African violets: Restoring or Restarting

What happens when you’ve really neglected your violet?  You might have a plant that appears something like the one shown at left.  This plant (aSaintpaulia species) has been left virtually ignored, other than occasional watering, on the corner of a light stand, pressed up against a wall.

For more than six months, it hasn’t been turned or had any leaves or (dead) blossoms removed.  Though seemingly healthy and still in bloom, it needs a lot of work…

Turning the plant around and looking at it from behind, you can get a better idea of its true condition.  Lots of dried, shriveled up leaves and blossom stems

Also, as the lower leaves have gradually died and dried, a long neck (bare stem) has developed.  About 2 inches of bare stem appears between soil level and the lowest row of leaves.

African violets should be repotted every 6 months to avoid this, and this one hasn’t been.   We’ll need to repot this one, once we’ve removed all of the old, dead, and dying, leaves.

Once we’ve done that, we’re left with not much more than the newest, attractive growth atop a very long neck (and a pile of compost).

Normally, we’d like to repot the plant, lowering it into the same size pot, covering the neck with fresh soil.  Unfortunately, this would require removing 4″ of the rootball to lower the plant enough to cover the 4″ neck!  The pot just isn’t deep enough!

What to do?  Start over again!  We’ll just lop-off the top of the plant, and reroot the crown.  A drastic measure, but one that’s necessary.

Remove the crown with a pair of sharp scissors or a knife.  Notice that you don’t need to keep much of the neck with the crown.  Just enough to reroot.  The idea, after all, is to give the plant a fresh start, including the root system.  Keeping the neck would mean starting over with a (very) old root-system.  Discard the neck and the old soil.

Using a clean pot and fresh, premoistened soil, make a hole just large enough to accommodate the base of the crown.

Firm the base of the plant into the moist soil.  It almost looks “normal” again, except for the fact that it has no roots!

Because it will easily wilt without roots, we’ll place it in a covered container (a large plastic bag would work as well) for about a month until the crown is well-rooted.  At that time, remove the cover (or bag) and voila!

Now, of course, your job is to take better care of it the next time around.  Give it good light, remember to water it when needed, and regularly remove dead and dying leaves and blossoms.  In another 6 months, repot it by removing a bit of soil from the bottom of the root ball and lowering the plant into the pot, adding fresh soil to cover the (small) neck.

35 comments

  • When I repot my plants do I use a larger pot, or just take some of the soil off the plant?

    • Pot size is always determined by size of root system. Never a larger pot until root system fills the current pot. Grown as houseplants, standards rarely need a pot larger than 4 or 5″, minis and semis never larger than 2 to 2.5″ in diameter. To lower an older plant, with a neck or trunk, into pot, you’ll likely have to remove at least some of the root ball and soil.

  • elaine cruickshank

    I rerooted with plastic bag method and the outer leaves look kind of limp, center are okay, its been 2-3 wks , any tips?
    I wish I could send a picture.

    • Leaves shouldn’t be limp, unless they were to begin with. But, so long as center is OK should be fine. Be sure that soil was moist (not soggy) and that crown/stem was FIRM in the soil–otherwise, won’t root well or quickly.

  • I was asked by a friend of mine to re-pot her violet. I am totally scared (this plant is still going strong since 1972). I have read the re potting and restoring. But, am still nervous. Once I have cut off the neck, can it go in water to root? Instead of the bag or dome? This plant needs a lot of work. It looks more like a hanging plant.

  • I just discovered mini-violets. So cute!!!! I’m wondering how long I can leave them in their plastic pots from the nursery. The pots are only about 2″ high. Should I wait until I see the roots starting to migrate out of the hikes on the bottom? Thanks so much! Love this site! I’ve learned a lot already.

    • Repot them when they begin to form a “neck” or trunk. From the date on our pots, perhaps 8 months. Afterwards every 6-12 months. Never use a pot larger than 2.25″ or 2.5″.

  • elaine cruickshank

    When using the plastic bag method, Is an east window okay(lots of light but no direct light or sun) or should it be in a dark room?

    • Can’t speak for your window, but sounds OK. You do want light but don’t want to overheat the plant inside the bag.

  • I was recently gifted a small African violet with no watering or care instructions. I think I overwatered it because the plant is very sad looking at has white “dots” around the stem and lower leaves. Is there something that can be done to revive it and let it grow?

