Garden myths are everywhere and help make what should be an easy hobby so much more complicated. Here’s a new one, for me at least, asked at a meeting of a garden club in September, then again by an email yesterday (which, unfortunately, means it’s spreading!). The rumor is that, to encourage African violets to bloom, you should remove their center leaves.
This is not only wrong, but totally illogical. (Most garden myths, while wrong, do have some logic to them.) Think of how an African violet (Saintpaulia) grows and you’ll understand.
Typically, it forms a rosette of leaves from a central growing point. New leaves emerge from the center and grow in size and length until they become full-sized, then eventually degenerate. As this is going on, more new leaves form in the center, giving the round rosette shape we know. If you want to maintain symmetrical growth, last thing you would want to do is to remove the center leaves!
Flower buds also form, along with the leaves, from the center growing point. They stay dormant at first, then grow and open as the leaves expand. Thus, if you pinch out young leaves (center leaves), you’re also removing the future flowers!
True enough, African violet flower buds have to “work their way” out from under the leaves that shade them at first, but that’s what they’re designed to do. The leaves above in no way prevent them from opening.
If Your African Violet Isn’t Blooming
If your African violet isn’t blooming, it’s not because you didn’t pinch out the center leaves. In fact, several factors can be involved. However, the main cause is insufficient light.
Flowering requires more energy than producing leaves and plants get their energy from sunlight (or artificial light if you grow them under a lamp). Therefore, if the plant isn’t getting enough light to bloom, it may still have enough to produce leaves and look healthy. Sometimes, all you have to do to stimulate bloom is to move the plant closer to the window or the lamp!
In general, an African violet requires “good light” to bloom: intense to medium light all day with, if possible, with a few hours of sunshine in the morning, at least if you live at a higher latitude (north of Philadelphia in the Northern Hemisphere). And a very good alternative is a spot 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) below a florescent or LED grow lamp.
Note, too, that, unless you live in the tropics, there is less (often much less!) light in your home during the winter, so if your plant is already borderline, receiving barely enough light to bloom during the summer, that spot certainly won’t be bright enough to ensure winter bloom. Typically, a violet grown under barely sufficient light keeps blooming until late fall, then stops and doesn’t start to bloom again until days lengthen perceptibly in mid-spring.
Also, the air in most homes is very dry when the heating system is in use and dry air can cause flower buds to abort long before you even notice them. Sometimes increasing the ambient humidity during the winter, perhaps by growing your violet over a humidity tray, will help your plant to bloom at that season.
In spite of a long-held belief, fertilizing has little to do with initiating bloom. Even an African violet that has never been fertilized is usually able to flower. On the other hand, a regular but not excessive fertilization program can help stimulate better flowering once bloom is initiated, with more and larger flowers.
Other factors that can explain why AVs don’t bloom include cold temperatures, contaminated potting soil, overwatering, insects, diseases, and even more.
Essentially, there are three main secrets to getting an African violet to bloom: good lighting, perhaps with some direct sun, good humidity and good basic care. Pinching out the center leaves is simply not on the list!