How to Separate and Pot African Violet Babies

March 4, 2013

I CAN ASSURE YOU that African violets are very easy to propagate. Just stick a stem in damp soil, provide abundant humidity, and in eight weeks time you’ll be greeted with numerous new plants. What the babies look like, and how to separate and pot them successfully:

First, the back story. On November 27, 2012, I snipped off five leaves from various plants. The leaves were then inserted in damp potting mix that I poured into a Boston lettuce tub. The tub provided a pleasantly-humid environment for the cuttings. So humid, in fact, that I did not have to water the soil until the babies emerged.

By February 13, each leaf had sprouted a number of offspring. I posted the above photograph on Facebook that day, with the caption  “Pass the cigars — I’m a daddy!” You see, even after 40 years of propagating African violets, I still get a thrill when  little plantlets spring forth.

Probably I need to get out more.

I let the babies grow for several more weeks until they were large enough to handle. True, the mother leaves started to deteriorate during this time.  But the youngsters grew and grew.

To retrieve a mother leaf and her little ones, scoop under the soil with a spoon. Or, gently lift up the group with your fingers, being careful not to sever roots too severely.  (A little root-mangling is unavoidable.)

Make no mistake — there is never, in my experience, “just one” baby attached to a parent leaf. The above leaf gave birth to twins. And she would have produced triplets, quintuplets, or even octuplets if I’d left her in the soil longer. Consequently, look carefully to determine how many rosettes of leaves are evident. Each rosette is a complete plant.

To separate the rosettes, cut between them with scissors or a sharp knife — a pen-knife works well — as illustrated above.

Now select a pot with drainage holes for each young plant. The pot must be no larger than 2 inches in diameter. Why?  Because a larger container will hold too much soil. Too much damp soil around a small root system can lead to root-rot.

For today’s African violet adventure, I used both clay and plastic pots.

Fill the pot  with any damp, well-draining medium. A 50/50 blend of leaf mold and perlite will suffice, as will any commercial peat and perlite formula. You do not need a special “African violet” potting mix.

Be sure to leave a 1/2-inch opening between the surface of the mix and the rim of the pot to allow for water.

To accommodate roots, use your finger to make an indentation in the center of the pot.

Next, insert the rosette, adding a little more mixture to cover roots.

Then firm the medium gently.

As you can see, I achieved 11 new plants from my propagation efforts. These will not need larger pots until their leaf-span grows to three times the diameter of the pot.

And there are more youngsters to come. But they are too small for potting. I returned the parent and child pictured up top to the Boston lettuce terrarium.

You will find that African violet babies flourish much faster if you give them plentiful light and humidity.  My plants reside on fluorescent-lit shelves in my Writing Room. To provide a humid atmosphere, I set them in make-shift terrariums.

For instance, I set some of my pots in the covered container that rotisserie chicken comes in…

While others were given comfortable quarters in a clear plastic food-storage container with a lid.

Sealed in such containers, the plants won’t require water for at least one month.

However, their time in the rain-forest must be limited.  After four weeks have passed, remove the lids for increasingly-longer periods each day. This way, the plants can adapt to the level of humidity your home affords.

When will they flower? If you give them the care I described in an earlier post, you can expect constant bloom in as little as 6-9 months.

Was this tutorial helpful to you in some small way? Perhaps you can let me know by leaving a comment.

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Related Posts:
African Violets: How I Achieve Constant Bloom
Window Garden: November, 2012
How to Design a Dramatic Window Garden

Comments

  1. Cindy G says:

    I tried rooting some…..but the leaves just keep withering away, with no sign of babies??.

  2. Hi Cindy G – Did you plant the leaves in a terrarium or some kind? Especially in winter, they require lots of humidity in order to root and produce offspring.

  3. Donna B. says:

    Kevin, I need to stop reading your posts about house plants – this really badly makes me want to go out and get some african violets, RIGHT NOW. Hehehhe!
    Well, first I need to build the window shelving for my bathroom… Gotta have a home ready for the beauties!

  4. constantine says:

    Hi Kevin,

    Well, my thumb must be brown because around Nov/Dec I repotted a violet and planted about a dozen leaves in a lettuce terrarium and all that has happened is rotted leaves. I had even dusted the stems with root hormone. The leaves stayed green for a good 10 weeks but have started wilting and turning to mush. The reason for a repot was to cut off two suckers (thanks for your help on that), mother plant and suckers are all doing well. Don’t know what went wrong with the leaves. Could temperature be an issue? The terrarium sits on a window sill and it has been a cold winter, but the other three plants are there as well and seem not to be bothered.
    I’ll have to give it another try.

