African Violet Leaves Are Curling – What Do Curling African Violet Leaves Mean
African violets are among the most popular flowering houseplants. With their fuzzy leaves and compact clusters of pretty flowers, along with their ease of care, it’s no wonder we love them. But, there can be issues with these houseplants. If your African violet leaves are curling, there are a few potential causes and easy solutions.
African Violet Leaf Curl Caused by Cold
If the leaves on your African violet are curling under, the most likely cause is temperature. These plants grow best when temperatures during the day are around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 Celsius) and not much cooler at night. Watering African violets with cool water can also be problematic. Let water warm to room temperature.
Being too cold for too long will cause the leaves to turn brittle and curl under. Other symptoms of cold stress include center leaves that are tightly bunched together, stunted growth, and extra fur on the leaves.
The good news is that fixing this problem is simple. You just need to find a warmer spot for your plants. This is most likely to be an issue in the winter when window drafts cause lower regional temperatures. Use some type of plastic insulation on the window to stop drafts. If your whole house is too cold, consider getting a small heat or grow lamp to warm up one area.
Mites Can Trigger Leaf Curl in African Violets
Curling African violet leaves may also be caused by an infestation of mites, although cold is the more likely problem. The mites that invade African violets are too small to see. They feed on the new, center growth of plants, so look there for stunting and damage. Leaf curling is more of a secondary symptom. You may also see flower stunting or failure to bloom with mites.
With mites, it may be easiest to simply dispose of infected plants. Disinfect any tools used on infected plants as well as the pot if you plant to reuse it. If you do want to save a plant from mites, you can find a miticide for houseplants at your local nursery, or you can use an insecticidal soap. Take your plants outside to use any chemical not rated for houseplants.
Sunlight and African Violet Leaf Curl
African violet leaf curl may be caused by too much sun. If cold temperature is not an issue and if you don’t see signs of mites, look at the light your plants are getting. African violets prefer bright but indirect light. Too much direct, hot sunlight can cause leaves to brown and curl under. Move plants out of direct light to see if that stops the curling.
The African Violet (Saintpaulia) is the worlds
most popular house plant. Saintpaulia’s history goes back as far as 1892, however it took years of development to get the charteristics that it is known for today. Research started in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s to develop the African Violet in to the the modern day version that is so popular today. This research and development has yeild plants with a variety of colored cultivars from blue violet, to fuchia, pink and white with more colors sure to come. These plants if cared for properly will bloom almost nonstop.
Good lighting but not direct sunlight is needed for these plants to thrive. The African Violet does not necessarily need sunlight either, where there is not enough sunlight artificial light can be used and the plant can grow and bloom under those conditions. For optimum growth African Violets should receive 1000 foot-candles of light for eight to twelve hours each day. (A foot-candle is the amount of light given by one standard candle and intercepted on one square foot of surface.) Too much light can be harmful to African Violets however, it can cause slowed growth the plants leaves will turn to a pale green due to chlorophyll destruction and the flowering will decrease. Too little light can be harmful to these plants also the leaves will be a darker green and be noticeably thinner, they will also quit flowering or not flower very well.
African Violets like a warm semi-humid climate. The temperature for African Violets should be around 60-70 degrees F at night. Cooler temperatures can cause plants to be stunted. The plants can grow well in in temperatures up to 80- 85 degrees F but if the plants are exposed to high temperatuers for long periods their flowering and growth are slightly stunted. In temperatures above 85 degrees African Violets have a high likelyhood of developing root rot. African Violets have been known to live in dry air climate but they grow and flower best in a slightly humid environment.
The African Violet needs soil that will drain well. A good mixture can be purchaced in some nurserys. However one should take care to notice that the soil is sterile. A good mix that can be made up is composed of two parts fertile loam, one part sand or perlite, and one part peat. A good growing mixture should contain 50 percent matter, 25 percent air and 25 percent water. A mix for African Violets should be porous and slightly acid with a Ph of around 6.0.
The soil for African Violets should be kept moist. When watering an African Violet one can water from either the top of the bottom but use water that is room temperature. When watering from the top be careful not to get the leaves wet, getting the leaves wet can cause spots or rings to appear on the plant’s leaves. Also when watering from the top take care not to over water, get the soil saturated and dump out the excess water that drains through the pot. When bottom watering just put the potted plant into a container and adding about one inch of water, when the soil is saturated remove the plant from the container. Another way of watering is to just put a little water into the bottom saucer under the plant adding just a little every few days.
