The unique growing habits of African violets leave many houseplant enthusiasts to wonder, “Do African violets like to be root-bound?” Read on to learn to discover the answer and learn if and when it’s time to repot your African violet.
Do African Violets Like To Be Root-Bound?
African violets are among the few plants that prefer to be root-bound. This preference results from its native growing regions of Tanzania, Kenya, and eastern Africa, where these plants grow on rocky cliffs and crevices with limited space.
As a result, their root system has evolved to thrive in tight spaces without sacrificing optimal nutrient uptake that lends itself to their remnant blooming habits.
How To Tell If Your African Violet Is Root Bound?
You won’t be able to officially tell your African violet is rootbound until you investigate the root system. When removed from their pot, root-bound plants will be tightly wound into a ball that has taken on the shape of their container.
Unfortunately, pulling up the entirety of your African violet to look at its root system isn’t always good for the plant’s health and can lead to transplant shock or root damage if done too carelessly.
Thankfully, there are a few other clues you can check out to glean whether or not your African violet is root-bound.
7 Signs Your African Violet Is Root Bound
1. Visible Roots
Unlike other popular houseplants, the roots of an African violet grow outwards and sideways rather than deep and downward. Because of this, a smaller pot size of about 4 inches in diameter is typically adequate to keep an African violet happy for a long time, up to 50 years in fact!
This unique growing habit means easy visibility once they are root-bound. So, if you notice tendrils or roots growing out of the drainage holes or circling the soil surface, it’s a reliable sign that your African violet is root-bound and needs repotting.
2. Overgrown Foliage
This beautiful plant is grown for its rosette-shaped velvety dark green and burgundy foliage as much as it is for the delicate purple flowers it blooms. However, when the foliage of your African violet begins to overgrow and spill out from the edges of the pot, it could mean that the root system is becoming too large for its current container.
A reasonable size for African violet foliage is when it grazes or slightly extends over the edges of its pot. Extending beyond this area could signify that your African violet is ready to be repotted into a larger container. If this aspect is apparent AND the roots are sticking out of the bottom or popping up above the soil, it’s time to engage in repotting.
3. Neck Growth
As African violets grow, new leaves will appear towards the top, and older ones will die off. At full maturity, the plant’s crown maintains a height of about an inch or two above the soil. This natural part of the growth cycle ensures optimal light absorption, nutrient uptake, and airflow to the plant.
Over time, however, root-bound African violets may experience extreme neck growth, where the plant’s crown sits atop a long, skinny, and often tilted stem. If your African violet’s neck becomes more than four inches long, it can be a sign that the plant is struggling and needs to be repotted.
4. Lack Of Flowers
Root systems are vital to a plant’s ability to absorb nutrients and water. When an African violet is root-bound, the space for its roots to grow becomes limited, affecting its ability to take up essential nutrients from the soil. This can result in a lack of flowers or stunted growth.
If your African violet seems to have stopped producing flowers even with proper care and maintenance using multivitamins, root supplements, or fertilizer, it may be a sign that the plant is root-bound and needs repotting.
5. Slow Growth
When plantlets emerge, they can take three to six months to reach full maturity. From there, blooms usually occur every six to eight weeks. While reports for growth and blooming cycles vary, many expert horticulturalists claim their plant is in its active growth cycle for 10 months out of the year.
So, if your African violet hasn’t shown much growth or blooming for a prolonged period, it may be due to being root-bound. The restricted space for roots can prevent the plant from reaching its full potential and cause a delay in its growth and blooming cycles.
6. Soil Won’t Hold Water
The rocky natural growing environment of the African violet, combined with its preference for bound conditions, means the plant’s soil mix needs to be well-draining and airy but still retain enough water to support healthy root growth and photosynthesis processes.
But root-bound African violets block the ability for water to drain through the soil, often causing pooling on the surface. If you notice this every time you use your watering can, it’s very likely your plant is root-bound and in need of repotting.
7. Wilting Leaves
While natural wilting as the African violet cycles through growth stages is normal, if your plant’s leaves always seem to be wilting or yellowing regardless of proper care habits, this may again signal root-bound conditions.
The roots’ limited ability to absorb nutrients and water can cause a lack of hydration and nutrients throughout the entire plant, ultimately leading to wilted and unhealthy leaves. Signs of wilting leaves typically manifest as drooping, brown-colored mushiness, or yellowing along the edges of the leaves.
