How to Propagate African Violets in 6 Easy Steps
Propagating African Violets can be an extremely rewarding process for indoor gardeners. But to do it properly, there are certain steps you'll need to follow. In this article, gardening expert and houseplant enthusiast Madison Moulton takes you through each step of propagating African Violets from leaf cuttings.
When it comes to favorite houseplants from history, the African Violet certainly features near the top of the list. Once deemed an old-fashioned flower, they have come back in popularity over the years.
These tropical natives thrive in humid environments and have been grown in homes for quite some time. Years ago, they were appreciated for their fluffy foliage and stunning purple blooms. Now, they are back in fashion and bigger than ever.
If you want to join in on the trend, there’s one easy way to get started – propagating. African Violets are easy to propagate by leaf cuttings, yielding you an entirely new plant within a few months. We break down the process step by step for you to propagate African Violets year after year.
Check out the following video, as our very own gardening expert Madison walks through propagating African Violets via cuttings, following six very simple steps.
About African Violets
Before we begin with how to propagate African Violets, let’s review some information about this popular houseplant. It is always good to brush up on the plant’s background to better understand how it grows and the conditions which will help it thrive.
When looking at their botanical name, it’s no wonder why they are usually referred to by their common name. They are scientifically known as Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia. They were previously placed under the genus Saintpaulia, but further studies of the plant showed the genus was better placed as a subgenus of Streptocarpus.
This initial name comes from German colonial officer Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire who sent seeds back to Germany from their native habitats in East Africa. Botanist Hermann Wendland cultivated the plant and named it Saintpaulia after Saint Paul-Illaire.
Scientifically labeled and described in 1893 by Wendland, the African Violet began its massive rise to popularity in Europe. They were commonly named African Violets due to their resemblance to common violets popular in Europe at the time, despite being completely unrelated to that genus.
There are 10 recognized species currently, revised from around 20 after extensive genetic testing. In 2012, members of the genus Saintpaulia were moved to the genus Streptocarpus. They became a section of the subgenus Streptocarpella, hence the full name Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia.
For millions of years, African Violets have grown in the mountains of East Africa, mostly concentrated in Tanzania. They grow in tropical rainforest conditions – one of the reasons why they grow so well as houseplants.
Since their spread in the 19th century, they have mostly been grown indoors as houseplants. Although they can be planted outside, their specific needs make them far easier to care for indoors than out.
African Violets are compact plants that only grow a few inches tall and just as wide. The rounded leaves are a soft grey-green thanks to the fine hairs that cover them. But, what most people look forward to is their gorgeous blooms, featuring five petals in brilliant purple.
Generally grown indoors, they are often gifted around special occasions, particularly Mother’s Day. They are also great for birthdays or even as an alternative to roses for Valentine’s Day.
How To Propagate African Violets
Propagating takes some time and patience, but it’s not difficult to do. These are one of a few plants that can be propagated from a single leaf cutting. With a few tools and some extra minutes of your time, you can grow a brand new plant that has the potential to flower within a couple of months.
Step 1: Clean Your Tools
Before you get started with the plant itself, you need to take a look at your tools. This often-overlooked step can go a long way to saving the health of your cuttings and the parent plant too.
Garden tools can harbor harmful bacteria and germs that will quickly spread to any plants they are used on. This is especially true when you’ve recently pruned a diseased plant without cleaning your tools afterward.
To keep your vulnerable cuttings free of disease, start by cleaning and disinfecting your tools. Soap and water are suitable for most occasions, but if you suspect any potential transfer of disease, you can also disinfect them with a 5% bleach solution.
If you’re reusing any old pots or seedling trays, rinse those down at the same time. Old soil can also harbor bacteria that may transfer to your cuttings if not washed off before you start.
Step 2: Choose a Leaf
With all the preparation complete, you can start taking a look at the plant. Your first task is to identify the best leaf possible for propagating. It should be plump, green, and free of any damage or disease. Older leaves have better chances of rooting, but they shouldn’t be so old that they’re at the end of their life cycle.
To increase your chances of success, it’s best to propagate a few leaves at once. That way, if one doesn’t take, you will have a few others as backup. But, don’t remove more than one-quarter of the plant at one time to prevent shock.
Step 3: Remove the Leaf
Take your chosen leaf (or leaves) and trim it off at the crown of the plant. As the leaf will not grow back from this petiole, this stops any leftover parts from rotting. Once the leaf has been removed, trim the base to about an inch long, cutting at a 45° angle.
The next step is optional but can help direct the energy of the cutting toward root growth rather than leaf growth. Using a sharp blade, cut the leaf in half horizontally. This stops any further leaf growth and conserves moisture.
You can also choose to dip the base of the leaf in rooting hormone before planting. Rooting hormone powder stimulates root growth while protecting the cutting from disease. As the leaf cuttings are soft growth, it’s not absolutely necessary, but can improve your chances of success.
Step 4: Prepare the Soil Mix
When propagating, not all soil mixes are made equal. Your chosen propagating mix needs to be well-draining and designed for African Violet growth.
If you already have some ready, you can use a specialized African Violet potting mix. But, with a few materials, you can also mix your own, perfectly suited for plantlet development.
To prepare your own soil mix, start with a combination of equal parts coconut coir and perlite. The coconut coir retains moisture, while the perlite improves drainage and aeration. Then, throw in a few handfuls of vermiculite for additional drainage to provide the least resistance to root growth.
Step 5: Start Planting
Fill a small pot with your prepared soil mixture and water until it drains from the base of the pot. Premoistening the mixture will stop you from having to water after planting and potentially disturbing the cutting.