The way to propagate an African Violet is to do leaf cuttings. It is recomeded to do this in the spring. Cut a mature leaf off the plant and for best results dip the end into rooting hormone, place the stem into vermiculite or other soil medium with the leaves slightly exposed, then water the soil well. Keep the cuttings moist and covered with plastic glass or muslin to keep moisture in. In 2-6 months young plants will have formed a few small leaves and are ready to be repotted. In 6-9 months the plants if cared for properly will begin to flower. To repot an African Violet gently remove the plant from the pot, trim off the lower row of leaves and scrape away the brown from the neck until just green is showing, have a clean sanitized pot that is about 1/3 the diameter of the plant ready and place the plant into it place soil around the African Violet, make sure to water well.
Pests and Diseases
There are a number of pests that can harm an African Violet. One of them is root-knot nematodes which cause stunting of growth and blisterlike galls on the roots and leaves. Plants infested with root-knot nematodes should be destroyed. Another pest that can harm a Violet is the Cycamen mite which eat the plant crown and can cause the new leaves to be brittle, lacking color, stunted and twisted. To destroy these mites treat the plant weekly with dienochlor or with dicofol. Mealybugs can cause injury to African Violets by stunting and distorting the leaves because they suck all the juice out of the leaves and leave a sticky substance behind called honeydew which can cause mold growth or ant infestation. To get rid of Mealybugs simply spray the plants with warm water or remove them by an alcohol dipped cotton swab. Aphids also leave honeydew behind which can cause the plants to become stunted with curled leaves. To eliminate aphids wash the plant with warm water or treat with an incecticide.
Some other problems that can occur with African Violets include Botrytis cenerea and powdery mildew. The fungus Botrytis cenerea can be found in African Violets grown in green houses or in a room with high humidity and little air circulation. The fungus causes the leaves to turn dark brown. To control this use a fungicide for plants. Powdery mildew shortens the flowering of the African Violet and is characterized by a grey powdery substance on the plant. This is caused by cool damp air and can be stopped by karathane or can be prevented by a small fan to circulate air.
Diseases such as chlorosis or ring spot, petiole rot and root and crown rot can be easily avoided by taking precautionary measures.Ring spot is characterized by white or yellow rings and lines on the leaves is caused by sun shining on wet leaves or by cool water touching the leaves. To prevent this water the plants by the bottom method or be sure to use water slightly warmer than the air and not drip on the leaves. Petiole rot is a rusty colored lesion where the petiole touches the soil or the rim of a pot that has accumulated fertilizer. To prevent this a ring of aluminum foil can be placed on the pot and by occasionaly watering the African Violet heavly to wash out the excess fertalizer. Root and crown rot is caused by Pythium ultimum a fungus which comes from overwatering plants the crown and roots turn dark and the leaves wilt. If this is not avoided all infected plants must be destroyed.
Optimara a leading company in African violet research and development launched its “Space Violet” program in 1984 when Holtkamp Greenhouses (developer of Optimara violets) sent 25,000 seeds into space. These seeds orbited earth for six years finally being retrieved in 1990. Not long after mutations became visible, some which are still in development. One such mutation is multifloresence.
The African Violet Society of America
African Violet Care
Yesterday, I had two requests for help with the care of African violets. My hairdresser received one as a gift and I had another question from Twitter. So, I went to Meijer today and purchased an African violet so I could demonstrate what to do with a newly purchased violet. I usually buy my violets from the African violet club sales. They have unusual varieties and have been grown in the potting medium similar to what I use. But, I sometimes buy one from the store when one calls out to me. The problem with the violets purchased at garden centers, grocery stores, or big boxes, is the soil (actually soilless mix) they are grown in. It is mostly, if not all peat, and is too heavy (meaning retains too much moisture) for the plant. Yet, if it dries out, it is very hard to re-wet, it shrinks away from the sides of the container, and the water runs down the sides. So, one of the first things I do, is re-pot the violet in new potting medium. I mix my own, but if you have to buy a commercial potting medium, such as Miracle Gro for violets, I would add 1/3 perlite to 2/3 of the medium. This makes it more well drained and much better for the plants.
Let’s get started. You’ve bought or received a new African violet.
Newly purchased African violet
If you decide not to re-pot, it is a must to take your plant out of the wrapper, or remove it when watering, so your plant is never standing in water.
