Repotting African Violets

     The two most common errors made with violets at repotting time are: (1) full grown plants are not repotted often enough, and (2) when plants are repotted they are planted into pots much too large for them. A baby (or starter) violet should grow in a 2" (or 2.5") pot until its diameter (leaf span) reaches approximately 9", then pot it on to a 3" pot (or tub). Grow it in the 3" pot until it has grown to approximately 12" across, and then move it on into a 4" pot. If you plan to grow it by wick watering the violet will need a new wick at each repot. Notice that at each stage of growth the violet is growing in a pot that is one-third the diameter of the plant leaf span. Violets are shallow rooted plants compared to other house plants and don’t need, and in fact, don’t do as well, when grown in large pots.

     To decide what size pot a violet should be growing in measure the diameter of the plant. Divide that measurement by 3. The result tells you the pot size to use. Most experienced growers prefer squatty shaped pots called tubs for violets. A full grown African Violet rarely needs a pot larger than 4 or perhaps 4 1/2". After having grown in such a pot for 8 - 12 months the main stem of the plant will begin to be visible above the soil level. This is because the plant is continually growing new leaves out from the center and slowly, one by one, the older outer leaves die off thus exposing the neck or main stem of the plant. The appearance of the bare "neck" is a sign that it is time to repot the plant. Crumble off nearly all of the soil from the root system when it is almost completely dry. Do this by sliding the plant out of its pot and gently, but firmly, working your fingers in among the roots to remove the old soil, which will be compact and sour after 8 - 12 months of use by the plant. Notice that there is a portion of the main stem of the plant from which neither roots not leaves are growing. Using a clean knife scrape this section of the stem clean. It will be covered by a brown papery callous. You need to remove the callous so that the stem can grow new roots once you bury it under the soil. This is also a good time to remove any of the older leaves that don’t look as though they have enough vigor to last much longer. Measure the leaf span, divide by 3, and plant the violet in that size pot. On especially old plants with especially long necks it may be necessary to cut off some of the roots or even the lower stem itself in order to be able to fit the plant down into a pot of the proper size so that the neck can be buried. (For a detailed explanation with photos of how to re-root an older violet go to and click on "Growing Advice", then on "Rejuvenate Your Violet".) Now is the time for a new wick if you want to use wick watering. Do not reuse potting soil. Plant the violet deep enough that the leaf stems just graze the surface of the soil. Lightly compact the soil so that you are sure it is contacting the section of the stem that you scraped clean. If, after a few days, you notice that some of the outer leaves are wilting a little, set the potted plant in a plastic bag large enough to accomodate it and close up the bag with a rubber band or twistem. Keep it in the bag as long as necessary until the roots have recovered and the plant shows signs of growing. Some condensation on the inside of the bag is okay. Most plants don’t need such bagging, but it is an easy way to give a plant some intensive care. By repeating this repotting procedure whenever you notice the neck showing (at least once a year) you can keep your violet producing vigorous new foliage and blooms for years to come.
     Your violets will grow more symmetrically and bloom more heavily if you allow only one rosette of leaves to grow on one root system. Keep all suckers (side shoots) groomed off of your plants (unless they are trailing types). A sucker is the beginning of a new plant which forms near the base of the main plant or in the axils (which is where the leaf stems join the central core of the violet). Some flower bud stems form small leaves which you may mistake for suckers, however, by the time four leaves have developed without evidence of a flower bud you can be sure that it is a sucker. Remove suckers with a pencil point, nut pick, small knife, or tweezers. If the suckers are not removed you will eventually have a violet with 2 or 3 or more plants all crowded together in the pot. The root system works to keep all of these plants going and doesn’t have much energy to spare for flowers. A violet that needs to be divided is one that has never had the suckers removed and they have grown so large as to crowd the original plant. If you have such a violet with 2 or 3 or more plants in one pot it is best to separate them. Slide the plant out of its pot and gently crumble away the soil. Pull the plants apart from each other with a gentle downward motion. Sometimes the plants must be cut apart. Keep the roots attached to those plants which have a root system. Depending upon the age of the extra plants they may not have any roots. Scrape clean the bare neck of each plant if necessary, and pot each in an appropriately sized pot. Any that show signs of wilting may need tenting in plastic for a week (or perhaps as long as a month if they have no roots at all). As the plants begin growing again watch for suckers and remove them as soon as you notice them.


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