African violets: Dealing with ‘Necks’

African violets should be repotted about twice a year, or every 5-6 months.  One mature, this simply means repotting the plant with some fresh soil, into the same size pot.  Never use a pot larger than the plant’s root system–for standards, this usually means about a 4″ pot, for minis and semiminis, a pot no larger than 2 1/2″.  Over the course of time, your violet will have lost (or had removed) its older, lower, leaves, forming a “neck”.  Repotting is necessary to eliminate this.

African violet neckStep 1:  African violet with a “neck”.  A “neck” is the palm-tree like trunk that appears over time as the lower rows of leaves are removed.  A well-grown violet should have its lowest row of leaves growing from the trunk at soil-level.  When a neck exists, the lowest row of leaves are well above the soil level and pot rim.  By repotting, this unsightly neck can be eliminated.  This is easiest to do when done regularly, about every 5-6 months.

African violet neckStep 2:  Cut-away bottom of root ball.  Remove plant from its pot and remove the bottom of the root ball an amount equal to the size of the neck–i.e. if the neck is 1/2″ long, remove 1/2″ from the bottom of the root ball.  This is why repotting is best done regularly, before the neck becomes too long.  For example, in an extreme case, where a plant has a 2″ neck, we would need to remove 2″ from the bottom of the root ball.  If the pot is only 2 1/4″ deep, then nearly the entire root system needs to be removed!  By repotting when the neck is still small, very little of the root system needs to be removed, and the plant will show few, if any, ill effects from repotting.

African violet neckStep 3:  Push plant back into same size pot.  If this is a mature plant, a larger pot is not needed.  Since a bottom portion of the root ball has been removed, the violet can now be pushed lower into the pot.  The objective is to lower the plant enough so that the lowest row of leaves is even with the pot rim (i.e. no neck will be visible).

African violet pottedStep 4:  Add fresh soil.  The violet should now be lower in its pot, so that its lowest row of leaves is level with the pot rim.  Add fresh soil, up to the pot rim, covering the neck.  The neck will produce new roots into the added soil.

African violet pottedStep 5:  The repotted violet.  Once repotting is finished, no neck should be visible, and soil level and lower leaves should be even with the pot rim.  Label the pot, and lightly water the plant.  This is important–until the plant begins to develop new roots into the added soil, it will require a bit less water than before (it has a smaller root system).  The more drastic the repotting, the more that this is the case.

Other tips.  Improper pot size, poor soil, and too infrequent repotting are probably the most common causes of unhealthy violets amongst inexperienced growers.  Though a miniature violet was used in this illustration, the same procedure is used for standard-size varieties.  Most standards (unless grown for exhibition), are quite comfortable in a 4″ pot–repotting does not mean continually putting violets into progressively larger pots!  Use only a pot as large as the root system–adding soil only benefits the plant if it can develop a root system large enough to use that soil!

A very light, porous, soil-less potting mix is very highly recommended for most growers.  If buying a commercially-available mix, judge a soil by its feel not its label!  “African violet soils” are often the worstsoil mixes for violets!  Look for mixes with plenty of vermiculite and/or perlite (1/3 to 1/2 of mix), with a light, fluffy, consistency.  Avoid thick, dark, heavy, soil mixes.  Though an experienced grower can grow beautiful plants in almost anything, a light, soil-less mix is much more forgiving of over/underwatering and infrequent repotting and neglect.

26 comments

  • My African violet has a stem about 4″ long. Should I remove the entire root ball and cut off some of the stem?

  • My African Violet is nearly 70 years old. I’ve lost track how many plants I’ve made for people. When I inherited it it was overflowing in a 10″ pot. I’ve used your site for help many times and want to thank you for all the sound advice.

  • Hi. I have been growing about 10 violets for about three+ years. They were starters I got off the mother plant. I just did their first transplant. I did increase the pots size just slightly. I used the Black Gold African violet dirt. I broke the old dirt and roots up slightly so the plant would integrate with the new soil. I am worried this was not the right thing to do. Also, I thought new soil needed a lot of water to get any air out of it. Today half of my plants are wilting. This makes me very worried because I dearly love them. Did I add too much water and if so can I start over again? Have I damaged the roots and will the ones that I broke just cause rooting? One last thing, a couple of the plants were smaller then the 1/3 pot size recommendation. Should I put them back into the smaller pots? I like the new ones because they all match, but I just want them to live. Thank you so much for your help!!!

    • If you have watered, yet the plants still look wilted, then they’ve likely been overwatered. This is common after repotting–you want to wet the root ball, keeping in mind that all of the surrounding (new) soil doesn’t yet have roots in it. The result is the pot is holding more water than the plant can access or use. Pot size should be one size (1″ in diameter) larger than root ball. It’s OK to loosen the roots/soil, but if you remove roots, pot size and watering will be adjusted accordingly (i.e. less of both). Aim for moist, not soggy, soil. Add perlite and/or vermiculite to the soil mix if it doesn’t have much to begin with–this will give you more “margin for error” when watering.

