Dividing An African Violet Plant – How To Separate African Violet Suckers


By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

African violets are cheery little plants that don’t appreciate a lot of fuss and muss. In other words, they’re the perfect plant for busy (or forgetful) folks. Dividing an African violet– or separating African violet “pups”– is an easy way to generate more plants to spread around your house or to share with lucky friends. Read on to learn more about African violet plant division.

African Violet Sucker Propagation

Exactly what are African violet pups? Pups, also known as suckers, are miniature plants that grow from the base of the mother plant. A pup grows from the plant’s main stem– not from a leaf or the crown. A mature African violet might have one pup or it may have several.

Removing suckers is a good way to propagate a new plant, but it also keeps the mother plant healthy, as suckers can rob the plant of nutrients and energy, thus reducing flowering and shortening the life of the plant.

How to Separate African Violet Suckers

Separating African violet pups is easy and will result in another plant that can be given away to family or friends…or you may simply want more to add to your own collection.

Water the African violet the day before you intend to separate the pups. Then fill a 2 inch (5 cm.) clay or plastic container with a commercial potting mix consisting of peat and perlite, or any well-drained mix. Don’t use a larger pot as too much damp potting mix can rot the pup.

Slide the mother plant carefully out of the pot. Push the leaves apart gently to find the pups. Remove the pup from the mother plant with scissors or a sharp knife.

Make a hole in the center of the pot with your fingertip. Insert the pup in the hole, then firm potting mix gently around the stem. Water lightly.

Create a miniature greenhouse by covering the pot with a clear plastic bag. You can also use a clean plastic milk jug with the “spout” end cut off. Place the pot in bright, indirect light. Make sure the pup is protected from drafts or heating vents.

Water lightly as needed, using lukewarm water, to keep the potting mix lightly moist but never soggy. Feed the pup once every week, using a mixture of ¼ teaspoon of balanced, water-soluble fertilizer in one gallon of water. Always water the pup before applying fertilizer.

Open the bag or remove the cover occasionally to provide fresh air. This is especially important if you notice condensation inside the plastic. Remove the plastic cover for a short period after four weeks, then gradually increase the time every day until the pup is no longer protected by the greenhouse environment.

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Gardening Guides: How to Propagate an African Violet from a Leaf

African Violets (Saintpaulia Ionantha) are one of the most common houseplants and a breeder’s dream come true. They are renowned for their beauty, elegance, and are incredibly easy to propagate.

What You’ll Need

For this guide, I will be using a leaf from an African Violet I had purchased a few years ago.

As you can see, this African Violet is quite large with a variety of large, healthy leaves to choose from.

I have chosen a leaf that is close to the base of the plant. Although it is plump and lively, it is not getting optimal sunlight because it is shadowed by other leaves.

Therefore, it’s not contributing very much to the host plant. If anything, it is probably more inefficient to leave the leaf attached, as the host plant will spend valuable energy keeping it alive even though it’s unable to receive adequate light.

It’s important to select a leaf that is fully grown and healthy. Otherwise, your leaf may wilt before it sprouts any suckers or it may not sprout anything at all.

Once you’ve selected your leaf, take your X-Acto Knife and cut the very bottom of it at a bit of an angle. If your leaf has an especially long stem, make your cut further up.

Some gardeners advise removing the top by making an incision halfway through the leaf. This encourages the leaf to focus less on growing itself and more on producing a sucker.

I have had a relatively equal amount of success propagating violets over the years, regardless of whether or not I removed the top of the leaf – so I typically leave it as it is.

You can find X-Acto Knives at just about any big box stores, craft suppliers, or home improvement retailers. They are also available on Amazon.

Next, select a 1-inch plastic or ceramic pot that has drain holes.

In the spirit of sustainability, I will be recycling a plastic Jell-O cup and the lid from a Chi-Chi’s salsa container for the dish.

However, my favorite pots for propagating African Violets are these black, plastic, 2.8-in pots that are available on Amazon.

You can get 100 of them for a little over $20 – what a steal!

Because I am recycling a plastic Jell-O cup, I am using the X-Acto Knife to make my own drain hole.

You’d think the countless hours I’ve spent making custom stickers would have left me with cutting-edge drain-hole-making-skills, but alas. It may not be perfect, but its something, right?

Fill your pot with soil, cover the stem of the leaf, and add a little bit of water (just enough to get the soil wet, but not soaking).

My favorite soil is Miracle Gro’s African Violet potting mix, which is also available on Amazon. The pearlite provides excellent drainage and the soil feeds plants for up to six months so you don’t have to worry about fertilizing your plants!

My favorite soil is Miracle Gro’s African Violet potting mix, which is also available on Amazon. The pearlite provides excellent drainage and the soil feeds plants for up to six months so you don’t have to worry about fertilizing your plants!

Place your leaf in a window that gets low to moderate sunlight, or under a low to moderate intensity grow light.

Then comes the hardest part – waiting.

The amount of time it will take for your leaf to sprout a sucker varies quite a bit. Generally, it should take about six to eight weeks, but take that with a grain of salt. I’ve had some leaves give me suckers within three weeks, while more stubborn leaves took as long as six months.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why some leaves may take longer than others. In some cases, it’s a matter of the environment. African Violets are very sensitive to their environment and need enough humidity in order to thrive.

