Can a tropical houseplant like an African Violet thrive through the colder months? Thankfully, they can! A little bit of extra effort is enough to keep your plant cozy until spring. So what does it take to set your African Violet up for success this winter?
To take care of an African Violet in winter, provide decent warmth and humidity. Keep the plant away from drafty windows or outside doors, maintaining temperatures between 60 and 85 degrees. Avoid fertilizing too much, and keep the air moist by clustering your plants or using a humidifier.
As long as your home is reasonably comfortable for you, it should be okay for your African Violet. But there are a few houseplant hazards that are more common in the winter. Let’s go over the dangers of the cold season and discuss how to keep your African Violet safe and sound.
Danger #1: Winter Cold
African Violets can not survive year-round outdoors unless you live in a rainforest. The only way to “overwinter” them is to bring them indoors. The temperatures that keep you comfortable will typically do the same for an African Violet. Still, cold shock is a risk in the winter, even for indoor plants.
Temperatures below 55 degrees will damage your Saintpaulia’s tissues. Symptoms can include:
- Foliage turning brown or black
- Leaves curling down at the edges
- Squishy or slimy spots
That last sign is especially troubling. Mushy spots are signs of rot where the tissue has died. You should prune away any slimy spots before they spread. Then move your African Violet to a warmer location right away.
For a week or two after exposure to cold, water your African Violet sparingly and avoid fertilizing it. You may want to place a bag over the leaves to retain humidity. This will help your Saintpaulia stay hydrated with little to no watering. With luck, it should perk back up in a week or two, though any dead leaves will stay dead.
Note that symptoms of temperature shock may take up to 36 hours to show up. If your African Violet sits in the cold for that long without you noticing, it could be past saving. So prevention is much more effective than a cure.
Keeping African Violets Safe From the Cold
To avoid cold stress during winter, position your African Violet away from poorly insulated areas where it might be exposed to drafts. Doors that open to the outside are also dangerous.
In general, temperature stability is the name of the game. Your African Violet should be fine between 60 and 80 degrees, but you don’t want the temperature bouncing back and forth between those extremes. Keep the thermostat steady.
That means you need to keep an eye out for overly hot temperatures as well. You’ll tend to have the heat cranked up during the winter, and being too close to a vent or radiator can scorch your African Violet. The same goes for fireplaces.
Danger #2: Winter Dampness
Your African Violet will get a lot less natural light in the winter. That slows down its growth, which in turn slows its water uptake. And moisture won’t evaporate from the soil as quickly when the air is colder.
Why does that matter? Because it will make your African Violet more vulnerable to overwatering. Soil that stays wet for too long can suffocate your plant’s roots and breed hostile microbes. That’s how you wind up with root rot, which could rapidly destroy a houseplant.
You’ll know you’re overwatering if the soil never seems to dry out. Other signs include:
- Rapid yellowing of the leaves
- Black or brown discoloration
- Soft, mushy stem or leaves
- Nasty smells from the pot
You might notice that some of those are also signs of cold damage. You’ll have to assess your African Violet’s environmental conditions to tell them apart.
Keeping African Violets Safe From Overwatering
Our standard advice on watering African Violets is to test the soil regularly, watering when the top inch is dry. That approach will still serve you well in the winter. But you can test a little less frequently and be a little less trigger-happy with the watering can.
What if you’re being careful about testing before watering, but the pot is still taking forever to dry out? In that case, the soil could be the problem. Potting mix that’s too thick and clingy can cause overwatering even for responsible African Violet owners. If you notice this happening, repot your Saintpaulia in looser soil.
Danger #3: Winter Dryness
Just like wet soil, dry air can be a problem for your plant. Humidity isn’t the most critical requirement for African Violets, but if it drops too low, they aren’t happy.
You can monitor the humidity levels with a tool called a hygrometer. We like this one, which is cheap, reliable, and doubles as a thermometer. Below 50% relative humidity is the danger zone.
What happens to your African Violet when the humidity gets too low? The leaves may get dehydrated, turning brittle and brown at the edges. Sometimes the edges curl up, forming a “spoon” shape (though some cultivars have naturally spooned leaves). And if your African Violet forms flower buds, low humidity can kill them before they bloom.
Keeping African Violets Safe From Dry Air
How can you maintain decent humidity for your African Violet? The simplest way is…drumroll please…a humidifier. There’s no substitute for a machine that can monitor the moisture in the air and pump it up when necessary.
Another useful strategy is to keep most or all of your tropical plants in one place. When lots of leaves are exhaling vapor into the same airspace, you get a nice pocket of humidity. Placing a few tall glasses of water among the plants can also enhance the effect.
Don’t mist your African Violet, especially during the winter. Cold water sitting on the leaves can damage them or cause fungal infections. And misting doesn’t do much for humidity anyway. See our post on humidity and African Violets for more information.
Danger #4: Overfertilizing
Water isn’t the only thing your African Violet needs less of in the winter. Your plant will also use less fertilizer as the dimmer days make it grow slower. If enough unused fertilizer builds up in the soil, it will hurt the roots.
What happens when an African Violet gets more nutrition than it can use? The effects look similar to low humidity or underwatering. Your plant’s foliage wilts and turns brown because the mineral salts in the soil are leaching water from its roots. If the problem is severe enough, your African Violet’s foliage could start dying off.
Keeping African Violets Safe From Overfertilizing
The simplest fix is to fertilize less during the winter. In fact, unless you’re using lamps to keep your African Violet blooming and growing (see below) you probably don’t need to add fertilizer at all.
Another thing that helps is giving your African Violet a soil flush every month. Think of it as an oversized dose of water to drain extra salts from the pot. Slowly and steadily pour a whole bunch of water into the soil and let it run out the bottom.
Use about 5 times the volume of your plant’s pot. To avoid stressing the leaves, use lukewarm water and try not to get it on the foliage.
Winter Lighting For African Violets
Low light in winter doesn’t qualify as a danger for African Violets. However, it’s worth correcting if you want peak performance from your plant. Lack of sunlight slows growth and suppresses flowering. And as we mentioned earlier, it increases the risk of overwatering and overfertilizing.
There are two ways you can deal with this. The simpler, cheaper option is to try to find a brighter location for your plant.
If it’s far from a window, you can move it closer. A well-insulated east-facing windowsill is often a great spot. Even a southern or western window might work. In the growing season, these spots get too much direct light and will burn your African Violet, but winter may be a different story. Check out this article for more detail on finding good lighting for African Violets.
The other option is to put up some grow lights. A small bulb like the Sansi 15W LED can go a long way with a compact plant like a Saintpaulia. If you’re hoping to keep your African Violet blooming throughout the winter, set a timer for 10-12 hours of light per day. We’ve got a more in-depth article on this topic as well.
To take care of an African Violet in winter, you need to understand how its needs change as the days get shorter. Avoid stressing it with too much heat, cold, or fertilizer, and give it a bit of extra humidity. That should keep it going strong through the coldest parts of the year.