draining. I've found it superb for both bottom-watering and wick watering and it holds onto water a good amount of time. Their mix is a combo of peat moss, vermiculite, perlite and horticultural charcoal with the added perks of a bio-active goodies including calcium and silica to reduce transplant stress. Bio Leaf is only available in New Zealand, but for those overseas, I've heard good things about Espoma African Violet Mix also, which is a custom blend mix of peat moss, perlite and more.   

You can also make your own home-made blend. If you search DIY African Violet potting mix you'll find a lot of different 'recipes'. Three popular recipes are: 50% peat moss, 25% perlite and 25% vermiculite, or 3 parts peat moss to 2 parts perlite and 1 part vermiculite, or one third peat moss and one third each of perlite and vermiculite. Some African Violet growers also recommend adding Dolomite Lime and Horticultural Charcoal, usually a finer grade like BioChar but if you want to increase drainage and air space, a chunkier grade like HortiChar works too.

The only problem I find where I live, is getting peat moss in small quantities. If Amazon is an option for you and you want a larger quantity, you can get Miracle-Gro Peat Moss in larger bags, or for smaller quantities, there's Dotor Organic Peat Moss in 1 quart bags (Dotor also has a pre-made African Violet Blend). Don't substitute soil for peat moss though. I find adding standard potting soil makes the mix too dense and compact, it holds too much water and increases the risk of rot. 

 Best temperature for African Violets 

Maintaining an average of around 21 degrees Celsius (around 70 degrees Fahrenheit), is ideal for African Violets. It's best to avoid below 15 C (60 F), or going above 26 C (80 F). They don't love sudden or big temperature swings, so if you can avoid day and night being more than 5 degrees different that's ideal, although not always realistic! Being too cold tends to cause more harm than too warm

As temperatures get cooler, you might notice no flowers, no or slow growth, and there's an increased risk of rot. You might also have leaves wilt, turn soft, brown and almost see-through. Curling leaf edges is another sign. Flowers may also wilt or turn brown. If there's been a more sudden temperature drop, such as leaving a plant outside overnight or in the path of the air conditioning or a cold draft from a window, it can take 1 to 2 days before an African Violet shows the signs of cold shock.

 What size pot is best for African Violets? 

Much smaller than you might think! As a general rule the pot should be no more than one-third the width of the foliage. I find standard to shallow pots work best for mine too to keep water up in touch with the roots. Very deep pots can mean the water gathers nearer the bottom of the pot, too far from the roots. If the pot is too large for the plant, I also find foliage growth tends to slow down or stop, and I'm less likely to get flowers.  


 How to treat an African Violet for cold shock 

Sometimes the plant won't be able to saved, but you can try. Move your African Violet right away to somewhere warmer and out of the path of cold drafts. Watch out for leaves or flowers that start to turn mushy or brown and remove them right away to help prevent the rot spreading. Increase humidity while reducing watering (I just stop watering altogether until it's recovered). There's also no need to fertilise a sick plant.     


 What humidity level do African Violets prefer? 

If you remember from the conditions in the wild that we started with, being a rainforest understory plant, African Violets prefer humidity on the high side. Aim to maintain them between 40% and 60% humidity. Grab a cheap hygrometer to keep an eye on your levels, and if it gets too dry, one of the small cordless humidifier is great to increase humidity, and being cordless, can be put just the area your plants are in.

 Light requirements for African Violets 

Being under-story rainforest plants in the wild, African Violets don't need direct sun. Aim for bright but indirect light. For my African Violets not in my cabinet (which has grow lights), I position them quite close to my windows, within about 30cms to 60cms or so, but I pick 'bright shade' spots where the sun doesn't directly hit the plant.

One sign your African Violet isn't getting enough light is stems becoming long and reaching up, trying to stretch closer to the light. A sign of too much light is leaves fading and bleaching, losing their colour. Light and flowering also go together. Not enough light and you're less likely to get those beautiful blooms.

Do give your plant a quarter turn every week or two, otherwise they tend to bend towards the light and also grow bigger leaves on the side that gets more light, ending up lopsided or falling over. If you have an African Violet with variegated leaves, too much light can reduce variegation and turn leaves fully green. Too warm and variegation can also reduce. If you have a light meter, an ideal spot is 10,000 to 12,000 lux (about 900 to 1,100 foot candles).  

