Originally posted here on Real Country Living ~ August, 2009
African Violet problems can plague this popular flowering houseplant, but they are basically simple to keep healthy. In the right conditions, they will reward you with flowers for most of the year and will have very little trouble with pests and disease.
African Violet Pests
Mealybugs and Cyclamen Mites are the Most Common African Violet Pests
There are two mealybugs which most often plague the African Violet; the Citrus mealybug (Planococcus citri) and the Comstock mealybug (Pseudococcus comstocki).
At about 1/4 inches in length, mealybugs have soft bodies and look like they are covered with cotton. This is from a white waxy, sticky material that covers their bodies for protection.
You will find mealybugs on the leaves, stems and at the stem joints. The leaves will look undersized or deformed which is caused by the mealybugs sucking the plant sap for food. They excrete a sugary material, honeydew, while they feed which can coat the leaves and makes them sticky.
A plant will die if there is a heavy infestation that goes untreated.
Cyclamen Mites (Steneotarsonemus pallidus) are actually small spiders and not insects at all and are one of the most devastating of African Violet problems.
At 1/100 inch long, they cannot be seen just by looking at your plant which makes them very difficult to detect. Most likely, you will find damage to your plant before you ever suspect mites are present.
Mites assail the underside of leaves, the new growth and the flowers of African Violets. Webs can be found around the leaf joints (where the leaf stem meets the main stem).
Symptoms of a Cyclamen Mite infestation might include severe stunting and curling of the leaves from the central part of the plant. New leaves can appear grey in color because often they will be extremely hairy. Flowers might be malformed or may not open at all.
Similar to mealybugs, Mites feed by sucking the sap from the plant. Injecting a toxic chemical during feeding, mites cause the plant to grow abnormally. If left untreated, the African Violet will die, either just in the center of the plant or entirely. Some symptoms can linger, even after the infestation is under control. It will take time for the plant to return to it’s normal state and requires a continuous pruning of damaged and deformed leaves. This African Violet problem takes patience and perseverance to overcome.
A Natural Bug Spray Can Be Effective
A natural bug spray of soapy water can be effective in controlling Cyclamen mites and mealybugs. Insecticidal soaps such as, Safer Houseplant Insecticidal Soap and Concern Insect Killing Soap are two such sprays that can be used for African Violet pests as well.
Another choice may be botanical pyrethrins like Schultz Houseplant & Garden Insect Spray or Safer Houseplant Insect Killer Aerosol.
Light infestations of Mealybugs can be controlled by dipping a Q-tip into rubbing alcohol and removing the pests with that. If it is a significant invasion, managing it will be much more complicated. Adult mealybugs are covered with a waxy substance to protect themselves from insecticides. Young mealybugs are at risk though, so the use of insecticidal soaps should be sufficient in getting rid of them.
If your plant is particularly special, spray with a product that is labeled for indoor use. Bonide Mite-X is a good choice. Or use Ortho Systemic Insect Killer outside only.
Prevent Plant Fungus With Proper Watering
African Violet problems include Plant fungus, such as Crown Rot which can be avoided with proper watering methods. This can occur when an African Violet is over watered, is planted too deeply or has poor drainage. The main stem and lower leaves can appear soggy, turn black and die, usually leading to the plants doom. I always, always water my African Violets from the bottom to avoid the top soil from becoming too moist.
Mildew can appear if the surrounding air is too dry, believe it or not. Prevent this by providing a high humidity environment for your African Violets.
Proper Care is All It Takes
With proper care, your African Violet problems will be kept to a minimum. Personally, I have never had a pest invasion, although my plants have experienced a bit of plant fungus problems from time to time. And becoming overgrown in their pots is something that happens to everyone…well, if you can keep them alive long enough! And I’ll show you how to re-pot your overgrown African Violets in an upcoming post! TTFN!