This step-by-step tutorial shows how to repot African violets when there are too many leaves, the pot is crowded, or the plant will not bloom. Repotting should be done once or twice a year to keep your African violets healthy and looking good.
If you are repotting, it’s also a good time to take leaf cuttings from your African violets and propagate new plants.
- How to Grow African Violets
- How to Repot African Violets
- African Violet Repotting – How To Repot African Violets
- When to Repot an African Violet
- Tips on African Violet Repotting
- Repotting African Violets ‘Saintpaulia’
- You’ll Need….
- When to Repot
- Pot Types and Size
- Removing from the Pot
- Water and Rest
- How to Grow African Violets (Saintpaulias)
- Reasons African Violets Are Leggy: Fixing Leggy African Violets
- Why Do African Violets Get Leggy?
- What to Do When African Violet Stems are too Long
How to Grow African Violets
Houseplant trends come and go, but African violets seem to maintain a steady, sentimental fan base. I find their bold colors and simple arrangement so cheerful, particularly during the colder months.
While they are, overall, easy to care for, African violets can get out of hand if their size and form are not maintained on a seasonal basis. This involves grooming the plants—removing unwanted leaves and trimming crowns—and repotting as needed.
Unlike many other houseplants, repotting may not require a larger pot.
Many African violets are bred to remain small and like a compact container, so repotting is often a process of cleaning up the plant and refreshing the potting mix, not up-sizing the pot.
Before we talk about repotting violets, here’s a few basics for successful growing.
Related: 10 Reasons Your African Violets Refuse to Bloom
Growing African Violets
Sunlight | East or west windows are recommended. Avoid excessive heat and cold. You’ll know the light is insufficient if the plant doesn’t bloom, the leaves grow in elongated shapes, or crowns get leggy.
Fluorescent Lights | One foot above the plants, 12-14 hours per day.
Soil | Use a commercial mix intended for African violets combined with perlite, or make your own.
Water | Water deeply, until the saucer fills. Empty the saucer after 30 minutes. Best to water from below and avoid leaves. Also consider wick watering.
Temperature | 65-75°F (18-24°C)
Humidity | 40-50 percent | I keep some of my violets sitting above plant trays filled with water. When the air is too dry, I set clear bags over them (never touching the leaves).
Pot Sizes | 2-inch wide for plantlets, 3-inch wide for first-time blooming, 4-inch wide for 9-inch diameter plant
Pot Type | Plastic or clay. I love clay but I find it dries out too fast in the warm sun. These plastic ones have good drainage and saucers.
Fertilizer | One popular type used is Better Gro Orchid Plus 20-14-13. I use fish emulsion. Ask at your local garden nursery to see what they recommend in combination with your local water.
Orchid Plus | Amazon
Repotting African Violets
Examine the Plant
A neighbor gave me about a dozen old African violets and I was happy for the gift although I knew it would be a challenge. They were pretty messed up!
This next photo is a prime example. See how there are all different clumps growing together? This plant is so chaotic, it not only looks like a hot mess, but it will probably not bloom either. But I still want to give it a chance.
Many years ago, it likely started out in good formation, with symmetrical leaves nicely circling the middle of the pot. But, after years without repotting, the whole thing has become a happy monster. I’m sure the owner water it perfectly but did not repot it as needed or watch out for rogue growth.
Without regular care—once every 3-6 months or so—these guys can grow in all sorts of crazy ways. After several years, it gets very hard to fix them without serious cutting back.
Look at the Underbelly
African violets are fairly fragile and it’s a bit too easy to break leaf stems.
Before repotting, it is recommended to water deeply—until water runs out the bottom of the pot—and empty the saucer after 30 minutes—a few days ahead. This moisture infusion can prevent some unwanted breakage of leaves while handling the plant.
Here’s the plant after removing it from the pot:
Looking underneath, I found several crowns and suckers, as expected. This plant is such a mess, that I am going to be ruthless to get it back on track. I’d rather end up with some small new plants with good healthy formation, then continuing this crazy mess. A lovable, crazy mess, but, a mess.
Also, any healthy leaves removed can be propagated to create new plants. See How to Grow African Violets from Leaf Cuttings here. You could get a lot of new plants from this one!
From top view, starting with the outermost leaves, I remove any dead or damaged ones, as well as any growing in strange places or in odd directions. The goal is symmetry, but this may be impossible if your plant is so seriously overgrown like the ones here.
Sometimes this means removing most of the leaves. Ideally, I end up with about 10 total in nice, circular formation, but, in reality, it could be down to just half that. Again, go for long-term health. This is not the time to fear a good grooming.
