How to Repot an African Violet

African violets can outgrow their pots. How can you repot it so that you set it up for success?

African Violets (Saintpaulia) sometimes get a bad rap. They are frequently regarded as difficult to grow.

They come from Tanzania’s East Usambara Mountains, where they grow in the crevasses of mossy rocks. Brought into our homes as houseplants, their ideal growing conditions translate into:

  • Bright, indirect light (an east or north facing window, or 3 feet from a south or west window).
  • A loose, very well-draining potting mix that is always slightly moist. 
  • An indoor temperature between 65°F (18°C) and 80°F (26°C).
  • Watering from the bottom, to keep water off the leaves.

African Violets can live for up to 50 years if these conditions are met. As they grow, they will reward you with year-round blooms (or very close to it) and large, deep green leaves. They can grow so quickly that they require repotting on a regular basis.

Here’s when and how to repot this classic “Grandma Plant” to keep it healthy and happy.

a man hands holding a plant

When to Repot an African Violet

African Violets prefer to be potbound (think: those rocky crevasses) so they can go for a long time before needing to be repotted.

Some African Violet enthusiasts advise transplanting twice a year, but this depends on the size of your plant and its container. The smaller the pot, the more often it must be repotted.

Here are some indications that your plant requires a larger pot:

  • Roots are coming out of the drainage holes.  
  • The plant is crowded in the pot or wilted.
  • The plant is so big it’s falling over and out of the pot, or it has developed a long “neck”.  
beautiful flower with great combination of colors

How to Pick a New Pot for Your African Violet

You’ll need a new pot when it’s time to repot your African Violet. Don’t base your decision solely on color!

The size of the pot is the most important factor. Because African Violets prefer to be potbound, select a pot that is 1/3 the size of the leaf spread. 

If your plant is 12 inches across, it should be in a 4 inch pot, whereas a 6 inch plant should be in a 2 inch pot. Yes, we realize this seems small in comparison. African Violets dislike wet conditions, and a larger pot will hold more water for a longer period of time.

African Violets are typically grown in ceramic or plastic pots. Terracotta pots can be used, but they absorb moisture from the potting mix and may cause your plant to dry out prematurely.

There are self-watering African Violet pots with a reservoir that delivers water as needed to the plant. When the reservoir runs dry, simply refill it with water.

Make sure that whatever type of pot you choose has drainage holes!

Potting Mix for African Violets

Notice we didn’t say “potting soil”? Make sure you buy potting mix – there is a difference between the two!

African violets thrive in a soilless planting medium with good drainage. African Violet potting mixes are available for purchase.

If you want to make your own, there are numerous recipes available. This one from the Missouri Botanic Garden is outstanding:

  • 2-¼ quarts peat moss (or coconut coir)
  • 1-¼ quarts vermiculite
  • 1-¼ quarts perlite (grade 3 or 4)
  • 2-½ tablespoons limestone
  • 1-¼ teaspoons superphosphate

If you only have one or two plants to repot, this recipe may produce more than you require. You may also be unable to obtain these ingredients in small quantities.

a mans hand carrying full of soil

What You Need to Repot an African Violet

An unused pot.

Potting mix. 

A scoop or spoon for moving the potting mix (or your hands).

A sharp pair of scissors or a sharp knife for removing dead leaves and damaged roots.

Gloves, if you prefer to wear them.  Some potting mix companies recommend you wear gloves when working with their product.

A protective covering, such as newspaper, for your workspace if needed.

Repotting an African Violet

a mans hand planting flower into small pot

Collect your materials.

Wash your hands and cover your work area. You want to keep everything as clean as possible.
Make sure all of your tools, including the new pot, are clean.

Wet the potting mix. Mix in a small amount of water at a time. Continue to add water and mix until it resembles a damp sponge. Maintain a light and fluffy potting mix.

Remove the plant from its container. Hold the plant’s crown (where the foliage meets the soil) between your thumb and index finger. Turn the pot on its side or upside down and tap it firmly on the bottom with your free hand. The plant should easily slide out. If not, gently tug on the plant while tapping the pot. You can also gently shake and wiggle the plant.

