I have a three-year-old African violet that is watered and fertilized regularly, yet it has never flowered. It is in a west-facing window. How do I get this plant to bloom?
There are several reasons your African violet might not want to bloom. Let’s examine the “perfect” conditions for African violets and you can check them against what you are currently providing. The most important factors are light, pot size, soil, water and fertilizer.
Optimal light is the cooler morning sun from an east window with the plant located twelve inches or less away. They can take the hotter west window, just watch them for wilting or have a sheer curtain to block the hot summer and cold winter temperatures. They need 12 to 14 hours of bright, indirect light. An easy way to tell if your plant is getting enough light is to look at the leaves. If they reach for the light and have long upright stems, they need more. If they lay nice and flat on the pot they are happy. If you don’t have good windows, they grow easily under artificial “grow” lights with full spectrum bulbs placed 12 inches above the foliage for at least 12 hours a day (use a timer).
Temperatures should be between 70 and 75 degrees, although a cooler windowsill in hot (west or south) windows can work. Avoid drafty windows and doors or locations near heating and air conditioning vents.
African violets like to be consistently and evenly moist, but not wet. Watering from the bottom is a good technique, as is keeping the pot inside another pot. This insulates the plant from hot temperatures if it’s in a west window and allows it to wick up water from the deeper pot. Try to water with room temperature water and use fresh rain or spring water. Any water not absorbed by the soil within about 30 minutes should be poured out. If you water from the top, water carefully under the leaves and don’t splash the leaves. Too much water will lead to crown rot and too little will cause the leaves to wilt and invite pests.
African violets are heavy feeders (since they are shallow-rooted) and like fertilizers formulated especially for them. Most brands are recommended for use with every weekly watering. A fertilizer with a 12-36-14 formulation is good for bloom production (the middle number represents phosphorus, which is for healthy roots and blooms).
Small, tight pots, especially non-porous types like plastic and ceramic are best, but whatever you use must have a drainage hole. A plant with a 12-inch spread can be happy and bloom in a 4-inch pot (the rule of thumb is to use a pot with 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the plant spread). Make sure there is only one plant per pot. Sometimes African violets send out suckers; cut these off immediately.
A loose soil mixture with great drainage is essential to allow the small roots to penetrate. You should be able to easily push your finger into the soil.
Dry air is another possible reason your plant doesn’t bloom. They like 50 percent humidity. Place an open saucer of water next to the plant, or set the plant on a tray filled with pebbles and water. The pebbles keep the plant’s “feet” dry.
Removing spent blossoms (the entire stem) and dry or diseased leaves (carefully) will keep your plant happy. If you like a symmetrical plant you can remove a couple of outer leaves that ruin the circular appearance of the plant. Some experts say this also helps stimulate blooms.
Finally, according to the African Violet Society of America, if nothing else works, a bit of a shock can induce an African violet to bloom. They suggest tapping or squeezing the pot. Another way of shocking the plant is to withhold water until it wilts, then water. This is not advisable more than once because it can weaken the plant and invite pests.