More information about how to care for your African Violet is available in our Gardening Guide about the species.

Not all leaves will successfully propagate. Even if the conditions are absolutely perfect, a leaf may wilt or never produce any suckers.

Don’t beat yourself up if your first leaf doesn’t give you any suckers. Instead, increase your chances by propagating a whole bunch of leaves! If you happen to be especially lucky but don’t have enough space for a whole fleet of African Violets, why not give a few out?

The amount of suckers a leaf may yield also varies quite a bit. One leaf may only produce one sucker, while some may produce a whole litter.

In any case – good luck! If you follow this guide, I’d love to see how your leaves turned out. You can send a link of your photos to our submissions page or contact me directly via email: [email protected]

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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.

Step 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.

Step 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.

Step 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).

Step 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.

Step 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.

89 comments

This is my first African violet in 25 years and it took 18 months for it to bloom. I really don’t do much of anything to it, a pinch here and there and only ever repotted it when I bought it. What should I expect? The pot is about 6 inches across and 6 inches tall. The plant is about 4 inches above the rim and the leaves and stems overhang the rim by 1 to 2 inches all the way around. It is just gorgeous but I’m scared that I will bring it to its demise after this beautiful showing.

You will need to deal with the neck and repot in fresh soil at some point for it to thrive going forward. Look at this lesson, as well as the lesson on “restoring/restarting” your violet for how-to advice. Violets will live indefinitely if regularly given fresh soil, repotted, and given proper conditions and care.

I have some very old AV’s that I got from a neighbour. One has bifurcated. How do I separate them, or do I? Both heads have long necks so will b e on transplanting this weekend.
Youe web site is wonderful. Thank you.
Sincerely
Tracy

You should separate them, then repot/root into individual pots. Check out the “restarting or restoring” African violets in the lessons section of the plant care pages.

I have 4 “African violets”. Two grow necks and need occasional repotting as described on your site. The other two don’t grow necks. One was my mother’s and is at least 12 years old, so I have only her word to identify it as an African violet. The other I bought from a garden center. Are there “neckless” varieties of African violets, or violet-like plants that can be mistaken for African violets even by professionals – as in a garden shop?

All violets will produce a “neck” over time, some more quickly than others, depending upon how fast they grow and whether any outer, older, leaves are removed.

In your potting down a neck, I noticed you did not brush rooting hormone on a scraped neck, as was usually advised twenty years ago. Is this no longer considered “good practice “?

African violets are relatively soft tissued. Rooting hormone is best used on more woody-stemmed plants. If your plant does have an excessively tough, “woody” neck, using rooting hormone might help, though we’ve never found it necessary.

I decided to do this and I messed up and had to repot because I over watered them I am so upset I mess up I had these two violets for a while I saved them from dying now they are in shock. I watered them a little and will see if they pirk up. I was interested in buying some of your soil but don’t need the amount you sell . can you sell in smaller amount. ? I usually buy a small bag of miracle grow for violets. I am really instrested in your mix. My two violets were gorgeous . I hope they will come back. I have one other one that is great and one profergate and is getting ready to bloom and 2 other rescues. I am scared if I have to replant those ones . The necks are good on them and I usually have no trouble when I transfer them from store pots to mine. I was thinking your soil would make it easier . thanks

Sorry, we only ship in the 16 qt. size. It’s just more practical for us to mix and ship in one standard size.


Plant profile: African Violets

Photo courtesy of @sillappeal on Instagram.

I’ll admit, I’ve been bitten by the African Violet bug. They weren’t even on my radar a year ago, as I was intimidated by them. I’d always heard they were difficult to care for and fussy. I kept one 6 years ago and killed it after a few months - now I realize I had it in light that was much too low and let it dry out too long! You live and learn! Anyway, I picked up another AV last November, and was determined to keep it alive. My grandma - who I got my green thumb from - kept a few beautiful African Violets and they were almost always in bloom. I wanted to keep my AV alive in honor of my grandma who passed 10 years ago. That African Violet turned out to be one of the easiest, most chill plants I own, and is constantly in bloom. I now have a nice little collection and can’t wait to expand more in the spring! I even got a membership to the African Violet Society of America and can’t wait to go to a meeting at my local African Violet club.

I wrote this guide as a general care guide, for the every day African Violet grower & newbies. There is an entire world of showing African Violets, like you would show purebred dogs, but for plants. It’s an art and science of growing the AV’s for show, making sure there is a certain shape and symmetry to the plant, with a certain amount of blooms. Google African Violet shows and you’ll see some of what I’m talking about! I’m not that professional about my AV’s and don’t mind if they grow a little wild and free.

I also want to give a huge thanks and shoutout to my Instagram plant friend + fellow AV addict, @sillappeal! She let me use some of her gorgeous African Violet photos!

An example of some African Violets for show! Image from Google.

