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AFRICAN VIOLETS: 3 CHEAP and EASY WAYS to PROPAGATE THEM
Quaint African violets (Saintpaulia) are one of several herbaceous, flowering perennials in the Gesneriaceae family. Each with unique bloom shapes and colors but all with similar downy, gray-green foliage.
Other species in the Gesneriaceae family:
African violets, while not related to true violets (viola odorata), are native to the tropical regions of eastern Africa and have evolved to thrive in dappled light conditions. Although, they can bloom year round in consistently sunny climates.
These dainty bloomers first arrived in the west in 1894. Introduced on the east coast, African violets developed a reputation for being difficult to grow.
Today, we know this to be untrue. Those early tropical arrivals simply found it difficult to grow well in a region that sports sub-zero temperatures for months at a time.
Under the right environmental conditions, you can successfully grow African violets, and propagate them, no matter where you live.
CAN YOU TAKE A CUTTING FROM AN AFRICAN VIOLET?
Absolutely! Lovely African violets have been propagated for well over a century. Propagating them can be an easy and meditative exercise in connecting with nature and helping it along.
A word of caution though. tears made by a blunt blade can leave your new cutting vulnerable to disease and pests.
By choosing the right leaves and making proper cuts with a sharp sterile cutting tool, you’re well on your way to successful propagation.
Now, new plants grown from seed will be genetically similar but not identical to the original one.
When propagated from cuttings, new plants will be genetic clones of the original. Because you’re simply taking part of that plant and growing it elsewhere.
These cuttings can root successfully whether grown in water or soil. Keep reading for instructions on how to propagate new plants from both leaf and blossom cuttings.
SUPPLIES for PROPAGATING AFRICAN VIOLETS
Propagating African violets you already have is the most cost-effective way of increasing your collection. And by cost-effective, I mean FREE. How could you not love that?
When you’re thinking about what supplies to use, stay in that FREE zone. There’s no need to go out and buy anything.
Besides, the environmental benefits of upcycling are huge and reducing unnecessary waste is what we should all be doing, anyway. Let’s contribute to a healthier planet and a healthier us by using what we already have.
So, let’s see. What do we have?
Egg cartons, plastic food containers, milk cartons, plastic yogurt containers and empty water bottles…all of these can easily be repurposed for plant propagation.
Personally, I like to propagate in water using small glass jars that once had a candle in it. My house smells nice and now I get more plants! I’m a happy girl.
Now, I want you to be happy. So, what else do you need?
Supplies for Propagating African Violets in Soil
- A healthy plant to take cuttings from
- Fresh, sterile potting soil (including materials that provide adequate aeration and drainage)
- Rooting hormone (optional)
- A sharp, sterile cutting tool
- A bowl for mixing soil (if combining your own)
- Your choice of recycled container
- A sunny window sill or greenhouse
Supplies for Propagating African Violets in Water
- A healthy plant to take cuttings from
- Your choice of recycled container
- Plastic wrap (Optional)
- Clean, aerated water
- A sharp, sterile cutting tool
- A sunny window sill or greenhouse
THE BEST AFRICAN VIOLET LEAVES to PROPAGATE
If you’ve ever grown plants from seed, you’re probably aware that not every seed will germinate or grow to maturity. It’s a numbers game, right?
So, it’s best to take a few extra cuttings. If they’re all successful, great! If not, you’ll most likely end up with the number of plants you initially wanted to grow, anyway.
Now, which ones do you cut? Successful African violet propagation starts with the healthiest and most robust leaves.
These will be found in the middle layer of foliage. Reason being, the top ones are too new and the bottom ones are, well…the opposite.
Avoid using leaves that are browning, have holes or curling edges. These would be ones that are, for some reason, lacking nutrients and wouldn’t root well, if at all.
ROOTING HORMONE for AFRICAN VIOLETS
Applying a rooting hormone to African violet cuttings, before planting them in soil, is not a necessary step. Organic gardeners have been successfully propagating a wide variety of plants, for centuries, without it. However, there are gardeners who swear by it.
Rooting hormones, when applied to the cut end of a stem or branch, stimulate enzymes within that cutting to produce roots. There are both synthetic and organic compounds that often result in faster rooting
Synthetic compounds include things like indolebutyric acid, naphthaleneacetic acid, thidiazuron, and chlormequat chloride. Organic compounds are those that are extracted from other plants.
