How to separate african violets?

African Violet Care: Grow African Violets

African violets are a beautiful indoor plant, so find out how to grow and care for African violets.

What Are African Violets?

If you are in need of some flowering companions to get you through the cold days of winter, look for a plant that hails from the southern hemisphere, the African violet.

African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha) are native to Tanzania and get their Latin name from a 19th century colonial official and amateur botanist, Baron Walter von Saint Paul, who was stationed in the east African country known then as Tanganyika.

He sent specimens of these wild violets home to his father in Germany and in a very short time African violet seeds and plants were available all over Europe.

Though these dainty flowers may look fragile they are pretty tough plants and easy to grow on a warm sunny windowsill. The blossoms come in a wide range of colors including all shades of purple, blue, pink, red, bi-colors, and white with single and double-flowering forms. Their fuzzy foliage is attractive as well with some leaves having ruffled edges or variegated with white and green.

Caring for African Violets

These plants have few demands but will reward you with almost constant bloom if they are happy.

  • They appreciate a warm house: 65ºF to 75ºF during the day with a 5ºF to 10ºF drop at night.
  • Bright indirect light is ideal, though during the short days of winter they can tolerate full sun.
  • They bloom best when slightly pot-bound, so don’t be in a rush to move them into larger containers.
  • Repotting African violets: Wait until your plant has outgrown its pot, ceased to flower, or develops multiple crowns before repotting. They are shallow rooted plants so they grow best in a pot that isn’t too deep.
  • African violet soil: Use a fast draining African violet soil or make your own by combining equal parts potting soil, peat moss, and perlite or vermiculite.
  • Plants with multiple crowns can be divided, giving you more plants to enjoy or share with friends. African violets are easy to propagate by rooting a leaf cutting in water or vermiculite.

  • Watering African violets: Careful watering is the key to good African violet health. They like room temperature water. You can water them from the bottom by filling a saucer under the pot with water and letting it wick up through the soil. After 30 minutes drain off the excess; they don’t like to have cold wet feet. It is perfectly acceptable to water from the top as long as you take care not to get the leaves or center of the plant wet. Overwatering will kill them, so allow the soil to dry out a bit before watering. Fertilize regularly with a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer or one made especially for African violets.

The weather outside might be frightful but these plants are delightful, and before you know it they will be blooming up a storm for you!

See our complete African Violet plant care page for more information. Learn even more about growing African violets.

Trailing African Violets: Grooming, Pruning and Propagating

Trailing African violets aren’t any trickier to grow than their single-crowned counterparts, but grooming them can be a challenge. Whether you’ve got a plant that’s refusing to branch out or one that’s grown into a dense tangle, I’ve got some tips on getting your trailer to shape up.

I love the way the foliage on a trailing African violet fills and spills over the edges of its pot. For an introduction to this wonderful African violet form, see “Trailing African Violets: Flowing Foliage and Bountiful Blooms.” Although many trailing varieties will do their thing with little or no help from you, an occasional grooming session can be useful in shaping up your plant for maximum impact. As a bonus, grooming your plant generally provides leaves and cuttings for propagation.

Not all plants of trailing varieties sucker readily at first. You want to encourage your plant to produce suckers, because the suckers turn into desirable additional crowns and runners. The more crowns your plant develops, the more blooms it’ll be able to produce.If your trailer remains stubbornly single-crowned as it grows, you’ll have to screw up your courage and remove the crown of the plant.

To remove a crown, use a very sharp knife, and slice into the stem at an angle on either side to separate the crown from the base of the plant. Removing a row of two of outer leaves from the crown (leaving at least the center two pairs of leaves) creates a stub of stem for sticking into barely moist potting mix. Firm up the potting mix around the stem and place in a high-humidity environment, just as for rooting a leaf. After a few weeks, the crown should develop new roots and start growing.

Another way to encourage a trailing habit is to give new suckers more light for rapid growth. Removing larger, older leaves can let a lot of light down into the plant. You may be able to remove larger crowns as well, allowing several new suckers and crowns to form in the resulting gaps. Your goal doesn’t have to be perfect symmetry, but try for some balance in the overall shape of the plant.