How To Re-Pot Root-Bound African Violets
Before You Begin
Preparedness is always crucial to re-potting and avoiding the common issues of plant shock. Before you begin, gather all the tools you need on hand, including:
- fresh soil mix
- a new pot
- sharp pruning shears
Be sure to disinfect these tools – and your work area – as repotting is prime time for pests and diseases to infect your plant.
As part of the initial pre-potting process, cut away any dead or damaged leaves, along with any dead roots that may be present. This will ensure only healthy plant material is transferred to the new pot.
Pro Tip: Bigger isn’t always better or necessary when repotting an African Violet. A smaller pot equal to 1/3 the diameter of the leaves may be preferable if the soil is retaining too much water or the plant is struggling to bloom.
Step One: Removing African Violet for Transfer to a New Pot
Begin by grasping your African violet at its base with one hand, gently gripping as much of the crown as possible.
With your other hand, lift the pot by its base and tilt it sideways or upside down. Give the bottom a good tap or two to loosen the root ball and soil from the pot. If your plant is being stubborn, you can always squeeze the sides of the pot or push your finger through the drainage hole at the bottom.
Finally, give the grasped base a gentle tug to free the plant and its root ball from the pot. If you feel resistance, don’t panic! Press your finger through the drainage hole again or squeeze the sides of the pot before giving it another tug.
Set the pot aside and shake out any excess soil from the root ball. You can also gently loosen some of the root system with a toothbrush or root rake to help with the next steps in the process.
Step Two: Assessing the Root Ball
Once your African violet is free from its pot, take a moment to examine the root ball. It should appear somewhat firm and have a light brown appearance.
If you notice any unhealthy roots, such as dark or mushy ones, use clean scissors to trim them off carefully. This will help promote healthier growth and prevent any potential diseases.
Be sure to avoid breaking or damaging healthy roots which look white and firm. Damage to these pieces can send the plant into shock and diminish its ability to absorb water and nutrients after repotting.
You can also use this step to pretty up your plant. Because of the wild-growth nature of African violet foliage, it is normal for some leaves to look less than perfect. Use your sharp pruning shears to trim down uneven leaves and satellite suckers for a neater, more refined appearance – but save the satellite suckers for a bonus step at the end of this process.
Pro Tip: After cutting away dead or decayed root parts, treat it with a root supplement to prevent and protect against the effects of current or further root rot.
Step Three: Replenish & Refresh Potting Soil
You can gently set your de-potted African violet down on a clean towel or newspaper while you begin the process of soil replenishment.
Start by putting a small amount of fresh potting soil into the bottom of your pot. The size of the pot will determine how much, but we recommend filling the bottom 1/4 of your pot with fresh soil mix.
Next, pick up your African violet and place it gently into the center of your pot, then add in more potting soil around the sides. The goal here is to evenly distribute the new soil around your plant’s root ball while avoiding packing it in too tight.
Then, you’ll need to cover the top layer of exposed roots with fresh potting soil while being careful not to bury the crown of your plant – it should sit just above the soil’s surface.
Finally, press down gently on the soil to ensure your African violet is firmly in position. Be sure to leave about a 1/2 inch of space between the top of the soil and the rim of your pot to allow for watering.
After finishing, give your plant a fresh drink of water to ensure the soil is nicely settled.
Bonus Step: Divide Your Plant
The satellite suckers you may have pruned during the root assessment process make for excellent new plants! They are already establishing a root system that can be planted in fresh potting soil right away.
Propagating these satellite suckers should be done in a 3 or 4 inch pot for best results. You may choose to use one large shallow container or multiple smaller pots; just be sure each leaf has enough space to grow.
Pro Tip: Plant shock can sometimes affect dividing techniques, so have a propagation promoter handy to help encourage your plant to take root.
Root-Bound African Violet FAQ
1. Why do African violets like to be root-bound?
In the wild, African violets grow in rocky crevices and have limited space for root growth. Being root-bound mimics this environment and allows the plant to focus its energy on flower production rather than excessive root development.
2. When is the best time to re-pot a root-bound African violet?
This will vary based on the specific plant, but generally, it is best to re-pot a root-bound African violet when roots start to grow out of the drainage holes or issues such as wilting, blooming fatigue, or slow growth are noticed.
3. How often should I re-pot my African violets to avoid them becoming root-bound?
African violets thrive with some root-boundness, but it is recommended to re-pot them every 6-12 months to ensure they have enough fresh soil and nutrients for optimal growth.
A Fresh Start For Your African Violet
The question, “Do African violets like to be root-bound?” comes with a yes and no answer. But thanks to this guide, you can easily identify when it’s time to give your plant a fresh start. Be sure to keep these repotting tips in mind, and your African violet will continue to thrive for years to come.
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