  5. Pat Torgrimson says:

    Hi Kevin,
    What a great idea to use the lettuce tubs! I have some of my winter sowing seeds in the tubs. I did just pot some leaves and put in a pot and then put a ziplock bag around it and zipped it shut. I hope this will work!

  6. Phyllis says:

    I’ve started many baby African violets with much success, however, I love your suggestion of using lettuce containers as mini terrariums. Can’t wait to try those! Thanks for all your great ideas!

  7. Faith says:

    Very helpful, thank you! I was given leaves and told to put them in water to root, no such luck!
    I will try your terrarium method. Love African violets!

  8. Brenda Johnson says:

    Very informative Kevin!!! You give me the “I think I can” to try so many things!!!! These babies are going to be beautiful!!!

  9. valerie says:

    Hi Kevin. Two quick questions. Are the flowers of the babies the same as the parent plant? Do you fertilize all year or stop October through March? As always, thanks for your website and insight.

  10. Lois says:

    Your tutorial is very helpful, Kevin!

    I am staring at the 13 plants on my Victorian violet stand, know that several need to be divided, and in the process certainly several leaves will be available for propogating! I’ve liked how your previous posts reminded me the value of giving plants a rotation under fluorescent lights. I haven’t done that, but have plenty of (currently) unoccupied light fixtures in the basement. Perhaps TODAY I will divide and propogate one of the violets and see how it goes. Thanks for the inspiration!

  11. Christina Giordano says:

    I started some leaves two weeks ago in only perlite but did not cover them to provide a high humidity environment. I’ll take them apart today and re-settle them in a covered container of perlite mixed with potting soil and continue to wait patiently. Do you have any other suggestions? Thanks, CG

  12. Hi Valerie – Yes, the flowers of the baby will be the same as the parent plant. My African-violet feeding-routine is described in this post.

  13. Jeanio says:

    I just did this with coleus and have high hopes for transplanting them outside this spring. I’m also trying a bunch of perennials using your milk jug greenhouse. I think I’ll do African violets today. Do they need to be dead headed?

    Thanks for all the tips!

  14. Carol Wichman says:

    Thanks for the step by step. I must water mine too much. Should the soil always be moist around adult plants or allowed to dry out?

  15. Billie Walker says:

    For yrs. I have propagated my African Violets. When we lived up north, I did them in the basement under florescent lighting and it worked great, damp basement, lighting and all. Now down in the south, no basement nor florescent lights, I have had difficulty in doing so, never thinking of doing them they way you have instructed. Just this morning, I repotted many plants to a pot size bigger, jade tree, etc. then opened this and I am doing this immediately!! I used to have 20+ violets, now only 3, but all that WILL change now. Thank you so much for these great tips!! I always look forward to the tips you send out!!!

  16. OPPS!! Forgot to post my website. We are in process of setting up a pay pal acct. to make donations more readily available. AND forgot to tell you, every yrs. I had a yard sale in spring and SO many ppl came every yr. just to buy the Violets I propagated during the winter. Our last 1 was to move south and so many ppl were so disappointed to hear I was leaving, because I have 4 large tables set up and started every type of plant I could propagated!! I have tried larger plants, with scraping a piece of the stalk and using a wet guaze to grow the roots, but as of this time, I have never been able to accomplish that 1!! Any tips?

  17. TriciaLee says:

    Having attempted propogation of AV in the past, the one thing that caught my eye today is that you add an additional light source (flourescent-lit shelves) to your system. Is the light-of-day by a window not enough for this process? Would it help to place a heating pad under the plants during propogation? Does it help to dip the stem (of the donor leaf) in rooting hormone prior to setting it in the soil?

    Love your newsletters and style of writing. Thank you!!

  18. Doris Lindsey says:

    I have heard to pinch off the leaves in the middle of the plant for propagating. This does work well, as the leaves are not limp, like some of the bottom leaves.

  19. Herb Fogelberg says:

    Love your site and all the tips. Funny to see all the women on the comments and no men. I’m changing that. Years ago my wife had all kinds of African Violets but hasn’t had for years and I love the color they bring into the house. I’m retired now so I get to garden more like I want and African Violets will be just one of the items I will be growing. Thanks for your info on how to go about it.

  20. Janet says:

    Have tried in the past to divide my violets without success and now I know why, was just doing word of mouth and now have seen a much better way. Thanks for the help!!!!!

  21. barb says:

    Dave, What perfect timing when I saw your info today about propagating African Violets. I have one that I was just thinking about doing some leaf starts. Going to give it a try and see how it works. Got the plant from a good friend and I want to keep it going. Love your website! I guess you don’t ever sleep! I know myself there are never enough hours in a day. Thank you.

  22. sandra says:

    Love this. I think I can do this. Thank you.

