Thanks to their beautiful, bright colors, African violet plants are some of the most popular indoor plants for novice and more seasoned gardeners. But African violets are also extremely sensitive and not many people know how to take care of them properly – seemingly simple things, such as how to repot African violets, are incredibly important to keep your plant happy and healthy.
Unlike other houseplants, African violets need to be repotted at least once a year. If not repotted successfully, or not repotted at all, African violets are likely to lose their leaves, rot at the stem, and wither away.
But when properly taken care of, African violets can grow to have a palm-like trunk, with the lower rows of leaves disappearing. In fact, a good indicator of owning a healthy African Violet is if the lowest rows of leaves have grown from the trunk of the plant to a few inches above the rim of the pot. At this point, it’s time to get rid of the neck – usually done every six months.
Otherwise, repotting should be done once a year or when the plant outgrows its current pot causing the roots to grow around the rootball. If this happens, your African violet is rootbound.
The repotting process can then either be done by moving the plant into a bigger pot or if the neck is visible, but the plant isn’t rootbound, into fresher soil.
Now, let’s go over the six easy steps to repotting your African violet.
1. Loosen Your African Violet from its Current Pot
To loosen the plant from the pot, gently tap the sides of the pot against a hard surface. If it still doesn’t loosen, you may need to slide a knife around the edges.
African Violet Pro tip: How cold is it in your home? It might seem silly, but room temperature plays a part in new root growth. For best results, don’t do any repotting in a room that is colder than 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Cut the Root Ball
Once you have the African violet out of its pot, cut off the root ball in size relative to that of the neck. For example, if the neck is a half-inch long, you need to cut off a half-inch from the root ball. Note: this task becomes more difficult the longer you have gone without repotting. Simply because, the longer the neck, the more portion of the root ball you need to cut.
If your African violet has become rootbound, there’s more work to do. For rootbound African violets, you need to both cut off the root ball and prepare a brand new pot; otherwise, the plant will get sick and die (rootbound plants have taken the shape of the pot and are in effect strangling the soil, so it can’t get the water and nutrients it needs).
3. Remove Damaged, Dead, or Dying Leaves
With your African violet free from its pot, take some time and remove leaves that are damaged or old. Generally speaking, these are lower-rung leaves but even a novice gardener can tell by looking at them.
You also want to remove any flowers. Why? Simply put, you want your plant focused on new roots, new leaves, new growth, rather than focusing on allocating some of its nutrients and energy to keeping its flowers in bloom.
4. Re-Pot your African Violet
At this point, the plant should no longer have the lower portion of the rootball. This way, the plant can be pushed into the pot so the lowest row of leaves aligns with the pot rim – to clarify, the neck should not be visible.
African Violet Pro-tip: Place small pieces of pottery shards (plastic also works) over the drainage hole. Fill the pot halfway with African violet specific potting soil – the soil mix should be light and moist, containing perlite and peat moss which help the aeration process.
5. Lightly Water Your Newly Potted African Violet
Lightly watering the plant afterward is an important step to ensuring the plant develops a proper root system when added into the soil. It will, however, need slightly less water than the first previous around.
6. Check Your Work!
As we said above, if repotting is done properly, the neck should no longer be visible, and the lower leaves of the plant should level up with the rim of the pot. Plus, your African violet will be free of any damaged or dead leaves and plucked of any flowers.
Tips on Taking Care of Repotted African Violets
The most common cause of unhealthy plants for inexperienced gardeners is improper pot size and not repotting the plant frequently enough. Below we go over some general tips to help your African violets stay healthy before and after repotting.
Pot size: Can You Use Your Old Pot?
Most standard-size African violet varieties can be grown in 4” size pots without any problems. Repotting doesn’t mean every time you give the plant a fresh batch of soil; it’s moved into a larger pot. Always use a pot that’s as large as the plant’s root system.
Adding more soil will only benefit the plant up to the point it can develop a root system that’s large enough to take full advantage of the soil. It’s otherwise at the risk of suffocation. For semi-minis and minis, a pot no larger than 2.5” should be used.
African Violet Pro-tip: Don’t worry too much about a plastic pot or ceramic plot. The best African violet pot is one that works for your needs and gardening style.
Soil: Do You Need to Make Special Potting Soil?
African violets require a light, porous, soil-less potting mix. Most growers should be fine buying commercial mixes, judging the soil by how it feels, not the label. If anything, soils labeled ‘for African violets’ tend to be terrible soil mixes.
Soils with perlite or vermiculite are the best choice. Go for fluffy soils with light consistency – avoiding heavier soil mixes. Experienced enough, you can grow the plant in almost any type of soil. Lighter soils happen to be more forgiving of neglect such as infrequent repotting and underwatering.
Water: Is Room Temperature Water the Best?
African violets can be quite troublesome to water. You should normally use lukewarm water that’s been allowed to sit for about 48 hours, and always water the plant at the base of the stem. Even so much as a drop on the foliage can cause spots and damage the plant.
Be careful not to overwater the plant, either. Feel the soil for moistness. If lacking, then it’s time to water it. Careful not to let it dry out completely, however. Experienced growers should be familiar with wick watering, which, while appropriate, tends to be problematic for people just starting out.
Fertilizer: Do African Violets Respond Well to Fertilizers?
African violets fair best off with fertilizes that have higher phosphorus content – the middle number in the fertilizer ratio should be higher than the rest, ie. NPK – 15-45-15. When mixing the fertilizer, it should be at a quarter strength at every subsequent flowering.
Indicators that the plant is not getting enough fertilizer include pale leaf colors. Yellowing and wilting of lower plant leaves, black-brown or rotting roots and a crust of fertilizer on the soil surface are additional indicators that the plant is being overfertilized.