How To Grow African Violets

My experience.  Years ago my wife and I wanted to start a business.  We never really did, but we explored many options, one of which was growing plants.  We loved plants and our one favorite was the African Violet.  What a glorious plant with its symmetrical form and halo of flowers!   It was very enjoyable watching them grow.  Green leaves never looked so good and the thought of green money was even better.  Being it was more of a hobby than a business, I am sure that we spent more than we ever made.  Anyway, with the violets we started with seeds, cuttings, and nearly dead plants from the store (stores kill them).   African Violets are misunderstood, they require care that is not typical of other varieties of plants, even some of the commercial growers don't care for them properly.   Our success began when I built racks in our kitchen in multiple sections so that I would have room to spread the violets out as they grew.  The shelving units were 6 ft. long, 2 ft. wide and 7 ft. tall, the shelves themselves were about 22 inches apart.  We used large stainless steel pans, sized to the shelf and 1 inch deep, on the top of each shelf to sit the plants in and make watering easy.  We attached shop lights to the underside of the shelves to provide light to the plants.  Timers were used to control the amount of light they received on a regular schedule.  We bought a few packs of seeds and a few plants and began planting & rooting leaves.  We started the seeds and the cuttings in little peat pellets that are available at most garden centers.  This is the only time we advise planting in peat!  We bought plants that were nearly dead from our grocery store to see if we could revive them.  Within a very short period of time the seeds came up and leaves sprouted.  Or cuttings were taking off and within a 6 week time period the struggling violets from the grocery store were taking shape!  The little plants needed to be transplanted into bigger pots.  As they grew they had to be spread out so the leaves did not touch each other.  They grew more, and had to be spread out more and more and more... they were taking us over!  We started with about 350 small plants, which wasn't all that space consuming, but as mature plants each over 12" in diameter, imagine our crisis!  We were selling them as hard as we could, and we had to start giving them away just to avoid being run out of our small home.  When the weather turned cold and we had to bring all of our other outdoor indoors, we really had a problem.  Our house was full and my mother's house was full of plants too.  No one cared much about plants in the winter, so selling them was not so much of an option, and we did not have a greenhouse.   When we finally got rid of most of our plants and it was all over, I said "NO MORE!".  I guess I went overboard.  It was a business experiment that had a lot of potential and we couldn't handle it.  I must say though, that it was worth the effort just to see the beauty of these violets when taken care of properly.  One year we went to the State Fair and during our visit we saw the African Violet exhibit .  Compared to the violets we grew, these blue ribbon winners were pitiful.    I'll continue to tell you how we did it, but take my warning, five or six plants are enough.                                How to grow African Violets
Things you DON'T do to an African Violet!  Don't let water get on the leaves, it'll cause dead spots.  Water that is room temperature is not so bad, but I don't do it at all.  Don't allow sucker plants to grow on the main stem of the plant.  Don't try to grow them outside.  Don't place them in direct sunlight.  Don't keep them in dark areas.  Don't use any other pot other than a cheap 4-inch plastic pot.  Don't use peat moss.  Don't keep your plants' soil wet.  Don't let the plant stay dried out.  Don't leave dead flowers or leaves on your plant.  Don't subject them to sudden temperature changes.  Don't run over them with the car.  Do not, do not, do not...
Then exactly what can I do?  It sounds like you can't do anything at all.  The truth is that you don't have to do much, just follow the "do not do list".   You'll be amazed.                                            How to grow African Violets
First the potting soil.  Commercial growers use peat moss because it is cheap in large quantities and they use it in all kinds of plants.  Peat moss can kill African Violets in large quantities too.  You can buy good African Violet potting soil in small bags at the store.  It is made of a mixture of primarily pine bark and sand.  This soil will allow for good drainage, unlike the peat mixtures.  Peat mixtures, however, are perfect for many other plants.  
What are suckers?  Suckers are little baby plants that grow on the main stem of the plant.  Cute or not, pick them off.  They will grow to deform your plant, and there will be a bunch of them!  You only want one plant per pot, if it looks pitiful after you trim it up, don't worry, it'll thicken back up.
It sounds like I can't give them light and I can't give them dark either.  What gives?   You can sit your plant in the kitchen window to receive the morning sun if you want, and you will be able to enjoy the beautiful underside of the leaves on your side of the plant.  You can sit your plant in a dimly lit area and it will reach for the sky like it's under arrest.  African Violets need a certain kind and a certain amount of light and they will flourish perfectly, remember in the beginning I told you about the shelves that I built in my kitchen, with the shop light placed  8 to 12 inches above the plant.    You do not need grow lights.  Just plain lights are fine but keep them strong, no blinking, half lit stuff.  The plant  will be symmetrical and the leaves will lay down like a well decorated cake.  Spread the plants out so that the leaves do not touch anything.  
If I can't water them from the top then how?  I guess that only leaves the bottom doesn't it?  They make plastic trays that fit the four inch pots, or you can build or buy the stainless pans like I used.  The secret is to water good and allow to dry out afterward.  Pour room temperature water into the trays or pan, and after about twenty minutes go back and drain off what ever is left in the tray.  They can't sit in water for a long time because the roots will rot.  As any plant, they must breath oxygen from the roots.    Keep this up and they will live until you get sick of them.  Use African Violet fertilizer in the water.  Follow the directions on the bottle.   
Pruning the plant.  This is easy.  If it's ugly, cut it off.                                                   How to grow African Violets
Flowers.  A good plant will bloom for nine months, and rest for three.  They get tired too.  If your beautiful flowers fall off for no reason, you might have aphids.  Aphids are little white to light green dust looking insects.   They like the soft part in the middle of the flowers.  Unfortunately, that is the part that holds the flower on.  Mix a light mixture of "approved insecticide" and water and spray the entire plant.  The mixture must be at room temperature and follow the directions on the bottle!  If you find any ladybugs, take them inside and give them your plants.  They love to eat aphids and they won't hurt anything.  Pick off dying flowers, if dead flowers stay on the plant new flowers will not form as you would like.

Warren                                            How to grow African Violets

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How to grow African Violets