Preparing Crowns for Repotting
A properly-planted African violet has its lower leaves just a quarter or half-inch above the soil (potting mix). It’s very common for the plants to get ‘leggy’, with the crown (thick, main stem) getting woody and tall, extending several inches above the soil. Just like succulents that are stretching for light, these crowns can get pretty gnarly and bent.
In this next photo you can see a leggy crown. To get this one back on track, I’m going to cut off the crown about 1-2-inches below the lowest leaves.
If it looks green and healthy inside, I will gently scrape the woody surface off with a clean, dull knife, and then plant the whole thing in a combination of damp African violet potting mix and perlite.
If it’s rotting inside, I’ll keep cutting until I’m confident I’ve got a rot-free section.
If the African violet has roots but no crown, or no excessive crown, I will simply repot it at the recommended depth, again with the lower leaves one quarter to one half-inch above the soil (potting mix).
Pot Size Matters
African violets like their roots fairly compact. Often, you will not need a larger pot size after cleaning up the plant. The small breeds can spend their entire lives in a 4-inch pot if they are properly maintained.
If you are simply repotting because the plant is growing, it’s best to just increase the pot size by 3/4 to 1-inch maximum at a time, and only if warranted.
If you are repotting overgrown plants you have separated into smaller, individual plants, a pot that is the width of root base or crown plus two inches in diameter will be fine.
Choose pots that are as deep as they are wide, but not deeper than that, if you can. I have a terrible time finding pots I like in the right sizes, but finally settled on these ones.
My neighbor’s crazy, old plants were pretty tricky to clean up and repot, and they are certainly never going to win any beauty contests, but they are still lovely plants and will provide lots of blooms for years to come.
For optimum growing conditions. you can set each newly repotted plant in a large ziplock bag and close it up, to keep humidity in, just the way they like it. Use a bag big enough that the leaves don’t touch the sides, otherwise they may be exposed directly to the condensation, which they don’t like. A humidity cover is particularly beneficial at times like this after transplanting when the plant has been stressed and needs to recover and regrow.
In addition to your watering and fertilizer routine, do yourself a favor and check on the structure of your violets every couple of months. In addition to repotting as needed, take care of odd leaf growth, crowns sneaking up, and suckers. This will give you better-looking, healthier plants.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
- How to Grow African Violets from Cuttings
- How Often Should I Water my Houseplants?
- Orchids for Beginners
How to Repot African Violets
Instructions for repotting African violet houseplants that to prevent or correct overcrowding in pot. Total Time1 hr Author: Melissa J. Will Cost: $10
Supplies & Materials
- 1 African violet houseplant
- Remove African violet plant from container and gently shake away any loose soil.
- Examine roots, stem, and leaves and remove any dead or damaged parts.
- Pinch off any unwanted leaves from outer circle(s). These can be propagated.
- Trim stem down to 1-2-inches in length with clean scalpel.
- Repot in fresh potting mix with lowest leaf stems just above soil level. Water potting mix thoroughly.
- Grow near east or west-facing window avoiding hot sun or heat or under fluorescent lights for 12-14 hours per day. Ideal temperature is 65-75°F (18-24°C) with 40-50% humidity.
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African Violet Repotting – How To Repot African Violets
African violets can live a long time, as long as 50 years! To get them there, you need to provide good care which included repotting African violets. The trick is knowing when to repot an African violet and what soil and container size to use. We’ll go over some of the tips on how to repot African violets for a successful transition for your plant.
When to Repot an African Violet
Most plants need repotting at some point to either increase the container size or to refresh the soil. There are several schools of thought on the right way to repot, but all agree you can buy or make your own African violet mix. Before removing your plant, select a container that is one third the size of the plant’s leaf spread.
Most collectors recommend repotting at least once and up to twice per year. The timing is not terribly crucial since they are usually indoor plants, but to avoid transplant shock, it is wise to disturb the plant when it is not actively growing and producing flowers.
Tips on African Violet Repotting
Before repotting, water the plant well from under the leaves or put the container on a saucer of water for an hour. The moisture will help you remove the plant from its container. This is more important with clay or ceramic pots. You can skip this step with plastic containers that will bend a bit to help the root ball slide out.
The right soil is necessary for successfully repotting African violets. There are very good mixes to purchase that are specially blended for this species or make your own. For this, use 1 part each garden loam, sand and peat moss. Add a small amount of bone meal if you wish. Pre-moisten the soil lightly before planting.
Be careful when removing the plant from its old housing. You may need to loosen the soil a bit and then turn the plant over, cradling it in your hand gently and push into the drainage holes. The plant should come right out but, if necessary, cut around the container with a knife.
There are various instructions on the next step. Some say to cut a bit of the root mass off the bottom and spread the roots gently. This is useful if the neck of the plant is elongating.
