African Violets: Divide & De-Sucker for Better Flowering

November 6, 2009


My white-flowered, no-name African violet is going under the knife today. Why? Because it no longer looks attractive. It has produced — as all saintpaulias eventually do — multiple crowns and a series of little offshoots, or “suckers.” These two things wreck the parent plant’s symmetry. They also interfer with flowering. A little surgery, artfully performed, will restore the plant back to its original, single-crowned glory. And the surplus crowns and suckers? These can have lives of their own.

A saintpaulia with more than one crown can be separated into a number of smaller, individual plants. Let the soil dry out a little before the operation. Dry roots are easier to cope with than wet ones. First, remove the plant from the pot. Then spread the plant out on a newspaper and gently but firmly pull the sections apart. If roots are stubbornly entwined, use a pen-knife to sever them. In the photo above, I was able to get two divisions without any trouble at all. Later, a third division was cut away with the aid of a pen knife.

When a division is removed with at least some roots attached, the next step is to plant it in a 2- or 3-inch pot (above). With plenty of surface room, it will soon develop large, handsome leaves and maintain an open crown from which a constant parade of flowers will spring forth. Use any light, porous soil.

If, however, all roots are lost, additional surgery will be required. Reduce foliage until the division is nothing more than a tiny rosette of leaves (above). Then plant into a 2-inch pot, using the same soil as before.

Suckers growing out at the sides of the crown are another source of new plants. Let them attain enough size to get hold of (and make sure you are removing a sucker, not an oncoming flower), before cutting them away with a pen-knife. Roots attached or not, plant them in 2-inch pots.

When you have a great number of rootless suckers and divisions, it pays to create a little nursery for their convalescence. I find the hinged, plastic container that hydroponically-grown Boston lettuce comes in makes an ideal hospital (above). I fill the container’s shallow, bottom portion with slightly damp soil, insert the rootless plants, and then close the lid. Divisions and suckers revel in the humidity this container affords, and soon produce roots. When new foliage is evident, the plants are withdrawn for separate potting.

Such is the surgical procedure that turns one plant into many. And each one of these, with good care, will exhibit the kind of “show-quality” we all want: a symmetrical rosette of leaves, topped with a full, and continuous, bouquet of blooms.

Incidentally, the surgery on my one African violet returned a total of 8 plants. Where will they go? Why, on my list of gift-plants for unsuspecting friends!

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Related Posts:
African Violets: How I Achieve Constant Bloom
How to Set Up a Window Garden
Flowering Bulbs for Winter Windows

Comments

  1. Gardenlady says:

    Kevin, thanks for explaining this procedure. I have several old AVs that are filled with suckers. Guess it's time to get out the knife!

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I have a beautiful pink violet that is loaded with flowers. But it is loaded with something else, as well: Aphids! At least, I think they are aphids. Little white specks that look like pollen, until I poke one, and it moves! How do I get rid of them? A friend suggested a systemic insecticide intended for roses. She said to use only a small amount. Is this safe?

  3. sharon says:

    Thank you for sharing all this detailed information. I am just getting into African Violets and can use all the help I can get. Sharon

  4. Elizabeth – Thanks for stopping by. The little white specks sound like aphids to me. Personally, I would never use a systemic insecticide indoors. Aphids are easily dislodged with a FIRM spray of warm water on both tops and bottoms of leaves. Do this every other day until symptoms disappear; then shower weekly. In the meantime, put your pink AV under quarantine. You don't want it to infest your other cherished houseplants!

  5. Gardenlady – go for it!

    Sharon – you might want to click on the link above, “African Violets: My Easy, Always-In-Bloom Program.” This post explores all the basics – light, soil, pots, fertilizer, etc., for a successful and utterly enjoyable experience with saintpaulias.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks, Kevin. I will take the firm-blast-of-water-route.

  7. Carol says:

    I'd always heard that when you divide or propagate a plant, you should remove its flower buds. But in the third photo, the pot on the left has two flowering stems. Is it OK with African violets to leave them on? It won't slow the recovery period?

  8. Carol – You are absolutely correct. Flowers should always be removed when dividing or propagating a plant, so that energy is concentrated on root-formation. But because the division you referred to already had a fairly good root system, I decided to keep the budding stems intact. I didn't have the heart to remove them. And so far so good — one of the buds has opened, and the plant has shown no setback whatsoever.

  9. Samantha says:

    Kevin, do you ever propagate your AVs from leaves?

  10. Anonymous says:

    This is a fantastic blog! I will tell all of my friends who garden about it.

  11. Samantha – I certainly do propagate violets from leaves. But I thought the topic was “TMI” for this particular post. I'll blog about “putting down a leaf” in the very near future.