  23. Judy Pennington says:

    Kevin, I have some violets that belonged to my mother, which I inherited when she passed, Some of them are over 20 years old and have grown up out of the dirt with a long stalk. I tried repotting them and broke off part of the long root. They are growing well, almost too well. Some of them are over a foot across and very “leggy”. Is there anyway to get them to grow more compact like your’s are?

  24. Carol says:

    I want some babies! I don’t have a plant either.. :(

  25. Donna says:

    Thanks for the tips… yours are always great!!!

  26. KimH says:

    Very much appreciated, Keven! I’ll give this a shot one of these days..

  27. Naomi Shelton says:

    I have nurtured so many baby AF’s over the years with greater and lesser success. Two tips that I find useful from this tutorial are to gradually aclimate the babies to the less humid air of your house and to not pot in too big a pot before they have become quite a bit larger plants. I will incorporate those suggestions into my propagating routine. Have you ever propagated AF’s by pollination and seeds? I have been curious to know if I could do it. I tried once, but I didn’t get any seeds.

  28. wwo says:

    How do you know which plants to get. Are there differnt size flowers etc? Where should I look for them. I have seen just a few at the big box store, but they were in bad shape. Are they easy to bring back? Great site. I really like the wooden arch in the foyer. I build handmade cabinets and would love much as possible info on this arch. Thanks. wwo

  29. Cathy in Cleveland says:

    I have leaves that are in fair shape but no babies! Do I continue to wait or just go buy a couple pots of African Violets? I did everything you said! :(

  30. wwo – A great source for beautiful African violets is Lyndon Lyon Greenhouses. You can read more about the arch in the entrance (and see details of the piece) by joining me on this house tour.

  31. Diane WS says:

    I always had African Violets as a child, inspired by my grandmother. An thanks to you, I have purchased another for my home. Thank you for getting me started again!

  32. Deb C. says:

    Your tutorials are always so well-done. I, too, was inspired by my grandmother to grow African Violets. I still love them.

  33. Mary Withrow says:

    Great Article! I’m going to try this! Thank you

  34. Tamara says:

    Thank you! Can’t wait to try it, and read your other posts on AVs.

  35. Next tutorial should be How To WASH Plant Pots before separating AV babies. :)
    Would have been a little concerned about the health of some of those mama leaves. Looks like you had the plague! There’s a spot virus spreading like wildfire to be aware of.

  36. Clarice Lofgran says:

    I LOVE that you use these plastic containers! They are so cleverly designed! I save them and use them for all kinds of stuff too!

  37. Carol says:

    when you propagate a leaf, and it grows babies, and when it gets bigger and blooms again, does it bloom the same color as the parent plant?

  38. Carol – Yes – the babies are exactly the same as the parent plant.

  39. Carol says:

    Good! Thanks Kevin
    I’m starting two different leaves from different plants today. I hope they do what they are suppose to do!

    *Next Question, when they are inside the bag, is it okay for the leaves to touch the bag? I heard before that it is bad for the leaves to touch anything.
    Also, how often should they be watered ?

  40. Hi Carol – It’s best to keep the leaves from touching the bag. Water just enough to keep the soil moist, but never saturated. Sealed in a bag or another type of “greenhouse,” you won’t have to water for many weeks — probably not until the babies emerge. Provide bright light but no direct sun during the propagation period.

  41. Carol says:

    Alright, Thanks! I have them in 2 in. pots inside a butter container that is inside a Gal. zip lock bag, the butter container holds the bag away from the leaves.
    I’m going to have to go through your posts (and look at all the comments) so I’m not asking so many questions (that you’ve probably already answered) lol
    It seems so easy, but I really want this to work!!
    Wish me luck …

  42. Ellie Wilbanks says:

    Kevin; What have you determined from your plantlets in clay pots?

  43. cheya says:

    Does mold ever grow in that moist environment? I started some leaves I started several leaves just one week ago and they have soft white, hairy stuff growing on the soil. I scooped it out and have left the lid off to dry the environment a little.

  44. Patty says:

    This answered ALL my questions and more about my violet cuttings! Thanks for the detail and pictures :-)

  45. Candee says:

    Once I have separated the babies…do i need to, Do I have to add a rooting power ?
    What do I do with the same for the parents, or do I plant both of them in rich potting
    soil?

  46. Nice to meet you, Candee. I don’t use rooting powder for African violets (or any other plants). Once I’ve separated the babies, I discard the parent leaf. As for soil, I pot the babies in the moist, well-draining mixture described above. More African violet “how-to” in this article.

