Question: I’ve heard that it’s difficult to propagate a variegated leaf if it is mostly white. Is there anything that can be done to help or encourage the leaf to propagate more easily?
Answer: Heavily variegated leaves can often be more difficult to successfully propagate, though some varieties are prolific propagators. The best advice is to first select leaves from these plants that show as little variegation as possible–i.e. are the most green. A variegated variety will produce variegated plants from leaf cuttings, even if the leaf rooted is green. We’ve also found that it helps not to keep the rooting mix too wet. Heavily variegated plantlets are much more susceptible to rotting than are green-leaved ones. The plantlets produced will also be sturdier, and more likely to survive their initial separation and potting. Don’t pot up plantlets that are entirely white, since they won’t survive–wait for them the green-up a bit. It also helps to fertilize with a formula that has sufficient nitrogen, particularly when plantlets are young and/or heavily variegated. Warm, but not hot, conditions will also encourage the young plantlets to grow “greener”.
Question: I know very little about African violets, so this question might seem silly. Recently, I started a plant from a normal-looking, green, leaf. When the plantlet appeared, all of its leaves were white in color. How common is an African violet with white leaves?
Answer: This isn’t a silly question at all, especially from someone still new to our hobby. A violet with white in its leaves is called ‘variegated’. Depending upon the variety, the amount of variegation can be scarcely visible or may be so great as to make a leaf nearly entirely white. Unfortunately, many of these varieties can lose their variegation as they age, or when grown under warm conditions. I suspect that the leaf that you rooted was taken from a plant that was originally variegated but had lost its variegation and turned green. Genetically, however, that leaf is still variegated and will produce variegated plantlets when used for propagation. In fact, it’s usually wise to use the “greener” leaves of a variegated variety for propagation, since these leaves are often more vigorous than the very white ones from the same plant and will produce more plantlets more quickly. These white plantlets will likely also eventually turn green if grown under the same conditions as the original.
Question: Some of the leaves that I have rooted aren’t producing babies. The rooted leaf seems to be healthy. In fact, it seems to be growing.
Answer: When selecting leaves to propagate, it’s best to use those that are fully mature, but not old. The usual advice is to use a leaf from a middle row, but this is misleading–this depends upon how many rows of leaves the plant has. Try to use leaves in the third or fourth row from the center. What you are looking for is a leaf that is mature, but still succulent and fresh, and not tough or woody. Very old leaves, or those with tough, woody petioles, often can be very stubborn in producing plantlets.
As for the leaf growing, this will often happen once the leaf has rooted. When growing in a covered container, as we do, these leaves will often lift the cover off. The keep this from happening, you can cut off the top portion of the leaf blade once the leaf has rooted. This will keep the leaf from growing much larger. We do this with all our leaves. In fact, we remove the entire perimeter of the leaf blade before we root them, leaving a wedge (with petiole) about the size of a dime. You can do this with even the largest of leaves. Besides saving space, this forces the rooted leaf to produce roots and babies, not a larger leaf
Question: Can I reuse a leaf cutting?
Answer: Sure. After removing and potting plantlets, the “mother” leaf can be rerooted. It will still be capable of producing more plantlets, though it may not produce as many the next time around. Usually, it’s more productive to simply wait until the plantlets grow large enough to have their leaves removed for propagation. Plus, most of us have too many plants already without finding ways of producing more! There are times, though, when reusing a leaf might be necessary. Some varieties, for example, are particularly unstable and tend to produce plantlets that won’t bloom as described. In this case, it might be better to reuse a leaf that is known to have come from a true-blooming plant, rather than use leaves from plantlets that may not be true (though it’s possible that the mother leaf won’t produce “true” plants the second time around either).
Reusing a leaf might also be desirable when this is the last of a hard to find variety, and can act as insurance, should the plantlets fail to survive. Should you decide to do this, leave a longer than normal petiole when rooting the leaf the first time. This will allow you to recut the petiole, at a shorter length, the next time around. If possible, younger, more supple, leaves are better, since the leaf will tend to become tough and leathery with age, and will produce fewer plantlets as this happens.