    Anonymous – Why, thank you!

  12. Gib McCurdy says:

    Hi Kevin, Hope all is well. Please say hello to Lilly!! I have a couple of African Violets that are getting big and are not flowering as frequently. There are no suckers. They each have one crown and gradually grow new sets leaves. I don't think there is anything to divide. I am wondering if there is a way to curtail them from growing any bigger. I don't want to transplant them.

    The last time this happened the stalk became so long that it broke. I took it to the Chelsea garden center and she had me take the leaves and get them spouting in water and then replant them once they rooted. it worked. I don't think it is time for that, but any suggestions? Thanks!!

  13. Hi, Gib! Your violet has developed a “long neck.” To remedy the situation, first knock the plant from its pot, and remove all but the top ring of leaves. Next, remove enough of the root system to permit planting in a 2.5- or 3-inch pot. Finally, replant deeply enough so that the neck is buried. This will rejuvenate the plant to its former flowering beauty.

  14. Gib McCurdy says:

    Thanks Kevin!! I would have never thought of this. Happy Thanksgiving!
    Gib

  15. Layne Barraco says:

    Thank you for the info on re-potting a violet. I have an old one with a trunk about 3″ tall. Not sure it would fit in a 3″ pot. Can I cut the trunk and re-start the root system without losing the plant?

  16. Layne – Yes, you can re-start the plant by severing the “neck” or “trunk” from the roots. Then reduce the foliage, as described and pictured in the fourth paragraph above. Plant the neck with its tiny rosette of leaves in a 2-inch pot, or place it in a little nursery as described above. I’ve rejuvenated many African violets this way.

  17. Hazel says:

    Thank you for your excellent posts on AV’s! I am wondering what are all the colours that these lovely plants can be? I do have a red one that. Is being propagated as we speak. Thanks again!

  18. Sandi Hart says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE my AV’s. They have been doing well for the past year or so in self watering pots. However, one had gotten so big I had to re-pot in a larger non self watering container a few weeks ago. It has just bloomed beautifully but is looking very droopy. I am afraid It will die. Suggestions will be appreciated.

  19. Helen Langshaw says:

    Hi,
    I have an African violet that I bought and it flowered with single pink blooms. It then stopped for awhile, and when it started again it now has double white edged blooms. How did this happen? I have also made new plant from growing leaves, one of the plants is now flowering, it has a single white flower and a new flower just opening is purple or pink inside and white edging. It also has frilly leaves as well as flat. I did this once before and only got clones of the parent plant. How did all this happen?

  20. Emily Stubbs says:

    Hi, I posted a “thank you” on the other page about violets. But after reading this page, as well as the comments, I have a question. I’ve got an older Violet my mom gave me. Its a little bigger thanthe ones you see in the stores. And today, sadly I noticed that 4 of its largest leaves on the very bottom row, have died or are so droopy that I need to cut them off. I also found 2 leaves like that on one of my other violets. And that one is actually blooming.
    What does this mean? What’s causing it, or what could I be doing wrong????????
    OH! And is there a “norm” for what direction the leaves should be going? Most of mine all go slightly up, out & down. But on one of the plants (that lost some leaves), they were mostly all going just out and up. Except for some on the bottom row, which were going out and down….but those are the ones that died :-(

  21. Yamíl Torres says:

    ‘Hola’ from Mexico Kevin!

    Just stopping by to say hello and congratulate you for this site. I have a ‘young’ AV (which I named ‘Camila’) that a friend of mine gave to me, and I am really excited about seeing her grow.

    I brought it to my office and she likes it! I am sure that it will give beautiful flowers.

    Thank you for your posts!!!

  22. Christine says:

    When buying AVs is there any way “one” can tell what color it will be?

    You have an excellent site!!

    thanks,

    Christine

  23. Marise says:

    Hi Kevin,
    I am AMAZED & ASTONISHED! Not to mention HaPpY! i have a black thumb for African Violets. I never ever knew that the dreaded spots from water are only from chilliness…….and i never dreamed or imagined that violets can be separated. -Or especially that they can be started from a single leaf of an existing plant….I am THRILLED beyond description! I have clobbered my sweet AF plant, but i believe enough root-stump is left that it may rally. So far i have done everything possible Wrong, while trying to do right, so i am beginning anew.
    THANK YOU a MILLION for this info and all other wonderful stuff on your Site!

  24. Garden man says:

    My African violet has went completely crazy its much larger then when I bought it and there’s stems going every were not sure what to do I wish I could send you I picture of what I have to work with here so you could give me pointers

  25. Hi Garden man – Sounds like your African violet is loaded with offshoots, or suckers. Proceed as described in the article above. You’ll end up with a much more attractive plant — plus lots of new plants.

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