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Pests and Diseases that Affect African Violets

Mini African Violets make a welcome addition to any plant family with their fuzzy leaves and addictively adorable blossoms! In fact, these beauties have a long houseplant history (if you think hard enough, your granny probably had one on her kitchen table!).

Has your African Violet dream turned into a nightmare with the arrival of pests or diseases? Don’t fear! Keep reading to learn about the most common issues!

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A Word About Prevention

If you are reading this before your African Violet’s pest or disease outbreak, goodie! Prevention is always better than resolution. Why? Let’s be honest: Resolving a problem takes time, and if the problem’s bad enough, the answer might be the trash can. (Sorry!)

So, how can you prevent the majority of African Violet issues? Simple: Care for your plant correctly. Fungal diseases are often linked to poor growing conditions (such as constantly wet soil and insufficient light). Pests also pop up in these environments; temperature, humidity, and dead plant debris can also play a role!

What’s your ideal African Violet care routine?

  • Bottom water your plant when the topsoil is dry.

  • Keep it in a room that is over 70°F.

  • Place your African Violet in a location that receives medium to bright indirect light.

  • Maintain 40-60% humidity.

The Top Four Pests & Diseases that Affect African Violets

#1: Crown & Root Rot

What does it look like? Old growth will be limp and new growth will be dark, deformed, and short-lived (it will fall off before it reaches maturity). Under the soil, roots will become soft, mushy, and smelly. You’ll start experiencing the ‘perfect storm’ of African Violet’s pests and disease: a plague of fungus gnats is likely to follow.

Sounds less than pleasant, right? So, what causes this disease? “Dirty” dirt, pots, overwatering, and plants that are planted too deeply. Let’s break it down:

  • “Dirty Dirt:” You should always plant your African Violet in fresh, clean soil. Don’t reuse soil from a previous plant or unused potting mix from last year. Both can contain fungi that cause crown and root rot. Also, (hopefully, this one is obvious) never pot your African Violet in dirt you dug up from the ground outdoors. Commercial potting mixes are much more sterile!

  • Dirty Pots: We all love reusing pots! But one thing you might not think of: Cleaning them. Old pots can contain dangerous fungi. Safely reuse containers by soaking them in 1 part household bleach and 9 parts water for 30 minutes.

  • Overwatering: Soil that is kept too moist will contribute to root and crown rot. (Fast fact: This is the #1 reason houseplants die!) Combat overwatering by: (1) watering only when your plant’s topsoil is dry, (2) using “African Violet Soil” or adding extra drainage to traditional potting mix, (3) placing your plant in a location that receives sufficient light.

  • Planting Too Deeply: Even when you upgrade your African Violet to a larger container, you should not place your plant deeper into the soil.

Treating Crown & Root Rot

Out of all the pests and disease your African Violet could have, this could be the saddest. Why? It’s a difficult condition to treat because it’s often noticed too late! If your plant is really bad off, it’s time to call it quits and buy a new one. If you’re desperate or want to ‘go out with a bang,’ you can try saving your African Violet. (Remember, there are no guarantees here!) How?

  • Remove your plant from its soil.

  • Snip off mushy roots with sterile scissors.

  • Repot it in a clean pot with fresh African Violet potting mix.

  • Wait to rewater for 2-3 hours. (Letting it sit in dry soil allows the root system to dry out.)

  • Place your plant in a location that receives brighter indirect light.

  • Don’t water your plant as frequently: wait until the topsoil dries out.

#2: Cyclamen Mites

When you see the word “Mite,” you may think of the dastardly Spider Mite! But, Cyclamen Mites are different. Even though they’re related to spiders, don’t expect to see any delicate webbing (or any bugs for that matter, because they are tiny-tiny!).

So, what should you look for? Closely inspect the new growth on your African Violet. Cyclamen Mites enjoy feeding on new growth, which will stunt, distort, and discolor it. These fresh leaves will look grey and hairier than your average African Violet leaf.

Treating for Cyclamen Mites

It’s quarantine time! Cyclamen Mites are contagious, so isolate your infested African Violet. Remember to wash your hands (and any equipment) thoroughly before handling your healthy plants.

Extremely high humidity (80-90%) contributes to a populous Cyclamen Mite infestation! If you have your African Violet in the direct path of a humidifier or inside a terrarium, relocate it to a less humid environment.

The most recommended treatment? You’re not going to like it: the African Violet graveyard. Not ready to call it quits? The African Violet Society of America recommends Neem oil as an insecticide. Spray the foliage of your plant, wiping it gently with a soft cloth. Repeat treatments until symptoms subside.

#3: Botrytis Blight

In case you’re wondering, it’s pronounced: Beh-treh-tus. What does it look like? First appearances will be mushy, rotten “lesions” on the underside of leaves. Basically, it looks like rotten spots are eating away healthier sections of leaf. As things progress, the leaves, flowers, and stems will turn dark and develop (what the average person would describe as) a fuzzy grey mold.

The cause? Wet leaves, dead “plant material,” and injury. Here’s the run-down:

  • Wet Leaves: Leaves that stay moist can develop the Botrytis cinerea fungus. Because of this, avoid overhead watering methods. Either water the soil-only or (preferably) bottom water your plant. You should be cautious about misting African Violets. Ideally, use a humidifier to provide the extra humidity boost you need.

  • Dead “Plant Material”: Regularly inspect your plant. It may have shed some old bottom leaves without you knowing it! Remove dead leaves, flowers, stems (or anything else) that may be hiding on the soil’s surface.

  • Injury: Bugs cause damage, which can result in Botrytis. Your best bet? Prevent pests!

Treating Botrytis Blight

First off: remove everything that’s dead or dying. (Even if it means having a somewhat bald plant!)

What next? Move your African Violet to an area that receives brighter indirect light and better air circulation.

Lastly, start a bottom-watering routine. Don’t get those leaves wet!

#4: Mealybugs

They might be fuzzy, but they sure aren’t cute. If you’ve noticed white, cottony insects roaming around your African Violet, you have Mealybugs!

Treatment for Mealybugs

Step one: Isolate, isolate, isolate! If you have one or two bugs, dab them with a rubbing-alcohol-soaked cotton swab. Make a close inspection. These bugs can run, and they sure love to hide! What happens if you miss just one? A single Mealybug can birth 600 offspring at a time. We’ll let you do the math.

Gentle insecticides, like Neem Oil, don’t phase Mealybugs because of their “plastic-y” armor. If you’re looking for a spray-on treatment, you will need a harsher chemical spray, like this one, which contains imidacloprid.

With any pest, it’s important to know when to call it quits. The risk Mealybugs pose to all your leafy companions makes trashing your African Violet a pretty good idea if you have a severe infestation. Don’t worry - this doesn’t mean you’re a plant parent failure! Just try again!

Now that you know what to look for, hopefully, you’ll be able to prevent these common pests and diseases from entering your African Violet’s world. Just remember: The most important thing is to care for your plant properly from day one, so stick to the basics and power through problems!

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