Others say separate the plant into smaller plantlets, but this would only refer to older plants. Still others feel that the root ball should not be disturbed and, instead, nestled into a hole made in the new container and backfilled around.
The leaves of the plant should be lightly resting on the rim of the container. To reduce transplant shock, bag the container and plant. The increased humidity helps the plant recover. Remove the bag after one week and continue the plant’s usual care.
Repotting African Violets ‘Saintpaulia’
Care must be taken when repotting African violets. They’re a sensitive species and have specific requirements including repotting correctly to enable them to grow well and thrive while producing beautiful blooms.
- New pots (plastic, terracota or ceramic).
- Potting mix of these 3 choices (1 part AV mix and 1 part vermiculite or 1 part perlite – 2 parts peat moss, 1 part vermiculite and 1 part perlite – 1 part peat moss and 1 part vermiculite or perlite).
- Sharp knife (only if any parts of the plant have to be removed).
- Old newspaper (keep work area clean).
- Tepid water for watering.
- Disposable gloves (optional).
- Butter knife to remove plant (may require)
When to Repot
I tend to believe it’s best to repot or provide a soil change in the same pot at least once a year, possibly twice. Plenty of nutrients within the soil encourages growth and any unwanted stem, suckers (new shoots), flowers, roots and faded leaves can be removed while repotting (removal provides the healthy parts of the plant with maximum support from the roots). More about pruning in another article but keep it in mind that it’s the ideal time to prune when repotting.
African violets have sensitive stems and leaves. When the upper parts of the plant outgrow the current pot, stems can arch over the pot edge causing them damage. This is a time to repot.
Roots growing out of the bottom of the current pot is a sign to repot. AV’s prefer a certain amount of being root bound within the pot, not too much though. The root system grows and spreads in width, more so than many other plants which is why shallow pots are primarily used.
If conditions are warm and there is enough light then repotting can be carried out various times of the year. However, later spring and during summer are the best times in temperate regions when more daylight is available and warmer temperatures are more stable.
I would repot new plants if they are bought from a garden store, but give them a week or so to settle into the new home to prevent any shock. It’s already a big change for the plants going into a new environment. After a week and they’re doing well, repot.
Pot Types and Size
Be aware that your African violets may not need a bigger size pot. This is going to depend on old growth and new shoots at the neck being removed and any roots when pruning first.
The neck is the bottom of the stem (close to the soil) that produces new shoots which are best removed to keep the plant growing well. If the shoots are not removed they will become new plants – affecting the growth and flowering of the parent, and you just wont get that fabulous rosette look.
If it’s time for a new pot you’ll only require the next size up. Too much space in the pot surrounding the roots may cause the bottom soil to become waterlogged and the roots system will struggle to absorb the water. Waterlogged soil can also cause root rot.
The putting terracotta, pieces of crock or other materials within the bottom of the pot debate continues. Some growers prefer one method while others don’t. The advantage is drainage and prevention of waterlogged soil. The disadvantages are the plant would have to be watered from the top and the concern of insects getting into the pot easier is increased, although many materials can be used to cover the bottom of the pot that allows water in and not insects inside. Test and learn what works for you.
Terracotta pots are what I find best to use. They’re porous. These allow more air to the soil and provide humidity from under the plant when water is evaporating. Other pots are fine if they drain well and plastic pots are great when repotting because the plant is much easier to remove, and you can change the outer container if a new color or design is wanted.
As mentioned, shallow pots are best suited. Sterilize whichever type of pots are being used. I would clean the pots with a chlorine bleach solution of 10 percent to ward of any possible disease.
Removing from the Pot
Take great care to avoid touching and damaging the leaves of African violets, they’re very sensitive. Try and handle the lower stem and root ball rather than the upper plant. You can use disposable gloves if you have them.
Slightly dry soil seems to encourage AV’s out of plastic pots and damp soil for terracotta. If the pot is plastic, squeeze the outer edge to loosen the plant and leaning the pot to the side should do the trick.
Terracota and others can be more tricky to remove. Tapping the bottom of the pot may suffice, if not, a butter type knife around the edge of the soil and pot will help it free.
When the plant is removed, gently loosen and remove excess soil around the root ball. Just do this gently and plenty will fall away. You need enough soil kept to keep the plant sturdy in its new pot – don’t over do it.
First things first, have a quality potting mix that’s light, airy and drains well. Many of the African violet ready made mixes like these are suitable although it’s best to add to the mix to reduce density (1 part AV mix and 1 part vermiculite or 1 part perlite).