  • Just found this site and hope you can help. I have an african violet that is decades old that is growing out and down the side of the pot. The stem is probably 6″- 8″ long from the soil to the leaves. At the end of the stem the leaves are green and it is blooming. Only problem is the leaves and blooms of the plant are almost at the bottom of the pot not on top. Is there a way to save this plant?

  • Thank you for the clear advice!

  • My 20+ year old African violet just toppled off a shelf and it’s neck snapped off from its roots. After panicking, shoving it back into its pot, adding soil and watering it through, what else should I do? It’s in full bloom at the moment with approx 15 buds about to open.

  • Carol Nicewarner

    I have a gorgeous African violet that measures over 18″ across and is in a 4″ pot. It was repotted when it was small, but it loves the diffused light so much that it has grown to its present mammoth size. It blooms almost continuously with large clusters of blossoms and now has a bit of a “neck” — although in one year’s time, it has lost only three or four leaves. The leaves are huge and it is top-heavy in the small pot. Should it be repotted back into the 4″ pot?

    • Unless grown for exhibition (which is another process entirely) most violets grown as “house”plants should have no more than 3-4 rows of leaves (maximum maybe 20 leaves). If it has more, these older, outer leaves can be removed. Plant will only bloom from first three rows anyway. To avoid a long neck, best to repot at least once a year. This will avoid making the repotting so severe when it is eventually done. A 4″ pot may be sufficient, certainly no larger than 5”. Go by the size of the root ball, not the plant itself.

  • I have an African Violet that was given to me by a dear friend many years ago. It has been so healthy but I had it in a planter that was too deep. I transplanted it (did not change the soil) . The leaves are wilting ?? Never had a problem with this before. It does have a “neck”. I never knew I could safely shorten the “neck”. Is there a safe way to do that ? I thought this was just part of the root system. How moist should the soil be ?

    • If the soil is “many years” old, the root system may not be as healthy as it should be. Repotting with fresh soil will help. If the neck is very long, you may want to view the “restoring an African violet” lesson. Soil should be moist, not soggy.

  • This is extremely helpful advice. Thank you! I’ll be repotting my African violet today.

  • Been growing violets since childhood. Both my mom and grandma were avid violet lovers. Your website is so informative. Can’t wait to visit your store!! You rock

  • I have been growing my African Violet for about 14 years! She has a neck that’s about 7″ long! I had no idea I was supposed to repot her twice a year until I found your site. Thank you SO MUCH for the information! She’s going to be SO HAPPY!!!

  • I have a self watering pot that is see through plastic. About once a month I have to clean it out of green mold. It gets filtered eastern light for most of the morning till 11:30 or so. Is this too much light for the water underneath?

    • Wouldn’t worry about it. This is one of the downsides of using self-watering pots, especially if the reservoir is transparent–algae will grow anywhere it’s wet and bright. No way to avoid it. You can add a drop of Physan 20 (an algaecide, bactericide, etc…basically a liquid disinfectant) to your water. Can find this at well-supplied garden centers. There are similar products–would guess hydroponic stores or pond/pool supplies may have similar products. A tiny bit (drop) of mild dish soap may even do the trick. Alternatively, block the light from the water in the reservoir–but not the plant (you still want it to bloom).

  • I just found site today. I Love it! I’ve been growing violets now for about 4 yrs. I found an article in “Best of Country Gardens”. I had no idea that there were Green violets and deep red, etc. I’m so excited and will have to order a few from you. I’m learning So much more about this beautiful plant because of you all. Thank you, Violet lover of all

  • I have a plant that has two necks. What do I do? The neck go so long in branched in two.

  • Sylvia Williamson

    I cannot find any African Violet pots that are self watering that I can afford??? My mother left me about 5 and now 3 of them have doubled, so I need to separate and repot them. What is the best way to separate them? With a knife?

    • A knife would work. Remove the old leaves, keep the youngest on each plant/crown. Don’t put into pot much larger than the root system that remains. If you have no, or very few, roots you can place the potted plant in a plastic baggie for a few weeks until better rooted (moist soil, not soggy). In future, don’t let suckers develop, or you’ll have to do this again. If you see growth from the leaf axils that you know isn’t a bud or bloom, remove it. Your violets will bloom better and won’t need dividing again, if you do this regularly.

  • Hi,

    Hello,
    I never knew about repotting violets. I inherited five in one pot from a friend several years ago!!! I never did anything to them except water and feed. I discovered their necks were now climbing out of.the pot. I found your directives and have repotted three in the original pot. Two others in a new pot.
    There was no root system to speak of. I cut the necks leaving about two inches and shaved them a little.
    I’m hoping they will survive as they are quite large and bloom beautifully all year. I’ll just keep an eye on them and hope for the best. What do you think?
    Thank you.

    • See our ‘restoring or restarting’ lesson for how to deal with separated plants if there are few, or no, roots.

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