 The best fertiliser for African Violets 

1. Check it's complete (including calcium)

There are SO many fertiliser options it quickly gets overwhelming and confusing. The first thing to check is whether the fertiliser is complete. Some only offer the three macro-minerals, NPK (that's the three numbers on the front of some fertilisers), but African Violets plants need 12 essential nutrients from their fertiliser and soil. One way to help choose a good fertiliser is to check it offers more than just NPK. The label will normally list what's inside.

Look for all 12 essential nutrients on the label, which are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, manganese, boron, zinc, copper and molybdenum, often listed in that order. Some fertilisers list more than 12. That's normally a sign they are also made for plants like fruit and vegetables who need extras like nickel and cobalt. Although not essential for African Violets, and toxic in high amounts, in the very small amounts needed for crops, they shouldn't cause any issues.

A heads up to watch for fertilisers that say they are complete but don't include calcium. Calcium is essential for all plants, but even more so for flowering plants. Most fertilisers - even ones that claim to complete - don't include calcium. Always check as a lack of calcium can harm foliage and prevent flowering. It can also cause buds to form but never flower, or if they do flower, flowers can brown and die early. You should see calcium listed on the label, normally around 4th position.

2. Check if it's for foliage, flowers or both

The second thing to check is if the fertiliser is for foliage or flowers, or both. Most indoor plant fertilisers will be higher-nitrogen and focused on supporting foliage growth. Great for your baby plants before they are mature enough to flower. Some fertilisers are made to support flowering, which you'll normally find are lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorus.

Feeding a high nitrogen fertiliser can sometimes get in the way of flowering. Not fertilising at all can definitely be one reason your African Violets fail to flower, as flowering needs a lot of fuel. There are also fertilisers that sit in the middle and provide a balance for both that doesn't favour one over the other.

3. Other nice-to-haves (if you're fussy like me)

Fertilisers have come a long way. Here are some other things that are nice-to-haves (just not as essential as being complete including calcium, and picking the right type for foliage or flowers).


For plants (like African Violets), which are usually bottom or wick watered, more prone to root rot, or more prone to fertiliser burn, you can get reduced-salt fertilisers. The one I use has no chlorides, no sodium and no urea (chlorides in particular are one of the highest salt index ingredients commonly used in most fertilisers).  

pH buffered

There are now fertilisers available that are pH buffered to help keep the pH in the range plants prefer. That helps prevent nutrients being locked out causing deficiencies, or becoming toxic. However, you can also add your water and fertiliser, then test the pH of your nutrient solution and adjust it up or down using pH Up or pH Down from your local fish store before you water.

 Popular fertiliser choices for African Violets 

I can only speak on behalf of myself and my customers with African Violets, but there are 3 brands that seem the most popular here with AV hobbyists: GT (Growth Technology), Plant Runner, and Dyna-Gro (now called Superthrive).

GT's foliage fertiliser is Foliage Focus, their middle-of-the-road 'one for everyone' is Complete Focus, and their flower fertiliser is Flower Focus (however some growers prefer their Orchid Focus Bloom formula, as orchids share similar sensitivities to African Violets). Then in the Superthrive (ex Dyna-Gro) range, their foliage fertiliser is Foliage-Pro, their middle option is Grow and their flower one is Bloom.

If you don't mind the extra step, you can also add Mag-Pro to your foliage fertiliser to boost the phosphorus level and essentially turn your foliage fertiliser into a flower fertiliser. Another popular foliage fertiliser with the added benefit of organic seaweed, is Plant Runner Indoor Plant Food.  

As for what I use, I start my African Violets on a foliage fertiliser to speed up growth so they mature faster and are ready to flower sooner, and grow nice big, healthy leaves to fuel those future flowers (think of their leaves like solar panels). Then when they reach the size they're ready to flower, I shift to a flower fertiliser. I'll go back to foliage fertiliser between flowering, although a lot of my African Violets do their best to flower almost all year. 

I hope this guide has helped simplify the care for your African Violets, and given you insights for how to problem-solve and spot what your plant's need. If you did find this guide helpful, please pay it forward and share it with fellow planty friends who share your love of indoor plants and the adorable African Violet :)


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