African violets are some of the most popular indoor plants, thanks to their bright colors. The catch is that they are extremely sensitive and not many people know how to take care of them properly – including how to repot African violets.
One of the pain points is the fact that they need to be repotted at least once every year. If not, they usually lose their leaves, and the stem is left exposed, putting it at great risk of rotting.
Over time, African violets grow to have a palm-like trunk, with the lower rows of leaves disappearing, or, more often than not, when they are removed. A good indicator of health in violets is the lowest rows of leaves having grown from the trunk to some 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 when the plant outgrows its current pot such that the roots grow around the rootball. A plant in this state is referred to as being 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.
Steps on how to repot African Violets
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.
Once out of its pot, cut off the root ball in size relative to that of the neck. For instance, if the neck is a half-inch long, you need to cut off a half-inch from the root ball. Note that this will be a lot more difficult the more time you give it. The longer the neck, the more portion of the root ball.
An even greater complication would be in cases where the plant becomes rootbound. For such plants, you need to both cut off the root ball and prepare a new pot; otherwise, the plant will get sick and die.
If the plant is mature, empty its pot and place it back inside. Most mature plants’ roots don’t grow any larger, so there’s no real risk of having them rootbound. At this point, the plant should no longer have the lower portion of the rootball. This way, it can be pushed into the pot such that the lowest row of leaves aligns with the pot rim – the neck should not be visible.
Place small pieces of pottery shards over the drainage hole of a clean pot, or, if you prefer plastic, so be it. Fill the pot halfway with potting soil that specifically suits African violets – it should be light and moist, containing perlite and sphagnum moss which simplify the aeration process in the soil.
Make a small indentation in the soil for the plant and gently lower it inside. Cover up the root system with some soil, making sure the lowest level of leaves is just level with the rim of the pot, then pat it down gently. In the process, gently scrape away the heavy bark that normally forms when the leaves are shed.
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. 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.
Tips on taking care of repotted African violets
The most common causes of unhealthy plants for inexperienced growers is improper pot size and not repotting the plant frequently enough.
Most standard-size varieties can be grown in 4” 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 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.
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.
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.