If I’m going to use a rooting compound at all, it’ll be this second option. And because we’re still in the FREE ZONE, let’s take a look at some effective rooting compounds you may already have.
HOMEMADE ROOTING HORMONE OPTIONS
A successful rooting hormone may be as close as your kitchen pantry or medicine cabinet. Many practical culinary and first-aid items can be repurposed for plant propagation.
Raw or pure honey bee nectar (not pasteurized or processed) is known for its antibacterial properties. People have been putting it in their tea to ward off a sore throat for ages. This same property also makes honey a great option to discourage fungal and bacterial growth, allowing your plant cuttings to root.
A light dusting of this tasty powder, on a damp stem, will stimulate root growth in almost any plant, including African violets. While at the same time, preventing the growth of fungus that is often attractive to exposed plant material.
Similar to cinnamon, aloe vera also prevents the growth of bacteria and fungus. Paving the way for strong, healthy roots to emerge. Store bought aloe vera gel works just fine, as well as a cutting from your own plant, if you happen to have one.
USING ROOTING HORMONE on AFRICAN VIOLETS
- Rooting hormone reduces the amount of time it takes for roots to grow
- One application can last up to 3 months
- Synthetic rooting hormones can be harmful if inhaled or ingested
HOW to PROPAGATE AFRICAN VIOLETS in WATER
When rooting African violet cuttings in water, I find that a clear glass jar (like an upcycled candle jar) that is wider at the top works well. This shape will allow you to easily monitor root growth and the need for a water change.
If you place the cuttings in a bright sunny window, microscopic bacteria or algae in tap water could blossom and cloud the water, impeding healthy root growth.
You won’t be able to avoid water changes completely. But, to cut down on algae or bacteria growth you can either boil enough water to fill your container or fill an empty milk jug with water and let it sit for a few days, to aerate all the pollutants out, prior to propagating.
PREPARE YOUR CONTAINER
When deciding on a clear container for propagating African violets, I always go for glass. I do this because when these cuttings get a blast of brilliant sunshine, which they need to properly root, microscopic algae particles in the water tend to multiply pretty fast.
I can easily sterilize this out of a glass container, but plastic is porous and absorbent. It’ll capture those tiny algae bits in places I can’t reach. Allowing them to multiply further.
I’ll propagate African violets in soil and plastic containers all day long. But, when propagating in water, I think glass is more efficient for rooting and for cleaning.
But, if all you have is plastic, that’s completely fine. Just wash the container out really well whenever you change the water.
PRO TIP: Whenever you’re propagating leaves, always use a container proportionate in size to the length of the leaves. African violet stems are short, so use a container that’s as tall or a bit taller than they are.
TAKE YOUR CUTTINGS
So, you’ve chosen the best leaf specimens to root, from the middle, no browning, holes or curling.
Now, cut those leaves, with your sharp, sterile cutting tool, at a 45° angle. This angle will allow for proper scabbing from which roots will grow. Before cutting, make sure that your leaf will have a stem that’s 1 ½” long.
PLACE CUTTINGS in the CONTAINER
There are two ways you can position your leaves in the container. I’ve done it successfully both ways. It’s just a matter of what works best for you. You can either place one or two leaves in your container with just enough water to cover the stems half way up. Or you can do the following:
- Fill your container 1/3rd the way with clean, aerated water
- Place a piece of plastic wrap over the top of your container
- Secure the plastic with a rubber band
- Poke one hole in the top of the plastic for each stem
- Then, place one stem in each hole, making sure the bottom of the stem is in the water. No more than two per container
HOW to PROPAGATE AFRICAN VIOLETS in SOIL
Propagating African violet leaves in soil is just as easy as in water and done in a very similar way. The leaves you choose and how long to leave the stems when you cut them are exactly the same. The only differences are your growing medium and how you care for them as you wait for them to take root.
TRIM YOUR LEAVES
I’ve tried both cutting them and not. Honestly, I didn’t see a significant difference in rooting time between the two. But, feel free to try each way yourself and see what you think.
In the practice of propagating, there’s a school of thought that says you should cut the top half of the leaves off before placing them in soil. The idea is that, by doing so, the cutting has less leaf surface to worry about and can focus more of its photosynthesized energy toward root generation.