Pruning and training Saintpaulia pendula
(move mouse over images for captions)

The Violet Barn’s “Rob” Robinson says, “ugly now means beautiful later!” For the most beautifully shaped plants, Rob suggests leaving only the crowns at the tips of the stems and pruning all other foliage. Repot the plant, and arrange the runners evenly along the surface of the potting mix, pinning them in place if necessary. You’ll end up will fuller foliage than before, as well as a bounty of blooms. Flower stalks originate near an African violet’s crown, so the more crowns on your trailer the greater its bloom potential.

Trailing African violets often go through an awkward adolescence. Grooming and pruning a trailer can result in a half-naked, scraggly plant that makes you wonder just what you’ve done to it. One of my favorite plants needed to have its crown pinched out before it began suckering. Then, the plant spent a year looking like a tall totem-pole of suckers. Finally, the plant started putting on some lateral growth, eventually filling out and spilling over the sides of its pot.

I got some wonderful advice on dealing with overgrown trailers during a visit to The Violet Gallery, where Barb was kind enough to gift me with an overgrown ‘Allegro Appalachian Trail’ to play with. When a trailing violet gets leggy, she suggests taking a large crown cutting. A long, trailing stem can be chopped into several individual cuttings. For a fuller effect, combine several rooted cuttings in a pot, unless growing for show.

Repotting ‘Allegro Appalachian Trail’
(move mouse over image for captions)

Trailers grown for show must be single plants with a minimum of three crowns. In a show plant, the trailing branches may spread across the surface of the soil and root themselves as they go along, but the runners must all be connected as a single plant. Trailing African violets would be fun to enter in a show, both because they’re more unusual and because their multiple crowns help ensure lots of blooms for the big day.

Whether you’re growing for show or growing for fun, occasional grooming and pruning will help you get the most from your trailing African violets.

Photos by Jill M. Nicolaus.

For more culture information (and some lovely plants), check out The Violet Gallery and The Violet Barn, as well as the African Violets and Gesneriads forum (for DG subscribers).

Repotting African Violets

After several years, an African violet can grow into a shape similar to that of a palm tree: the lower leaves tend to yellow and drop as the crown of the plant continues to grow upward. When the foliage crown reaches a couple of inches above the rim of the pot, you should rejuvenate your plant.

Repotting African Violet How-To

1. Gently tap the sides of the pot against a hard surface to loosen the plant from the pot. If necessary, slide a knife around the edges.

2. Once removed, take the knife and slice off the bottom third of the root ball. Carefully tease or wash away the loose soil from the top and sides of the roots without damaging them.

3. Using a sharp knife, divide the plant into two or three smaller plants, taking care to determine where these separations happen naturally, and allocating as many roots as possible for each individual plant. Gently separate the plant, taking care not to break any leaves or stems. Cut off brown, wilted, or broken leaves with the knife.

4. Place a small piece of screen or pottery shards over the drainage hole of a clean clay pot (some growers prefer plastic, which retains more moisture) and fill it halfway with premixed potting soil sold especially for African violets — light, moist soil that contains sphagnum moss and perlite for aeration.

5. Make an indentation in the soil for the plant, and set it in the pot. Add more soil to cover the root system, without burying it any deeper than it was in the old pot, and pat down gently. When resettling a plant deeper in a pot, gently scrape the bare stem (as if you were scraping a carrot) to remove the heavy bark that forms when leaves are shed.

Repotted African Violet Care Tips

Water your African violet, and place it in diffuse light in a room with a temperature of between 68 degrees and 75 degrees in the daytime and 5 to 10 degrees cooler at night, to give it some time to recover from its radical pruning. Until the new roots form, your plant won’t need as much water as it usually does.

When, several weeks later, you see new growth emerging from the center of the crown, you’ll know the plant is ready for its regular watering schedule, and you can begin feeding it a one-quarter-strength dilution of a specially prepared African violet fertilizer at each watering throughout the year.

African violets thrive on humidity. Group plants together to form a more humid microclimate, or place them in trays filled with gravel and pour water over the gravel, filling the tray to just below the bottom of the pot. Do not let the plant sit in water. As the water evaporates, the humidity around the plants will rise.

Use water that has been allowed to stand for at least twelve hours, so that the chlorine has dissipated. Never water your plants with water that has been filtered through a water softener. Also, avoid wetting the hairy leaves when watering and feeding, because this will stain them.

Dividing An African Violet Plant – How To Separate African Violet Suckers

African violets are cheery little plants that don’t appreciate a lot of fuss and muss. In other words, they’re the perfect plant for busy (or forgetful) folks. Dividing an African violet – or separating African violet “pups” – is an easy way to generate more plants to spread around your house, or to share with lucky friends. Read on to learn more about African violet plant division.