    • Repotting in fresh soil should help greatly. When doing this, examine the rootball and inside of the pot for more of those “white dots”. If you see the look of confectioners sugar on the root ball or pot, you may have mealy bugs (otherwise you probably needn’t worry). If this is the case, search this term on our site for more information. To be on the safe side, you can always reroot/restart the top of the plant as shown in this lesson.

  • I had no idea they were supposed to be repotted twice a year. Mine are such a mess now because the necks are so long that they curl and re-curl upon themselves. I feel like a terrible “parent”. I guess I’ll have to cut off the crowns on all of them and hopefully save them all. Wish I had found this site a long time ago.

  • Julie Christianson

    I have a Ann violet, it’s a starter plant. I noticed as the new leafs start to grow they turn brown and fall off, but the existing leafs are just fine. What’s going on? All of my other violets are doing just great. Thank you

    • We need more information, but usually when leaves are lost it’s a soil and/or watering issue. ‘Ann’ is a slower grower and can be more difficult, especially when young.

  • I really love flowers.Would these survive in a south facing window w/ maybe 21/2-3 hrs. Of sun?

    • Hard to say. Every window is different. If the leaves begin to bleach/turn yellow, or bunch in center and become brittle, you’ll know the light is too much.

  • Can I put it under a glass dome instead of a bag?

  • Some time I inherited an aging violet with 3 necks. Following this advice I repotted/rerooted 2 pieces but simply added soil to the original. The 2 new ones “took” and grew but never bloomed (gave them a year ). While the original continues to grow and bloom and has 2 new necks that I am afraid to deal with. What went wrong.

    • Nothing went wrong. If suckers aren’t removed as they appear, you’ll eventually have multiple crowns. If not repotted regularly (at least once each year) then you’ll have necks. You may simply have to repeat the process.

  • Rebecca Worthing

    I have repotted my violet and used the bag method you described in your website. It’s the next day now and the leaves and blossoms are all drooping and it looks like it’s going to die. What should I do? I don’t want to lose this violet. Should I take a clipping now to be safe? Thanks For the advice!!!

    • When bagging a violet, the soil should be moist, not soggy–so you don’t rot the plant once in the baggie. If plant was firm when placed in the baggie, it should perk up in time when rooted.

    • Rebecca Worthing

      The leaves and blossom have popped up and the plant looks really good right now. The soil is moist not soggy but how do I know when it needs to be watered and do I water it from the bottom or the top and how much? Thanks ahead of time for the advice!

    • If in baggie, likely won’t need watering until removed from the bag. Once removed, water when surface is “dry to the touch”. Goal is moist, not soggy.

  • So glad to have found your site. After liking a co-workers violet, I just purchased my first one. Can I leave it in the little pot it came in since its growing well in it, or do I need to repot it? And if I need to repot it, do I upsize the pot? Thanks in advance.

    • Would need to know size of violet and size of pot. If a standard variety, use no larger than 4″ (or 5″ at most) pot. If miniature, no larger than 2.25″ or 2.5″ pot. Pot “up” only when current root system nearly fills pot.

  • Just found your website, thank goodness! I’ve obviously been treating my violets very poorly. I’ve tried transplanting before with little luck, now I know why. Thank you so much for such great information. I’ll be back regularly. :-)

  • Wow, what a great site. If only I had looked it up sooner. I have a violet with a long neck and a sucker growing on it. Can I restart the original and the sucker?

    • Restart the plant and the sucker in the same manner–basically “rerooting” each crown.

  • Can I put a newly repotted violet that is in a bag…can I put it on my lighted plant stand? Thank you

    • Yes, as you would your other violets. Since you don’t want to overheat it while in the bag, avoid the warm spots (like uppermost shelves) on your light stand.

  • I didn’t realize I had to replant every 6 months and I was wondering what I was doing wrong. Now I know!! Thanks for all the information☺️

  • When using the plastic bag method (I assume a ziploc would work?) to help address the wilting, should the bag be sealed shut after placing the violet inside?

    thanks – great step by step process to follow here!

    • The bag can be sealed. So long as the soil is only moist (not soggy) plant will not need (re)watering and won’t rot.

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