Propagating African Violets: How To Propagate Saintpaulia Plants

So you are interested in propagating African violet plants! Once you start growing Saintpaulias, it will not be long until you are interested in African violet propagation. Soon you will feel like the old woman in the shoe — you’ll have so many “children” you won’t know what to do. 

Propagating African VioletsPin

There is no stopping Saintpaulia ionantha. They are some of the easiest indoor plants to increase by division, offset, leaf cutting, or seed.

The first three vegetative methods produce plants identical to the original. However, with seeds, anything can happen, and resulting plants may differ entirely from both parents with a wide range of looks. This is not a new method. AV fanciers have been propagating new plants for decades. Below we share some old images from the 1950s.

Propagate African Violet From Crown Divisions

The quickest way to obtain additional blooming-size stock is to divide a mature parent plant with multiple crowns (new plants). A multiple-crown plant has more than one crown or “rosette” of leaves—each one a potential individual plant. A single-crown plant with only one “rosette” cannot be increased in this way.

Before Dividing a Multiple-Crown Plant:

  • Let the soil level dry out, so the root system and leaves are easier to handle.
  • Tap the African violet gently from its pot.
  • Remove some soil around the crowns so you can see where each “rosette” crown or stem starts.

Pulling these crowns apart at the base will have several plants ready for potting.

Difficult-to-separate crowns may be cut apart with a sharp knife or razor blade, retaining as many roots as possible. Pot up divisions without roots; Soon, roots will develop and resume growth. 

Cut ends should be exposed to the air for about an hour to dry before potting. Keep roots covered so they do not dry out. As a precaution against fungus diseases, dust ends with sulfur.

African Violet potting soil should be light and open. I use equal parts sand, peat moss, and perlite. Set each division firmly in the soil to the lowest row of leaves. 

Use a pot that has good drainage material. Keep the soil of crown cuttings on the dry side for a week or ten days until the cuts heal.

How Long Until You See An African Violet Flower?

Large crown divisions should show flower buds within a few weeks; blooming plants often go right on flowering after division. However, the best time for the operation is after a flowering lull, just as crowns show signs of new growth.

Propagation by offset takes a little longer to produce a flowering plant—perhaps four or five months, depending upon the plant size of the offset.

An offset (sometimes called a sucker or side shoot) is the beginning of a new crown. A multiple-crown will result if it’s allowed to develop on the plant.

Offsets may be broken off carefully or cut away with a sharp knife. Again, sulfur on a cut or broken ends will help fend off rot.

Before potting the offset or placing it in water to root, allow it to dry by exposing the cut end to the air. Some offsets may already have formed small roots.

African Violet Leaf Propagation: Starting Violets From Leaf Cuttings

Perhaps the most popular and successful method of propagating African violets is leaf cuttings; almost every fancier has their pet method of doing this. This is not a new method. AV fanciers have been propagating new plants for decades. Below we share some old images of propagation from the 1950s.

What Are The Best Leaves For Propagation?

Choose 4-5 healthy leaves of any size or age in good condition from the mother plant. But mature, not old, leaves are best.

Removing a mature leaf for propagation - BWPin
Take leaf cuttings from mature leaves of healthy plants.
Remove the entire stem with a knife or razor blade.
Or cut the stem to 1-1/2″ to 2″ inches long.
Remove the stub remaining on the plant to prevent rot.

I like to break the entire leaf stem off at the crown, so no stem or petiole is left behind to start decay. Leave the whole petiole or cut with a sharp, clean knife or razor blade 1-1/2″ to 2″ inches from the base at a 45-degree angle. Allow the end to dry by exposure to air for about an hour.

NOTE: Avoid using leaves from a diseased plant. Always sterilize any cutting tool between cuts.

Insert the fuzzy leaves almost to the leaf blade in a box of moist sand, vermiculite, or a mix of equal parts peat moss and perlite.

  • Make holes in the rooting medium with a pencil.
  • Insert the leaf stem into the hole
  • Press the rooting mix gently down around it.
  • Keep the box with the rooting medium moist and out of bright sunlight.

Starting African Violet Plants in Water

rooting african violets leaves in waterPin

My favorite way of starting African violet leaves is in a glass of water. This way, I can keep an X-ray eye on developments.

  • Fill a glass with water (rainwater or distilled water is best)
  • Cover it with plastic wrap secured by a rubber band
  • Punch one or more holes in the plastic wrap
  • Push the leaf stems carefully through the holes to avoid bruising.

I have found African Violet cuttings in water roots fastest from late February through spring. At that time of year, it takes two weeks to form a rooted leaf and another week for small foliage and plant growth to begin—but, remember, some varieties are slower than others.

