If you would dismiss African violets as grandma plants, you might want to consider whether your grandma ever flew in space. African violets have. Among the most popular of flowering houseplants, they bloom nearly continuously if given proper care. Most are hybrids derived from several species native to east Africa. They form clumps of velvety green leaves that may be roundish or pointed. Some grow big enough to command a 6-inch pot. Dwarf kinds can fit in a teacup.
The variation in flower shape, size, and color is amazing. Flowers may be single, semidouble, or double; some have fringed or ruffled petals. Colors include blue, purple, lavender, red, pink, magenta, burgundy, crimson, white, bicolors, and even green. Recommended series include Artist's Palette, Island, myViolet, Rhapsodie, US State, and Victorian Charm. The EverFloris series resulted from seeds that spent six years in space, courtesy of the space shuttle. When the seeds returned and were planted, several exciting mutations became apparent. Plants grow 50 percent bigger than normal. More important, they display clusters of 20 blooms rather than the usual 57, and blooming is continuous.
To bloom well, African violets need 16 hours of bright, filtered light (no direct sun except in winter) and 8 hours of complete darkness. A plant that is leggy, stretches, and never blooms isn't getting enough light. Light can be natural or provided by grow lights. The soil should be moist and well drained. Using a potting soil formulated for African violets is your best bet.
Watering from the bottom is better than watering from the top. To do this, set the pot in a saucer filled with water as long as it takes the soil to become fully moist, and then dump the remaining water from the saucer. Or use a self-watering African violet pot that essentially does the job for you. Don't use soft, filtered water. Let tap water stand overnight before using it to let the chlorine evaporate and the water assume room temperature.
Mix in a bloom-booster fertilizer formulated for African violets, such as 14-12-14, each time you water. These plants like high humidity; provide this by setting the pot atop a pebble-lined saucer filled with water. Keep air temperatures around 70F. Pick off spent flowers and old leaves.