History + biology: African Violets hail from the country in Africa now known as Tanzania, and were discovered by Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire, for whom their genus Saintpaulia is named for. Their flowers bear a resemblance to common violets, hence the colloquial name! While there are only around 20 true species of Saintpaulia, there are over 5,000 hyrbids and cultivars, with all sorts of colors and shapes. Above I talked about how I thought AV’s were hard to grow, and the original species do tend to be very demanding. However, I have only hyrbids and most of what you’ll find at the garden center are hybrids. The hyrbids are much more free-blooming and easy to keep.

African Violets have been extremely popular houseplants since they appeared on the market in the 1920s, because they are so easy to keep, fit neatly on a windowsill, and are almost always in bloom. With so many varieties, you’re bound to find something that strikes your fancy. There are many sizes from micro-minature (3” in diameter) to large (16” or more), leaf colors and shapes (even some variegated!), and different shapes and colors of flowers. With proper care, African Violets can live for over 50 years!

I learned recently that African Violets went through a botanical revision in 2015 and their genus changed from Saintpaulia to Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia. Genetic testing was done and showed they are part of the larger Streptocarpus genus. For more information, read an article here at the Gesneriad Reference Web and The Laidback Gardener (one of my favorite plant blogs!).

Lighting: African Violets all do well in bright, indirect light. They’re also perfect office plants as they thrive under fluorescent lighting. I personally keep mine in an east-facing window (northern hemisphere). I’ve kept them right in north-facing windows as well, and they bloom just fine, but the flower color isn’t as intense as it would be in brighter light. AV’s will do fine in west and south windows, too, just make sure to protect them from harsh sun. A sheer curtain will work wonders for filtering any hot rays!

Watering: Watering seems to be the trickiest part for many new African Violet parents. It’s important to use tepid/lukewarm water, as any cold water left on leaves can leaves brown spots. In fact, any water left on leaves in bright light can cause spotting, so many AV growers water from the bottom. AV’s need to be kept lightly moist at all times, and should never be left to dry out. I personally LOVE to use self-watering pots where you fill a basin with water and place the pot inside of it. I refill the basin about every 2 weeks and the plants grow beautifully. Sometimes the self-watering pots can get expensive if you have more than a few, so the wicking method is a great option.

According to the AVSA: “The wicking method of watering involves stringing a wick made of man-made fiber (such as rayon cording or acrylic yarn) through the potting mix so that it dangles out the bottom of the pot. The plant is then set above a reservoir of water so that the bottom end of the wick is in the water. The wick then draws water out of the reservoir and into the potting mix using capillary action.” Check out the AVSA site for more on the wicking method!

Photo courtesy of @sillappeal on Instagram.

Humidity + temperature: African Violets are suited to the home since they acclimate well to standard household humidity. If your environment is particularly dry, you may want to use a humidifier nearby, but make sure any mist doesn’t touch the leaves, as it could cause brown spots. You can also pack moist spaghum moss around the base of the plant or make a pebble tray. In terms of temperatures, AV’s love an average room temp. In the winter, keep temperatures above 60 degrees F, and keep away from cold draughts. This warmth is absolutely essential to good growing! Also make sure to keep the leaves from touching a windowpane, which can get quite hot or cold depending on the season.

Photo courtesy of @sillappeal on Instagram.

Soil + fertilizer: A peat-based potting mix that holds onto moisture is the best option for African Violets! I usually just buy African Violet potting mix, which is specially formulated just for AV’s. I love the Epsoma brand, which you can find at any local nursery and on Amazon. Most mixes on the market don’t have enough drainage for my taste, so I always add a large handful of perlite to the AV potting soil.

You can use any high-phosphorus fertilizer once a month, and every two weeks when blooming. I find the Shultz brand quite good.

Photo courtesy of @sillappeal on Instagram.

Repotting + pruning: African Violets will almost never need a pot larger than 6” in diameter, so repotting often isn’t necessary. However, it’s advised that growers refresh the soil yearly (usually in spring) and trim roots if need be, setting the plant slightly lower in the pot.

In terms of basic pruning - that is, if you’re not showing African Violets - remove dead flowers and damaged leaves as soon as you find them, don’t leave a stalk. Older plants will produce offsets or shoots known as “suckers” which should be removed and can be propagated!

Photo courtesy of @sillappeal on Instagram.

Flowering: Most mature specimens (species and hybrids alike) bloom freely, even in the colder months. The most important aspect to keep your AV flowering is BRIGHT diffused/indirect light, or even a grow light. They do well under most fluorescent lights. Also keep the African Violet in a smaller pot as stated above, with evenly moist soil. I’ve noticed my AV’s are less likely to bloom in all the right conditions if I allow the soil to dry out for too long. Additionally, try using a fertilizer specifically formulated for encouraging blooms.

Propagation: African Violets propagate easily with leaf cuttings (all that’s needed is a bit of stem) or through separating suckers/plantlets.

Common problems: Brown spots (usually from cold water sitting on leaves or from being exposed to colder temps), yellowing leaves (overwatering or nutrient deficiencies), crown rot (due to watering from the top), no flowers (see above). African Violets are also susceptible to powdery mildew and mealybugs.

Photo courtesy of @sillappeal on Instagram.


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