Leaves may be left in the water until the plantlets have produced three or four leaves. But if the old leaf starts to decay, it is best to cut it away and pot up the plantlets. If you have tried this water method without success, check these points:

  • Did you let the cut end dry before putting the leaf in water?
  • Perhaps your tap water is at fault. Try using rainwater or distilled water.
Young plants begin to develop in about 3 weeks.
The above are about 8 weeks old.
They would continue to grow in water but a better potted up.

Another Method Of Propagating African Violet Leaves:

  • Insert the leaves in a jar of moist sand or vermiculite
  • Screwing the cover on tight
  • Set the jar in indirect light to root.
  • Do not place it in direct sunlight.

Success with this propagation method depends on getting the sand or vermiculite adequately moist—not too wet or dry. Then, I slowly add water with a spoonful until the rooting medium is barely damp.

Whichever method you use, small plants should eventually appear. So let’s assume they have and are ready to pot.

Potting Newly Rooted Leaves

Usually, several plants develop on each leaf. If you prefer single-crown plants, separate the little plantlets, making sure each one has a few roots attached. Then, pot them individually in 2-inch pots or flats of equal parts sand, peat moss, and perlite or vermiculite. The original leaf may be replaced in water to start more plants.

If you prefer multiple-crown plants, pot the little group at the base of the mature leaf without dividing it. The mother leaf may be cut off and rerooted or left attached until it begins to turn yellow and then discarded.

A pencil is a helpful tool in potting up these tiny plants. Use it to make a hole large enough to spread out the roots. Carefully set the plant in the pot with potting soil and fill it around it, not covering the crown. Water the soil to settle it about the roots. Apply a weak solution of liquid fertilizer.

Colchicine Treatment

Have you ever tried colchicine on African violets? If not, you’re missing a fascinating phase of propagation. By use of this chemical in either paste or liquid form, leaves and flowers of extremely large size may develop. [source]

Leaf cuttings are prepared in the usual way and inserted in the rooting medium. In about a week, the base of the leaf begins to swell, but roots have not yet formed. This is the time to apply colchicine paste. Draw the base of the leaf through the paste and plant carefully in the usual way. Colchicine is poisonous. Exercise care when using it.

When using liquid colchicine, allow the production of roots to develop before application.

  • Set the rooted leaf petiole in the soil
  • Apply colchicine with a medicine dropper at the leaf base before filling the potting mix around it.

When the plantlets develop, successfully treated ones will be distorted at first, but later they will grow normally. Successfully treated plants will be larger than the original.

Sowing African Violet Seed

Starting African violets from seed is even more fascinating than other propagation methods. There’s more of a mystery involved. Seedlings may develop into entirely “new” plants different from either parent.

I use equal parts of screened sand and peat moss for the seed-sowing medium. The medium is placed on a layer of drainage pebbles in a glass container with a top which will act as a small greenhouse.

sowing African violet seedsPin
Seeds are easy to grow in a glass-covered container.

I like to use transparent glass. It is a mini greenhouse and more decorative than a pyrex baking dish, mason jar, or clay pot. Any similar container may be used successfully.

Sowing The Seeds

  • Firm the African Violet soil mix slightly.
  • Make the soil moist by spooning in water until it is barely damp.
  • Spread the seeds as evenly as possible over the surface, using two fingers, or shaking them from the envelope or a small salt shaker, whichever you prefer.
  • Place the glass cover on the container.
  • Set it in a warm place with natural light for germination.
  • Seeds can also be started under artificial fluorescent lights.
  • No additional water is needed since the cover prevents evaporation.

African Violet seeds usually take ten days to germinate. Some eager-beaver baby plants may pop up a day earlier. Often germination is so irregular that sleepy heads may lag as much as a month.

Transplant two-week-old seedlings into plastic containers in an African violet potting mix —several to a pot.

They are tough to handle at this stage, so if you’re all thumbs, even though they’re green ones, it’s better to delay until the green leaves of the seedlings are a little larger.

If the plants become crowded with reduced light levels, they’ll be spindly. Do your transplanting as soon as possible. You’ll find a fork, pencil, or plant label helpful in transferring such minute plants.

It will be at least eight months before the seedlings of your new African Violet plant will bloom. When they do, look at them with a highly critical eye. Of course, you’ll love every one. But they won’t all be beauties.

Most of them won’t be as good flower colors as the named hybrid varieties on the market. And there’s only a slim chance that one might be better and, therefore, worth introducing. But you’ll certainly have had fun growing them.

44659 by Ruth Marie Peters