Whenever I buy a new violet, I also remove all the flowers. I don’t want to take the chance that the flowers may have thrips. Thrips are small insects that eat the pollen which then spills down the flowers when thrips are present. I’m not taking the chance that if they are hiding, they will come out and infect my other plants. The thrips themselves are almost impossible to see, but the spilled pollen is a definite sign that you have them.
I bet your are cringing about now, right? Remove the flowers? That’s the best part. You don’t have to remove the flowers until they are completely spent. I’m just showing you what I do…….
Next, I check for any leaves that need to be removed. If there are leaves underneath the upper leaves that are smaller than the leaves above them, remove them. If there are any damaged leaves, remove those also.
Okay, so the flowers are removed, the small leaves are removed and now I’m going to wash the peat moss potting medium off the plant. First, though, I carefully removed some of it by just teasing it off the roots with my fingers. Then, I washed off as much as I could without injuring the roots.
I water my African violets by wick watering them. If you want to put them in your own decorative pot, go for it. The pot you choose should be what is called an azalea pot. This means the pot is short and fat or in technical terms, the depth of the pot is 3/4 the diameter of the pot. African violets have shallow root systems. Most violets never need a pot bigger than 4″ in diameter but if it is getting really large, a 5″ pot would be as big as you need to go. As the plant grows, keep removing the bottom large leaves. Also, your violet should be re-potted every 6-12 months to keep it from getting a long neck. I talk about that problem here, with the remedy.
You can skip the next step if you don’t want to wick water. But, if you do want to wick the violet, it is an easy process. You need acrylic yarn and a deli container to make your reservoir for the water.
I buy my deli containers in bulk at Gordon Food Service, but if you only need one, buy something at the deli. I use a circle drill to drill two holes in the lid of the container, one for the wick to go in and one to make adding water to the container easy. I separate my acrylic (not any other kind, such as cotton or wool, as they will rot) yarn into two plies and circle about a 9″ length in the bottom of the pot with about 3-4″ hanging out of the bottom of the pot. I then pot the violet in the wicked pot and set it on the deli container with the wick hanging into the water. The water wicks up the yarn and into the potting medium, keeping the violet moist. I fill the container once a week. Easy. (Note: You cannot wick your violet unless you change the medium to a very well drained medium. If you wick the original peat moss medium, your plant will stay too wet, and rot.)
So, if you decided not to wick your plant, and aren’t growing yours under light, like I am, place your violet in an east or west window. East is best. The morning sun isn’t too hot, and is best for your violet. Remember to turn your violet a 1/4 turn every time you water it, to make sure your plant grows straight, not lopsided. Your plant will lean toward the light and be lopsided if you don’t turn it. If you find your leaves are reaching up instead of lying flat, that means your plant isn’t getting enough light and you need to move your violet to a window with more light. South would be too harsh, though.
Check the soil once a week to determine if it needs water. Keep the medium moist, never allowing the plant to stand in water. As I’ve said before, always water your plant until water runs out of the bottom of the pot. This pulls oxygen through the potting medium, and encourages your roots to fill the pot. Empty any remaining water in the saucer after 30 minutes. Once a month, or so, take your plant to the sink and give it a good shower to get the dust off the leaves. Yes, you can get African violet leaves wet. It does rain where they grow. However, do NOT let water sit in their centers, don’t use cold water, which will mar the leaves, and let it dry out of the sun. If you don’t want to do that, use a soft paintbrush or a baby brush to brush the dust off the leaves. Keeping your plants clean is important so the leaves can photosynthesize properly. Dust and dirt inhibits this process.
I think I’ve covered everything, but if you still have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment, and I will do my best to answer it.
Below, is a gallery of some of my African violets.
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When Baron Walter von Saint Paul first brought a flowering plant he called the Usambara violet from East Africa to Germany in 1894, little did he know how many people would fall passionately in love with the African violet. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about African violet care, along with prize-winning violet grower Jessie Crisafulli’s best advice. Her methods have produced a houseful of continuously blooming African violets, many of which sport blue ribbons won at flower shows.
African Violet Care and Feeding | Grow Healthy African Violets
African Violets Care & Feeding
Frequently Asked Questions
What window exposure is best for African violets? African violets should grow well in any window with good bright light, not shaded by a porch or trees. In south-facing windows, protect violets from hot sun in summer with sheer curtains or blinds. African violets do well in a south window in the winter. For east and west windows, check to see that plants do not get too warm when the sun is in that area. North windows will provide sufficient light to bloom most of the year. Keep plants close to the window for maximum light. An African violet on a table in the middle of a room may look pretty, but may not receive sufficient light to keep blooming.