African Violet Sucker Propagation

Exactly what are African violet pups? Pups, also known as suckers, are miniature plants that grow from the base of the mother plant. A pup grows from the plant’s main stem – not from a leaf or from the crown. A mature African violet might have one pup, or it may have several.

Removing suckers is a good way to propagate a new plant, but it also keeps the mother plant healthy, as suckers can rob the plant of nutrients and energy, thus reducing flowering and shortening the life of the plant.

How to Separate African Violet Suckers

Separating African violet pups is easy and will result in another plant that can be given away to family or friends…or you may simply want more to add to your collection.

Water the African violet the day before you intend to separate the pups. Then fill a 2-inch (5 cm.) clay or plastic container with a commercial potting mix consisting of peat and perlite, or any well-drained mix. Don’t use a larger pot; too much damp potting mix can rot the pup.

Slide the mother plant carefully out of the pot. Push the leaves apart gently to find the pups. Remove the pup from the mother plant with scissors or a sharp knife.

Make a hole in the center of the pot with your fingertip. Insert the pup in the hole, then firm potting mix gently around the stem. Water lightly.

Create a miniature greenhouse by covering the pot with a clear plastic bag. You can also use a clean plastic milk jug with the “spout” end cut off. Place the pot in bright, indirect light. Make sure the pup is protected from drafts or heating vents.

Water lightly as needed, using lukewarm water, to keep the potting mix lightly moist but never soggy. Feed the pup once every week, using a using a mixture of ¼ teaspoon of balanced, water-soluble fertilizer in 1 gallon of water. Always water the pup before applying fertilizer.

Open the bag or remove the cover occasionally to provide fresh air. This is especially important if you notice condensation inside the plastic. Remove the plastic cover for a short period after four weeks, then gradually increase the time every day until the pup is no longer protected by the greenhouse environment.

Splitting and Propagating African Violets

How to Grow and Split African Violets

I think everyone should grow African violets. Why? Well, they’re really easy to grow (and split and propagate) as long as you follow a few easy guidelines (and if you don’t know what to do, check out my Growing African violets post here), and they’re pretty!

There’s such an amazing array of different flower colors ranging from pure white to pink to fuchsia to deep purple. There are even variegated ones, both flowers and leaves.

When you do grow them, though, after awhile you’ll notice that one of your plants may look like it has turned into two, right in the pot, like the one below.

When your violet begins to look like this, it’s time to divide it

How to Split Your African Violet

When that happens, it’s time to divide your violet and repot into separate pots. It’s a good idea to do this when the plant has divided in two, although you don’t have to rush to do it the second this happens.

I have to admit I once had a plant that I wasn’t really paying attention to and when I finally got around to repotting it, there were 7 (yes, SEVEN) plants in the pot! Needless to say, they became free gifts for friends and family, and as far as I know, they’re all still thriving!

So, how do you repot? It’s really easy, violets are very forgiving in this respect.

This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase through one of these links, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your purchase price.

Supplies you Need for Splitting your Violet Plants

First, get your supplies together. You can reuse the old pot for one of your repotted plants, if you want. Otherwise, make sure you have 2 appropriately-sized pots. Remember that violets don’t particularly like to be placed in very large pots, they prefer snug quarters. This set of 6″ pots is nice and very reasonably priced.

You’ll want to have some good quality potting soil available. This is really personal preference, although I do use an organic brand. Adding a bit of compost doesn’t hurt either.

Procedure for Splitting and Repotting

If your violet hasn’t been watered in awhile, giving it a bit of a drink so the roots are wet (or at least damp) and pliable is helpful.

Pull your plant gently out of the pot and lay it on your work surface. If there are any dead or sick-looking leaves underneath, gently pull those off. I sometimes pull off very large leaves as well because they’re old anyway and taking them off will allow the plant to put more energy into newer growth.

You may find, as I did with this plant, that you have to do very little work to get it apart. Mine was already so completely separated that I just pulled gently and it came apart. If you have waited too long, like I did that other time (7 plants!), they may be more entwined and you’ll have to work a little harder to get them apart successfully.