If you’re creating a potting mix. You can mix 2 parts peat moss, 1 part vermiculite and 1 part perlite. Or, 1 part peat moss and 1 part vermiculite or perlite.
Add soil to the bottom of the pot and place the plant on top of the soil until it now sits level with where it will stay. You may have to add or remove soil until this is correct. There will be no soil ‘as yet’ around the outer edge of the root ball.
Once the position is right and the plant is seated, you can now add soil around the edges ” between the roots and pot”. Firm the soil around the edges slightly, not very compact though.
Water and Rest
Well done, African violets repotted. Now you’ll just need to water them using tepid water. There are those that water from the top, bottom, use wick watering or a combination. All work and have there place, watering plants sufficiently.
For the first few waterings while the roots and the plant settles I would water from the top until you notice water gently coming out from the drainage holes. Let it settle for 30 minutes and then remove excess water from the saucer.
You can rest easily while the plants absorb the fresh nutrients.
As mentioned above, while you’re repotting this is a good time to remove any flowers and leaves fading, get pruning if required. It’s also worth cleaning up the neck of the plant to remove suckers (new shoots) and keep the parent plant in good shape for its next blooms.
How to Grow African Violets (Saintpaulias)
They may have a touch of ‘granny’, but African Violets make for marvellous flowering indoor plants and are the ideal choice for terrarium displays.
African Violets require moderate to bright indirect light all year round to encourage flowering. A well lit kitchen bench or coffee table is perfect. They also prefer humidity in the atmosphere (thus why they are ideal for terrarium environments). This is not usually a problem except in dry climates, if the room has a air-conditioner in use or during winter when indoor heaters dry the air inside the house.
When watering African Violets, allow the potting mix to become reasonably dry before the next watering (but not completely dried out to the point the plants foliage is wilting!). Apply water to the soil surface or from the bottom-up using the saucer below the potted container. DO NOT WET the foliage or leave water droplets on the leaves as this can cause leaf marking and spotting.
Remove spent flowers.
African Violets require specially formulated fertiliser to promote healthy growth and most importantly, abundant flowers. Searles Flourish Flowers & Foliage, is an ideally suited soluble fertiliser. Apply this (following instructions) to the potting mix every three to four weeks from spring thought to autumn. DO NOT fertilise in the cooler cold weather, as African Violets are usually actively growing in temperatures of 18 degrees Celsius and above.
African Violets need to be re-potted about once a year to maintain healthy and strong growth and promote continued flowering.
A sign that your African Violet requires re-potting is if there is increased stem length from soil level to lower leaves.
When re-potting, use Searles Cyclamen & African Violet Mix. Replant your African Violet so the lower leaves are only just above the potting mix level. New roots will grow from the stem of the plant that is now below the soil. Water the mix and keep the plant away from strong light for three to four weeks, then move it back to its favoured position.
Reasons African Violets Are Leggy: Fixing Leggy African Violets
Most plants start out cute and little in garden centers and nurseries. They can even remain that way for a long time when we get them home. Just as age changes our bodies, age can change a plant’s shape and structure as well. For instance, with age, African violets can develop long bare necks between the soil line and their lower leaves. Continue reading to learn what you can when African violets are leggy like this.
Why Do African Violets Get Leggy?
New growth on African violets grows from the plant tip. As new growth grows from the top spending much of the plant’s energy, the old leaves at the bottom of the plant die back. After time, this can leave you with long necked African violet plants.
The leaves of African violets do not like to be wet. African violets should be planted in a well-draining soil mix and water right at the soil. African violets are susceptible to rot, molds and fungus if water is allowed to pool on the foliage or around the crown. This can cause leggy African violets also.
What to Do When African Violet Stems are too Long
When an African violet is young, you can prolong its beauty by giving it African violet food, keeping its foliage clean and dry, and up potting it about once a year. When potting it up, only use a slightly bigger pot, cut away any dead lower leaves, and plant it slightly deeper than it was before to bury any long neck it may be developing.
A similar method of repotting can be done for long necked African violet plants that have up to an inch of bare stem. Remove the plant from the pot and cut off any dead or damaged bottom foliage. Then, with a knife, gently scrape away the top layer of the bare stem, exposing the inner cambium layer. Exposure of this cambium layer promotes growth. Lightly dust the scraped long neck with rooting hormone, then plant the African violet deeply enough so that the neck is under soil and the foliage is just above the soil line.
If the African violet stem is bare and leggy more than an inch, the best method of saving it is cutting the plant off at the soil level and re-rooting it. Fill a pot with a well-draining soil mix, and cut the African violet stems at the soil level. Remove any dead or sickly foliage. Scrape or score the stem end to be planted and dust it with rooting hormone. Then plant the African violet cutting in its new pot.