LEARN MORE: Sun-Loving Houseplants | 5 Windowsill Choices
What about fluorescent light? If you do not have bright window light, then fluorescent fixtures are the answer. I use four-foot fixtures with two cool white bulbs in each. I have used one warm white and one cool white bulb in a fixture with good results. Special plant bulbs, called “grow lights,” also produce an attractive plant. The optimum distance from pot to light is 8 to 12 inches.
How often should you water African violets? “How often to water African violets?” is perhaps the most pondered African violet dilemma. The best guide is to feel the top of the soil: if it is dry to the touch, then it is time to water. African violets should be allowed to dry out between each watering for best results. Overwatering can kill a plant. The fine roots of an African violet need air, which cannot penetrate a soggy wet soil mass. Once you’ve mastered how to water African violets, half of your work is done.
Should I water African violets from the top or bottom? Either is fine. It is important not to use cold water; lukewarm or warm is preferred. If you water from the top, be careful not to get water on the leaves when the plant is in the sun; this is to avoid leaf spots. If you water from the bottom, the excess water should be discarded after the plant has taken up all it needs. Do not allow an African violet to sit in water indefinitely.
What size pot is best for African violets? Overpotting will delay bloom. The usual recommendation is that the pot diameter should be one-third the spread of the leaf span. For example. if the plant’s leaves measure 9 inches from one leaf tip to the opposite leaf tip, use a 3-inch pot. Violets bloom best when they are potbound.
Which is better, a clay or plastic pot? Either is suitable. Plastic pots can be kept cleaner and will hold moisture longer, and are what I use for violets. Clay pots allow the air to penetrate to the roots, which is beneficial. but they dry out faster. I use clay for succulents and cacti. Salts may build up on clay pots, rotting violet leaves resting on the top rim. Protect the leaf stems by using a folded strip of aluminum foil to cover the top rim of a clay pot.
What’s the best fertilizer for African violets? Any reputable fertilizer is good. I like to use a water-soluble fertilizer. A balanced fertilizer with equal parts of nitrogen (first number), phosphorus (second number), and potash (last number), such as 18-18-18, has produced good show plants for me. If you are not getting good bloom try a fertilizer with a higher middle number, which will contain more phosphorus, such as 15-30-15
Should you withhold fertilizer when the African violet is in bloom? In my opinion this is poor practice. African violets need food when producing blossoms, and since the plant ideally should bloom continuously. It would severely deprive the plant if fertilizer were withheld.
African Violets Care and Feeding | Grow Healthy African Violets
What soil mix should I use? I use a mixture of two parts sterilized soil, one part coarse perlite, and one part coarse vermiculite. Any purchased sterilized soil can be used. Perlite and vermiculite help keep the soil loose and porous.
The lower leaves turn soggy — should I take them off? It is a good practice to remove all African violet leaves that have started to decay. It is a natural process for older leaves to die off. They will be replaced by new growth in the center of the plant. Any bottom leaves turning yellow or spotted should be removed.
LEARN MORE: How to Prune Houseplants
What is wrong when the soil is wet but the plant seems limp? This may be an indication that the plant has been overwatered, and possibly crown rot has set in. There is not too much that can be done. You may be able to take off a healthy leaf or two to start a new plant, but the old plant may not live if the center crown has started to rot.
How often should I repot my African violet? Repotting African violets is beneficial to the plant’s lasting health. Repot in fresh soil every year or two at most. Do not necessarily use a larger pot each time you repot.
LEARN MORE: How to Repot African Violets
What should be done with an African violet has developed a thick stem below the bottom leaves? This is usually called a neck. It can be taken care of by setting the plant deeper into the soil when you repot. Use the proper size pot, not one that is too large or too deep. If the “neck” is too high, carefully remove some of the old soil from around the violet’s roots, so it can be lowered further down into the pot. If the soil and roots are hard and compacted, and cannot be loosened, then a portion of the bottom of the root mass can be sliced off with a knife. Repot so that the lower layer of healthy green leaves rests on the soil line at the top of the pot.
Editor’s Note: This is a Yankee Classic article from January 1982. While, we are no longer able to respond to questions about African violets that are not covered within this article, you may find the answer you are seeking in the comment section below.
This post was first published in 2014 and has been updated.