  47. Barbara says:

    Kevin, thank you. I tried your method for propagating new plants and I’d like to announce the birth of 2 new baby violets. I put the momma back into the clamshell so I expect there will be more. Thank you so much for the instructions. bb

  48. Barbara – Congratulations to you!

  49. Jay says:

    Thanks so much for the very helpful tutorial. I was given a violet when a friend moved away & it has been thriving in my kitchen window. When i saw this post I was inspired to give propagating a try. Here goes!

  50. brittany says:

    I’m starting to see babies from my mother leaf. I’m curious to know, why do you have to separate the babies from the leaf? What would happen if you just leave mother and babies in the same flower pot?

  51. Hi brittany – If the individual plantlets are not separated from the mother leaf, you’ll end up with numerous plants all growing in one pot. Leaves will not have room to develop, plants will compete for food and moisture, and bloom will suffer. (I speak from experience!)

  52. Betty819 says:

    Gosh, with your photos and tuitorial, I would like to try to grow some AV..now to raid somebody’s recycle container for that type of container or maybe I can convince the Deli mgr. to sell me one complete set. Wait a minute, I just threw a clear container with lid in the recycle bin that had yogurt pretzels in it. Can I use that? Do you poke any holes in the top for air circulation like you do the wintersowing milk jugs? I will be looking for a pretty AV in grocery store or nursery to grow and start from there. My sister usually has good luck growing them, maybe I can entice her to let me take a cutting from hers. Exactly what do you mean by leaf mold? Is it just shredded leaves?

  53. Marcia says:

    Ordered 25 leaves on eBay and she sent 54. I have babies coming up tp my elbows!

    Mine rot or die of fungus if I water from the top. Used old brownie pans and set 2 inch terra cotta pots then flood the pan using warm water. I heard somewhere, wet feet and dry ears. I have been nursing these for 5 1/2 months.

  54. Rachel D says:

    Still learning about different ways to propagate, force bulbs and have been gardening for over 25 years. Your blog gives me lots of tips to try different things. Thank for the information.

  55. Fran says:

    I have two pots that the root is right out of the soil and crooked, how do I transplant these

  56. Sandy says:

    Can u split a violet, I gave one that is huge, wish I could post a picture

  57. Marian says:

    Hi Kevin, in December, I clipped 6 leaves , potted them per your instructions- no babies but lots of moss on top of soil. the mother leaves are still green and in good shape. any ideas?
    thanks, Marian

  58. Marian says:

    Hi Kevin,
    You can be the proud gardenfather of my new African Violet babies!
    From December, the 6 leaf cuttings produced clusters of babies as you said.
    I will wait a few more weeks, then will separate , pot and give to responsible family/ friends. Thanks so much for the concise tutorials.;-))).

  59. violet farres says:

    Yours has been the simplest tutorial yet. I so enjoy not feeling like I need a PHD to do this my babies are starting to sprout, now I know what to do. This Violet thanks you, and my Violet plants thank you. Guess what everyone is getting for mother’s day next year. LOL!

  60. Carolyn says:

    I was just about to throw out the mother leaf…because it looked so sickly….that I discovered one baby seedling next to it. A miracle in my eyes! Now, to let the seedling grow some more before separating from the mother leaf. Patience truly is a virtue. It took about 3 months.

    When I was not seeing anything for a about 2 months, I then moved the mother leaf under a GLASS terrarium near plenty of sun (I previously just had it in a sunny location). Lots of condensation had built up and the glass is very warm to the touch. This to be the perfect condition for the baby to emerge.

    Now I know why they are called AFRICAN violets!

    Following your tutorial (and having plenty of patience)….the key to successful baby plants. Thank you!

  61. Deb says:

    Kevin,
    Should I assume that I can separate a baby from the large parent the same way you separate the new grown babies? I noticed today when I was deadheading my violets that there was a baby. By the way just wanted to let you know that I have had fairly good luck starting babies in a small green glass of water. I have one blooming right now that I started in this fashion. Learned this from my gram who loved violets!
    Thanks for all the good info.!

    Deb

  62. Janella says:

    Hi Kevin! I followed your tips for propagating African Violets starting a few months ago. I had one plant that had morphed itself into three. When I finally separated the plants into their own pots a couple of leaves fell off. Well, I just happened to have a container of hydroponic lettuce in the fridge, so I transferred the lettuce to a bag and set up the container as a terrarium, stuck the leaves in, and bided my time. I was starting to think nothing was going to happen when one day (three months later) I noticed an extra spot of green through the container lid! I was so excited that it actually worked I could hardly stand myself! So I’ll wait a few more weeks for them to grow a bit bigger then transfer them to their own pots. So thank you for this post, I’m so happy I can create my own African Violets now!

  63. Alicia O'Neal says:

    WOW! That is a excellent educational quickie about propagating African violets.
    Thank you, enjoyed.

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