Repotting African Violets 'Saintpaulia'
Care must be taken when repotting African violets. They're a sensitive species and have specific requirements including repotting correctly to enable them to grow well and thrive while producing beautiful blooms.
- New pots (plastic, terracota or ceramic).
- Potting mix of these 3 choices (1 part AV mix and 1 part vermiculite or 1 part perlite - 2 parts peat moss, 1 part vermiculite and 1 part perlite - 1 part peat moss and 1 part vermiculite or perlite).
- Sharp knife (only if any parts of the plant have to be removed).
- Old newspaper (keep work area clean).
- Tepid water for watering.
- Disposable gloves (optional).
- Butter knife to remove plant (may require)
When to Repot
I tend to believe it's best to repot or provide a soil change in the same pot at least once a year, possibly twice. Plenty of nutrients within the soil encourages growth and any unwanted stem, suckers (new shoots), flowers, roots and faded leaves can be removed while repotting (removal provides the healthy parts of the plant with maximum support from the roots). More about pruning in another article but keep it in mind that it's the ideal time to prune when repotting.
African violets have sensitive stems and leaves. When the upper parts of the plant outgrow the current pot, stems can arch over the pot edge causing them damage. This is a time to repot.
Roots growing out of the bottom of the current pot is a sign to repot. AV's prefer a certain amount of being root bound within the pot, not too much though. The root system grows and spreads in width, more so than many other plants which is why shallow pots are primarily used.
If conditions are warm and there is enough light then repotting can be carried out various times of the year. However, later spring and during summer are the best times in temperate regions when more daylight is available and warmer temperatures are more stable.
I would repot new plants if they are bought from a garden store, but give them a week or so to settle into the new home to prevent any shock. It's already a big change for the plants going into a new environment. After a week and they’re doing well, repot.
Pot Types and Size
Be aware that your African violets may not need a bigger size pot. This is going to depend on old growth and new shoots at the neck being removed and any roots when pruning first.
The neck is the bottom of the stem (close to the soil) that produces new shoots which are best removed to keep the plant growing well. If the shoots are not removed they will become new plants - affecting the growth and flowering of the parent, and you just wont get that fabulous rosette look.
If it's time for a new pot you'll only require the next size up. Too much space in the pot surrounding the roots may cause the bottom soil to become waterlogged and the roots system will struggle to absorb the water. Waterlogged soil can also cause root rot.
The putting terracotta, pieces of crock or other materials within the bottom of the pot debate continues. Some growers prefer one method while others don't. The advantage is drainage and prevention of waterlogged soil. The disadvantages are the plant would have to be watered from the top and the concern of insects getting into the pot easier is increased, although many materials can be used to cover the bottom of the pot that allows water in and not insects inside. Test and learn what works for you.
Terracotta pots are what I find best to use. They're porous. These allow more air to the soil and provide humidity from under the plant when water is evaporating. Other pots are fine if they drain well and plastic pots are great when repotting because the plant is much easier to remove, and you can change the outer container if a new color or design is wanted.
As mentioned, shallow pots are best suited. Sterilize whichever type of pots are being used. I would clean the pots with a chlorine bleach solution of 10 percent to ward of any possible disease.
Removing from the Pot
Take great care to avoid touching and damaging the leaves of African violets, they're very sensitive. Try and handle the lower stem and root ball rather than the upper plant. You can use disposable gloves if you have them.
Slightly dry soil seems to encourage AV's out of plastic pots and damp soil for terracotta. If the pot is plastic, squeeze the outer edge to loosen the plant and leaning the pot to the side should do the trick.
Terracota and others can be more tricky to remove. Tapping the bottom of the pot may suffice, if not, a butter type knife around the edge of the soil and pot will help it free.
When the plant is removed, gently loosen and remove excess soil around the root ball. Just do this gently and plenty will fall away. You need enough soil kept to keep the plant sturdy in its new pot – don’t over do it.
First things first, have a quality potting mix that's light, airy and drains well. Many of the African violet ready made mixes like these are suitable although it's best to add to the mix to reduce density (1 part AV mix and 1 part vermiculite or 1 part perlite).
If you're creating a potting mix. You can mix 2 parts peat moss, 1 part vermiculite and 1 part perlite. Or, 1 part peat moss and 1 part vermiculite or perlite.
Add soil to the bottom of the pot and place the plant on top of the soil until it now sits level with where it will stay. You may have to add or remove soil until this is correct. There will be no soil 'as yet' around the outer edge of the root ball.
Once the position is right and the plant is seated, you can now add soil around the edges " between the roots and pot". Firm the soil around the edges slightly, not very compact though.
Water and Rest
Well done, African violets repotted. Now you'll just need to water them using tepid water. There are those that water from the top, bottom, use wick watering or a combination. All work and have there place, watering plants sufficiently.
For the first few waterings while the roots and the plant settles I would water from the top until you notice water gently coming out from the drainage holes. Let it settle for 30 minutes and then remove excess water from the saucer.
You can rest easily while the plants absorb the fresh nutrients.
As mentioned above, while you're repotting this is a good time to remove any flowers and leaves fading, get pruning if required. It's also worth cleaning up the neck of the plant to remove suckers (new shoots) and keep the parent plant in good shape for its next blooms.