African violets, with the botanical name Saintpaulia, are popular houseplants with furry leaves and clusters of blue, white, pink or purple flowers. These plants are native to the tropical rainforests of Tanzania and Kenya in East Africa. They are not actually a type of violet, but are so named for the resemblance of their flowers to true violets. These plants are low-light tolerant hardy but, like most plants, they can still be prone to underwatering.
Underwatered African violet – Signs and how to revive
Signs of an underwatered African violet
1. Downward-curling, droopy and dull leaves
Underwatered plants become dehydrated due to a prolonged lack of moisture in the plant tissue. The leaves will contract and curl, and they will look droopy and dull.
Other causes of droopy leaves:
- Excessive heat
- Cold temperatures
2. Frail foliage
Underwatered African violets will develop dull, crisp foliage, for the same reasons mentioned above.
3. Dry soil
Crumbly, bone-dry soil is an indication that the plants have depleted all the moisture from their environment, and that moisture has been lacking for some time.
4. A soil gap
When a plant is chronically underwatered, the soil will not only dry out but will shrink and pull away from the pot’s sides. You will notice a gap between the edge of the soil and the inside of the pot.
5. A very light pot
If you lift your plant’s pot and it feels very light, this is another indication that there is a complete absence of moisture in the soil.
How to revive an underwatered African violet
The most effective way to revive underwatered African violets is to give them a proper soak in water. However, avoid over-drenching the plants, because while your intentions may be good, this could lead to overwatering instead. Ideally, you should water the plants from the bottom, by placing them in a sink or basin of water and allowing the water to penetrate the soil from the bottom up. When you remove the pot from the water after soaking it, allow any excess water to drip out of the drainage holes before replacing the pot in its usual spot.
African violet plant care
African violets thrive in bright, indirect light and should be kept several feet away from south- or west-facing windows that let in very bright light. To prevent sun damage to the foliage, rather place them near east- or north-facing windows. To supplement natural lighting, you can also use fluorescent or LED bulbs. If the plant’s leaves are very dark green it may be getting too little light, while plants with light green leaves have been exposed to too much light.
These plants prefer soil that is always slightly moist, but also be careful not to overwater them. Use room-temperature water and be sure to water them from the bottom, so that no water is left to sit on the foliage. This is because, if the plant is kept in highly humid conditions, the leaves will be susceptible to rot and fungal spots.
Fertilize the plants every two weeks with a high-phosphorus plant food during the growing seasons of spring and summer. Start fertilizing if you notice slow or thin growth, or pale or yellowing leaves. Over-fertilizing is a more common problem than under-fertilizing, because soil mixes are already high in nutrients.
Most African violet varieties prefer warm temperatures of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, although some are tolerant of cooler conditions. During winter, keep them away from drafty windows. Repot the plants if their leaves start to wilt, using larger pots as the plants grow bigger.
Brush the leaves gently with a small, soft-bristled brush to clean off any dust and dirt. Also check for pests whenever you water your plants, so that you can catch any infestation early and eradicate it fast and effectively.
Common pests and diseases of African violets:
- Spider mites
- Cyclamen mites
- Powdery mildew
- Rot and blight
How to water African violets
To water the plant from the top, use a small cup or a watering can with a skinny spout. Fill the can or cup with room-temperature water and water the soil carefully from above. Gently push a few leaves to the side and water the soil through that space. Do not splash water on the crown, leaves, stems or flowers.
Avoid using cold or hot water; use only room-temperature water. After watering the plant, wait a few minutes until the excess water has drained from the bottom of the pot. Discard all excess water and return the plant to its original spot.
If you water the plant from the bottom, fill a tray, bowl or saucer with room-temperature water and sit the plant in the water. See to it that one inch of the pot’s bottom is submerged in water. After about 20 minutes, check if the top of the plant’s soil has been moistened; this means that all of the soil and roots have had access to water.
Discard the excess water from the tray, bowl or saucer, but if there is no water left you can add more and allow the plant to sit for another 10 minutes. After about 10 minutes, discard the excess water and put the plant back in its original spot.
African violets, native to East Africa, are some of the most popular flowering houseplants in the world, because they are low-maintenance and bloom year-round. They are easy to grow, with no special temperature requirements. However, like most plants, they are prone to underwatering if neglected for too long. The common signs of underwatering are curling, droopy and wilted leaves.
To revive an underwatered African violet, give it a good soak in a basin of water until all of the soil and roots have had access to water and can rehydrate. Ideally, watering should be done from the bottom of the pot to avoid getting the foliage wet.
Image: istockphoto.com / monica-photo