Obviously, you want to be gentle, but if you should break a few leaves, don’t worry, your plant is not going to suffer from this. Again, those are likely to be the older leaves around the outside or bottom, so taking them off may be helpful for your plant anyway.

The two plants basically fell apart when I pulled them out of the pot

Once your plants are separated, it’s as simple as putting potting soil in your pots, placing each plant in its own pot and tucking soil gently around the roots. Give it a good watering and place it in a sunny window (remember, no drafts!) and let it grow!

And then there were two

How to Propagate your African Violet

Maybe you have a friend with a violet you’ve really been admiring and you’d love to have one. Or maybe you’re like me and you purchased a violet with some variegated and some solid-colored leaves and you want to see if you can grow a fully variegated one.

Remember that plant that split into 7 plants? The original plant had solid-colored leaves and fuchsia flowers. When it split, one of the resulting plants had variegated flowers. The reason it did this has to do with some rather complicated genetics. Suffice to say, it’s kinda cool! You can see it in the pic below.

A beautiful variegated violet that came from a plant that flowered in solid fuchsia

So, when I bought the plant with a few variegated leaves, I figured, why not see if I can get a fully variegated one? So, I took 3 or 4 of the variegated leaves and tried to propagate them.

Procedure for Propagating your Violet

How did I go about it? It’s actually really simple. Like, stupid simple. Either pinch or cut the leaf off leaving part of the petiole (that’s the stem the leaf is growing on). If the petiole is over 1 1/2 inches long, shorten it to under 1 1/2 inches.

Then, just make a small hole in a small container of potting soil and “plant” the leaf, patting the soil around it securely. Give it a gentle watering and that’s it. You’ll want to do a few of these as, sometimes, they don’t all take and the leaf rots.

At this point, you can just place your container where it will get bright, indirect light (direct, hot sunlight at this point isn’t a good idea since the leaf has no roots yet).

I think keeping the humidity high around my leaves as they start rooting is helpful, so I overturn an old 10-gallon aquarium over the pots until I see new growth, spritzing the underside of the aquarium with water every few days. As a bonus, it keeps the cats out of the pots until the plants are big enough to cover the soil! Here’s an aquarium, if you decide to go that route.

Patience, Grasshopper!

Now, here’s the hard part. You need to be patient! It takes some time for the leaves to root. The ones you see here have been in the soil for 3-4 weeks. When I (VERY!) gently tugged on the leaves today, there was resistance, which means roots are forming.

Even though the leaf has roots, I’m not going to see any new top growth for probably another 3 weeks, maybe even another month. Until then, I’ll keep them under the aquarium and in bright, indirect light.

Once I see new, small leaves forming, I’ll move the baby plants out of the aquarium and under my grow lights. I won’t repot until I see quite a bit of new growth several months down the line as they are still quite fragile at this time.

You may also notice as the new growth gets larger that the original leaf begins to rot away. That’s ok, it’s supposed to. Once it’s quite brown and new growth is well-established, you can cut or break the old leaf off.

How not to (apparently) Propagate your Violet

You may notice in the pic above that I planted a couple of pieces of leaves, as well as 2 full leaves with petioles attached. I did this because some plants will grow from chunks of leaves, especially if the center vein is exposed and placed into the soil. I’ve never heard of this working with violets, but figured I’d try. So far, there isn’t any growth on the leaves so I have a feeling it’s not going to work but I’ll leave them there for awhile just in case.

This is my collection of African violets. It keeps expanding because I have to split my plants! You might notice the one on the left still looks a little sick. If you read my other post on violets, I had one that had some cold damage because it was in a drafty window. That is the one. It’s actually looking much better than it did (you can see how it looked before in my African Violet post here).

Although the one on the bottom left looks damaged in the pic, that’s actually the variegated one and what you’re seeing is the variegation on the leaves.

You can also see a single bloom on the top right one. That’s the parent to the one in the middle with all the variegated blooms. Plant genetics can be weird!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and that it’s been helpful. Please leave any questions or comments, I love to read and answer them! Have you signed up for my email list yet? You can do that here. No spam, I promise! And don’t worry, you only have to sign up once. Once you’re subscribed, you’ll have access to ALL the freebies!

Related African Violet and Houseplant Posts

  • Growing Healthy African Violets
  • Caring for your Poinsettia
  • How to Keep Pests out of your Houseplants
  • The 4 Major Houseplant Pests and how to get rid of them

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As always, smile and have a crazy organic day!

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