Grab the cuttings and carefully plant the base in the soil, making sure the leaf doesn’t touch the soil. This prevents the leaf from rotting while ensuring enough contact to promote new growth. Press the soil around the cutting down to anchor the leaf in place.
If you’ve chosen a large leaf that keeps falling over, simply place a toothpick under the leaf in the soil. The top can then rest on this leaf without falling into the soil.
Step 6: Proper Placement
After planting, you need to create the right environment for promoting root growth – namely, warm and humid. To create warmth, you can either place them in a warm room or on a heating pad. Humidity requires a bit more effort.
Here, you have a few options. First, you can leave the pot in a specialized propagator. These plastic containers have built-in ventilation and maintain the right moisture and humidity for root growth. You can also make your own using a plastic container, but you’ll need to open them up a few times a day for air circulation.
The easiest way to recreate this environment is simply to place the pot inside a plastic sandwich bag. This recreates the ideal environment these plants love with items you should already have around your home.
Keep the soil moist by lifting the bag and spraying the soil. Never let it dry out completely and wait several weeks until new growth develops at the base of the old leaf.
Plantlets can take up to three months to emerge from the soil, so don’t worry if it doesn’t happen right away. When the plantlets have grown enough to separate from the leaf, remove the cutting from the pot and dust off any leftover soil.
Remove the plantlet or plantlets from the central leaf with your fingers and plant out into individual pots filled with African Violet soil mix. Water well and treat them as you would your other African Violet plants.
Post Transplant Care
Being tropical plants, African violets prefer warm, humid conditions of the kind that you would find in a tropical forest in East Africa. It is easy enough to mimic these conditions in an indoor setting or in warmer areas on a patio or balcony.
The plants prefer bright, indirect light, like most houseplants. East-facing windows are preferred for their gentle light, as west and south-facing windows are often too harsh, causing the delicate leaves to scorch and burn.
You can also supplement indoor lighting with grow lights to give them some extra brightness. These lights should be placed at least 12-15 inches above the leaves so as not to scorch them.
If the plant starts becoming leggy, it’s time to move it into a lighter area or supplement light. On the other hand, if the plant is getting too much light, the leaves will become lighter in color and have a washed-out look.
The biggest problem with African Violet health is either overwatering or underwatering. They like to be continually lightly moist, bordering on dry. But, give them too much and the stems will more than likely rot and break.
Make sure that the water you are using is not too cold or too warm. Let it settle to room temperature before using. This is one of the most common mistakes new African Violet owners make.
It’s best to water from the base of the pot or use a thin spout watering can that can be pushed into the soil when watering. This way, the plants get the water to the roots without getting any water near the leaves. Spots and brown marks can develop if any water drops on the foliage, making the leaves susceptible to rotting and fungal diseases.
If you water from underneath, water the plants from the top (without watering the leaves or flowers) once a month to flush out any excess fertilizer salts and give the roots a clean refresh.
To water from underneath, place the pot into a sink of water halfway up the pot, or onto a tray or saucer with water in it. Leave for 20-30 minutes for the water to work upwards through the soil.
Self-watering pots with a wick into a water chamber are ideal for African Violets, with the chamber only needing topping up every 5-7 days. If using these containers, add a layer of perlite in the planting chamber before adding the soil mix for an extra layer of drainage.
They also like high humidity. This can be achieved by setting the pot on a bed of stones in a tray, filling it with water just to the top of the stones.
How to Tell When Your African Violet Needs Water
- Firm shiny leaves in the center of the plant mean they do not need water.
- Limp and droopy leaves mean they do.
- If the soil is dry, check with a finger test half an inch deep into the soil.
- If it comes out dry, add water.
- When the pot is lighter than usual, add water.
African Violets prefer light, airy potting mix. A dense, compact soil will not allow the roots to grow, leaving the plant with poor, inferior growth.
There are soil products on the market that are specifically formulated for the best African Violet health. Or, you can mix your own using the formula above for propagating. Add a layer of perlite to the bottom of the container to aid in drainage and then fill loosely with the potting mix. Don’t push down too much when the Violets are planted so that it doesn’t compact.
They like to be a bit pot-bound (this also forces them to flower), but they do like the soil mix to be refreshed every 6 -8 months. Keep the pot the same size and simply repot into fresh soil.
As a general rule, fertilize every few weeks with a high phosphorous liquid plant food. To avoid overfertilizing, leave the feeding until you can see that the plant needs it – if the leaves are pale or even yellowing and the growth is thin and lackluster at the beginning of spring.
The phosphorous in the fertilizer will give you bigger and better blooms. Their active growing season is spring and summer. There is also fertilizer on the market specifically for African Violets that can be used as directed.
Although very easy plants to care for, African Violets have some quirks. To get the best out of them, follow these tips:
- Keep them away from drafts.
- They like to be in a warm environment with a temperature above 65F.
- The fluffy leaves mean these plants are major dust collectors.
- Their leaves do not like to be wet.
- Because of this, you’ll want to invest in a soft-bristled paintbrush for dusting.
- Pinch off any spent flowers regularly.
- Do the same with any dead or damaged leaves.
- Look out for powdery mildew forming on the leaves and remove it as soon as possible.
Although some may think that African Violets are old-fashioned plants, there are many new plant collectors that will disagree. There are many different varieties you can choose from, including some with variegated leaf patterns. So, it’s time to start planting and propagating to reap the benefits of having these adorable, easy plants as part of your houseplant family!