PREPARE YOUR POTTING MEDIUM
When propagating African violets in soil, I always use a fresh, sterile soil that’s made for starting seeds. This type of mix includes a low percentage of nutrients. As well as materials that allow for adequate drainage and just enough moisture retention to keep your cuttings from drying out.
You can either buy seed-starting mix, already prepared, or you can mix your own. This is done by mixing fresh, sterile topsoil with the following materials.
- Silica sand – this contributes to adequate drainage and loosens dense soil
- Coco coir – this allows for enough moisture retention for adequate hydration
- Perlite – encourages proper drainage and soil aeration
POT YOUR CUTTINGS
Using a wooden chopstick, popsicle stick, or just your pinky finger, make a small hole in the center of each container. Then, place one stemmed leaf in, per container. In water, you can get away with two or three. But, in soil, that would be too crowded and inhibit root growth.
Gently push the soil around the base of each stem, to keep it in an upright position. If you’re working with larger leaves, you can use that same popsicle stick to prop them up. This will relieve the pressure and stress of leaf weight so the leaves can focus on root generation.
HOW to PROPAGATE AFRICAN VIOLETS from FLOWERS
If you’re just starting out in the practice of propagation, African violets are a perfect first choice. Like most in the Gesneriaceae family, almost any part of this plant can be used for propagation, under the right conditions.
We’ve talked about how to propagate new plants from leaves. Now, let’s talk about those pretty flowers. How do you make new plants from those?
Follow these steps and, just like with leaves, you should be able to grow new African violet plants. Note: Blossom stems root best in soil, but if you’d like to experiment with water, feel free to try it.
- Using a clean, sterile tool, cut a few newly-opened flowers from the base of the stem. You don’t want to wait until the flower has almost faded. Because at this point, all the energy in the stem will have gone into keeping that flower going. There won’t be enough left for it to generate new roots.
- Remove any tiny buds or bits above the little leaflets on either side of the stem. These will draw energy from the stem so they need to be carefully snipped off.
- Place the stems in soil-filled containers, just as you would with leaves, with or without rooting hormone, and you’re done!
HOW LONG DOES it TAKE for AFRICAN VIOLET CUTTINGS to ROOT?
How long it takes for new African violet leaves to show their happy little faces depends on a few different factors.
The season in which you are propagating – Just like other houseplants, African violets experience a partially dormant period in winter. During this seasonal stage, these blooming beauties are essentially half-asleep. As will be any cuttings you take from them and try to root.
The cutting may survive but new growth won’t happen until spring when the plants revive from dormancy. In this case, it will seem like rooting took forever. Roots will appear faster when plants are actively growing. But, with a little patience, they’ll soon appear in winter, as well.
Access to 4-6 hours of sunlight per day – Both leaves and flower stems will harness photosynthesized energy from the sun through chlorophyll cells in the green bits above the soil. Without adequate light, these little plant pieces won’t be able to sustain themselves enough to continue growing, much less produce new roots.
When these factors plus adequate moisture, humidity and environmental temperature are taken into account, it should take roughly 3-4 weeks for tiny, new leaves to appear. When propagating in water, consistently changing the water, to keep it clean, will also be considered a determining factor.
WHY DO AFRICAN VIOLET CUTTINGS FAIL?
In my experience, when experimenting with propagation, African violets have failed for a number of environmental reasons that they don’t like. For example:
Peat moss should never be added to potting mix when propagating any plant. Not only is peat fast becoming an endangered material but it’s just too good at retaining water. The stems will get saturated and most likely rot.
When cuttings become saturated in soggy soil, they literally can’t breathe. They breathe just fine in containers of water, because there’s no soil blocking them from absorbing the oxygen in it.
For the same reason, overwatering is a problem. Water your soil-grown cuttings well but allow them to dry out a bit in between. Over and underwatering are the two most common causes of cutting failure.
Cuttings, like most houseplants, need adequate humidity. Low humidity may cause them to dry out too quickly. I now keep mine in a little greenhouse.
Algae and bacteria build-up, when rooting in water, will absorb all the oxygen leaving your little cutting with none. Thus, the need to keep your containers clean.
Give your cuttings just what they need to successfully root and they’ll greatly reward you for it.
OTHER PLANTS to PROPAGATE
- Pothos Plants
- Christmas Cactus
Have you tried this?
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