Shake or brush off any excess soil from the root ball once the plant has been removed. Leave the root ball alone!

a plant root ball with empty pot

Remove any leaves that are dead, broken, or wilted. You can cut them with your fingers or with scissors.

Cut any brown or mushy roots with your scissors if you find them. Brown and mushy roots may indicate root rot, a bacterial disease caused most commonly by overwatering.

Fill the bottom of the pot with fresh potting mix. Maintain the plant in the new pot at the same level it was in the old one. This will assist you in determining the amount of potting mix to add to the bottom. Fill the pot halfway, but not all the way to the top.

After determining the proper depth, gently press the root ball into the potting mix. Fill in around the plant’s sides with potting mix, leaving a little space between the soil line and the pot’s lip. The potting mix should not be “packed.” It should be fluffy and light. You may need to add a little more mix or subtract some.

Water lightly from the top, being careful not to get water on the leaves. You will only water your African Violet from the top once! Allow any excess water to drain and empty the saucer so that the pot does not sit in water.

Repotting African Violets With Long Necks

As an African Violet grows, it loses its lower leaves, exposing the stem, or “neck.” Your plant will eventually resemble a small palm tree. It becomes top-heavy and could easily topple over, uprooting itself.

There may be suggestions to bury the neck in a deeper pot, but this promotes rot. It is preferable to separate the stem from the root ball and repot the top section. This is how.
Make a potting mix out of two parts peat moss and one part each perlite and vermiculite. Water the pot thoroughly and drain any excess water.

Remove the African violet from the pot and the lower row of leaves from the stem. Remove any flowers as well.

Remove the plant’s top from the root ball. You’ll need a stem that’s 1-12 to 2 inches long. If the stem is curved or bent, cut above the bend.

Scrape the stem gently with a knife or your fingernail. Begin a little below the leaves and work your way down. This will remove any dead tissue and leaf stumps from the stem.

You can soak the cutting in rooting hormone before placing it in the new pot, but your plant will grow new roots even if you don’t. Rooting hormone merely accelerates the process.

It is not necessary to water the cutting once it has been placed in the pot. Place the pot in a clear plastic bag and close it tightly. Place it in a bright, but not direct sunlight, location. Close the bag for about a month; it will not require any water during this time. When you notice new growth, it means that new roots have formed, and you can take the plant out of the bag.

Tips for Success

Water your African Violet thoroughly a day or two before repotting. Being well hydrated aids a plant’s recovery from transplant shock.

Because transplanting is stressful, repotting is best done when the plant is not in bloom. To help reduce shock, snip off any flowers before you begin. Don’t worry, your plant will soon produce more flowers.

If your plant was overcrowded in the pot and had a lot of baby plantlets, these can be separated and potted in their own little pots. Make certain that each plantlet has a sufficient number of roots.

three plant sprouts ready to plant
baby plantlets ready to potted in small pots

Allow your plant to rest after repotting. Put it somewhere bright, but not directly in the sun. For a month to six weeks, do not fertilize. If the potting mix you purchased contains fertilizer, don’t fertilize at all.

After repotting, a dome over your newly repotted African Violet can help keep it from wilting. A cloche, a clear plastic container, or even a clear plastic bag can be used. Make certain that the cover does not come into contact with the leaves. Your plant can be kept under cover for up to a month. During this time, it will not need to be watered, and condensation will most likely form on the inside.

clear plastic container covering the plants

African Violets thrive when they are frequently repotted. Violets in pots smaller than 3″ in diameter should be repotted every 2 to 3 months. Violets should be repotted every 6 to 12 months in larger pots.

beautiful flowers blooming in a red pot
Alaine Connolly
Alaine has been working way too hard in horticulture since 1992, beautifying golf courses, resorts, and hotels. She is a part time landscape designer who works full time caring for a 28,000 square foot public garden. At home, she maintains her own 400 square feet plot. Alaine lives in northern Illinois - zone 5b.
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