Propagating African Violets

Winter Months A Time to Expand Collection

BY BEN BATZER

During winter months, when the weather outside is most dreary, many of us dedicate more attention to our indoor gardens. Because we have more time to spare now, the winter months are profitable times to expand our collection of indoor plants through propagation. African violets lend themselves easily to propagation. They are most frequently propagated through crown division or petiole cuttings. While we often describe violet propagation in terms of leaf cuttings, this is not quite accurate, since roots and new plants develop from the exposed tissue of the petiole rather than the leaf itself.

Diagram of a leaf with "leaf" and "petiole" indicated.

I have a particular appreciation for African violets, which bloom consistently all winter, whether they grow under lights or on the windowsill. To propagate violets through petiole/leaf cuttings, use a sharp knife to cut a young leaf from the center of a mature plant. Do not break or tear the petiole, since damaged tissue is more likely to rot. Using the same sharp blade, cut the petiole so its length is around two inches. Fill a small pot with moist, sandy soil and tamp down lightly. I prefer to use a potting mix of equal parts sand, perlite, and peat- based soilless medium. Push the petiole into the soil until it is deep enough to hold the leaf upright in the pot. If propagating the same variety, I often place several leaves together to save space.

Moisten the soil lightly and slip the pot into a Ziploc bag. The bag will create a humid environment so the leaves won’t wilt while forming roots. If you have working grow-lights, place the bagged pot along the edge of the shelves. A bright window- sill will also work well. In two to three months, young plants will emerge alongside the petioles.

When the young plants have dime-sized leaves, shake the plants out of the pot. Using your fingers, gently pull the young plants away from the mother leaves. Some plants will come away with roots while others while come away with no roots. I usually plant both kinds of plantlets; even rootless sprouts will soon form sturdy roots of their own. Three-inch pots are the most suitable size for these young plants. I again use the propagating mix as my soil medium.

At this point, the young plants can be grown like their mature counterparts. Water when the top of the potting mix begins to feel dry and provide bright light. I do not use special fertilizer for violets. Rather, I use the same fertilizing regime for all houseplants: one week a diluted balance (14-12-14) and the next week a diluted fish/seaweed emulsion. As the young plants grow larger, pot them up one size at a time. I use shallow pans, bonsai bowls, or azalea pots because violets develop wide and shallow root systems. I often have blooming plants six to nine months from taking petiole cuttings!

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