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.

75 comments

  • I have a violet that I’ve had for 8 years. After the original blooming it never bloomed again. I found this site about a month or so ago. My plant needed some work. So I followed these steps and my plant now has new roots and there are buds forming! It looks so good and I’m so excited to see what the blooms look like! I don’t even remember what color the blooms are! Thank you for this great restarting information!!!

  • Cheryl Ouverson

    Getting ready to restart a couple of AV plants…would dipping the severed crown in rooting hormone be ok before planting?

    • You can, but it shouldn’t be necessary. African violets are tender plants.

  • So, I’m trying to save my violets. My one had 5 necks, the other 4… so I’m trying to separate them into their own pots. Should I all the necks into their own bags to start regrowth??
    And when using the bag method, is it just the crown and soil?? Or do you put the pot in the bag as well??

    • Each pot should only have one crown/plant. Each can have its own bag (or one very large bag for all of them). You can place both the pot and plant in bag–you can just “tent” the plant above the pot, but this may require you to monitor the plant every once in a while to see if soil has dried.

  • I had a AV that is dear to a friend and I tried to repot but it died. I now have two leaves that I have rooted in water. I don’t want them to die but if I put them in dirt do they need plenty of water or just slightly moist? I know the roots are very delicate. Not sure how to precede. Thanks

  • I tried the method you suggested for cutting down the neck, replanting and placing in a sealed bag. It has been about 2 weeks, so I peeked in to check on the progress. All three re-plants have fuzzy mold growth on at least 2-3 leave each. What did I do wrong and what do you now suggest? Thanks!

    • The source of the mold could be almost anything, something in the soil, on the leaves, from your hands when handling, etc. The high humidity in the bag (things may be too wet) just provides the perfect environment to grow it. You can also wipe the leaves/mold with a soft sponge or cloth with some mild dish soap. Your plant should be rooted in another couple of weeks and can be unbagged at that point.

    • Thanks for the quick reply! I was so happy to find your site. Very informative and helpful. Had NO idea about the replanting of AVs – this one had been in the same pot for at least 4 years and stopped blooming. Now I have three newbies that I hope I can restore :)

  • How often do you water an AV after you replant it like this? I know she’s nice they’re covered, you don’t want to water them too much or you might get root rot.

  • I just checked on my 3 restarting violets – I’ve had them sitting with moist soil in large ziploc bags for about 2 weeks – and there was green spots of mold and also white fuzz with yellow antenna-looking stuff sticking out of it – all over the sides of the pot. I can see that the green mold extends beyond the surface of the soil, still mostly visible on the pot.

    What should I do? My first two violet re-starts went off without a hitch, but I only placed the bag over the top of the plant, with the bases (that contain drainage holes) sitting in their saucers, not inside the bag.

    I wiped the mold off with a damp cloth and something that looks like spores poofed up when contact was made. I’m worried about the plants being affected – is there some procedure to deal with this? I’ve taken them out of their bags and washed & sanitized the bags. I will place the bags on top this time, with the base left uncovered to allow for airflow.

    • Likely something in soil when plants were bagged. This can happen. Your strategy of opening the bag seems to be the right one in this case.

  • Can I use a grow light in regular lamp to grow miniatures and a trailing violet in my office? What is the best type of light to use. ..regular or LED? I see lights with red and blue spectrum…..does it make a difference?
    Thanks!

    • Though all of those things make a small difference, don’t get too distracted by the details. So long as your plants get enough light, on a regular basis, they’ll grow and bloom.

  • I have about a dozen starter plants I have started from leaves. Should I transplant them into clay or plastic pots?

  • When new plants are started from leaves, what size pots should they be transplanted in once they are growing into their own tiny plants?

  • I am considering trying some of your seeds to start some violets.
    How do u recommend starting seeds?
    The dome method?

    • We don’t sell seed. African violet seed are VERY small–like fine pepper. Sow on surface of moist soil (not soggy) soil, place in clear container, and place in low light at room temperatures (no bottom heat). When begin to germinate (in a couple of weeks) can move under brighter light.

  • My Grandma gave me a pot with 2 AV in it. After reading this info I definitely need to restart the crown. Can I put them both back in the same pot, or should I seperate them??

  • I have a violet which my grandmother started I’m guessing in the 1960″s. Over the years I would repot it for my mother, discarding bad lower leaves and putting it in an increasingly larger pot to accomodate the neck and root. (Never disengaging the crown from the old root) Fast forward to now, I am deathly afraid of losing it by doing what you describe . Since my mother passed in 2012, my life has been disasterous and the violet’s care minimal. Would it be wise to do some cuttings as a safeguard?Is it safe to put violets atop a frig that is not enclosed? (I have a kitty!))

    • First, don’t use a pot size larger than the plants root ball. This usually means no larger than 4 or 5″ in diameter. To be on the safe side, you can restart the top of the plant while also rooting some of the leaves that you’ll have to remove (see our lessons on propagation). The top of the frig should be OK, so long as it has enough light and is otherwise cared for. After rerooting/restarting the crown of the plant, you will need to enclose it until it has rerooted. Once rooted, this won’t be necessary.

  • Wow….so much good info here…..Now I know that I need to do a lot of neck-cutting and crown repotting, but am hesitant to do so now (January in KY) as available sunlight is all I have and it is less intense and less available due to shorter days right now….I worry that it won’t be enough to sustain a rootless plant in a bag…….should I just wait until Spring ?

    • Best time to do this is when it needs to be done. If there is enough light to sustain plant now, it will be enough to sustain it as a cutting in a bag..it just will grow slower.

  • I have several violets with leaves growing skyward instead outward. The crowns are compact and very firm, the leaves are small and somewhat curled upon themselves. Any idea what I’m doing wrong?

    • Unless this is the genetic nature of this particular plant (would need to know variety name), “reaching leaves” are symptom of not enough light. Not sure what you are describing with crowns and curled leaves–would need to see this, since this could be result of many things, including light.

  • I cut the crown off several African violets and scraped off the crusty outside and then put it in new soil and bagged it. Will it root this way or should I not have scraped the crusty stalk.
    I am enjoying this web site so much.

    • You should (gently) scrape the old, woody, stubble and growth, though don’t peel it like a carrot. Sounds like what you did was fine.

  • Thank you for such excellent information! When using the bag method, is it okay if the leaf edges are touching the bag?

  • When can I repot/restart a violet? It’s end of November and it doesnt seem right doing such drastic surgery this time of year. My violet has a long neck but I have been waiting for it to stop flowering for months. It really needs the full crown off/restart treatment. My alternative would be to take off an inch or so and do it again in 6 months.

  • I have been growing African violets since 1978, but I have never seen the following problem, and it is spreading to neighboring plants:

    The leaf looks normal, but the stem has shriveled to its thread of a core. It looks as if the leaf is connected to the plant by a string.

    Same method of watering as ever: 1 cup of distilled water which collects on a plastic bottom plate for only 10 minutes. Then the flow-through left over water is discarded. Once a week.

    • Would need to know far more, about care and environment to make a guess. First question is always: when was last time plant was repotted? Do this first, then see if things improve–if hasn’t been repotted in year or more, it’s time.

  • I have ordered some violets from you my problem is they never bloomed, I have managed to grow a lot of leaves I do not know what to do the leaves are strong and in shape but no flowers I need advise.

    • Assuming all else is good and the plant is healthy and growing, lack of flowers indicates it needs more light. For more detailed answer, search “no blooms” from our homepage.

  • 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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