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Does your African violet have too many heads?

Would you rather your African violets resembled the one in Photo 1 with one crown, or the the one in Photo 2 with many crowns?
Easy decision? Here’s how to make it happen.
Most satisfactory African violets have only one crown with all the leaves and flowers radiating out from that centre. So let us consider what has happened to make the plant in Photo 2 look the way it does.

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Why do African violets become distorted with extra crowns?

The reason is that they began to produce small side shoots or suckers around the base and in the leaf axils. To keep the plant growing properly, these should have been removed as soon as they were seen. This would have ensured that it remained single crowned and chances are it would have had plenty of flowers at this stage. Yes, my fault! I should have paid more attention and grown it better. Do note that if you let an African violet grow many crowns it will normally not flower as well.

Another reason that we get multi-headed monsters instead of neat growing African violets is if something has happened to damage the centre. This might be caused by mites (a common pest), over fertilising or other mechanical damage. Try to protect the centre of the plant at all times.

Letting a rosette plant grow many crowns does not make it a trailing African violet.

Never confuse a multi-crowned rosette type African violet with a trailing African violet. Trailing African violets have many stems which form the plant into a ball-shape of leaves and plenty of flowers as shown in Photo 3. Whether your plant is meant to be single crowned or a trailer is a different subject, but is laid down by the hybridiser in the original description.
You may think that allowing your normally rosette African violet to produce many heads will make a trailer-like plant. That is not the case usually. In most cases they become distorted like the plant in Photo 2, and refuse to produce a lot of flower. But try it if you like – you might have something interesting. Of course a plant that is not grown according to its official description cannot be exhibited, but then you might not be wanting to exhibit.

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All is not lost if like me you have let the plant go its own way for too long. African violets are actually very forgiving and fairly tough and hardy, so you should not be too afraid of dividing up a multi-headed plant. Done carefully you will not only have extra plants but they will finally have a good circular shape and plentiful flowers.
Consider the season before dealing with a plant that needs surgery. It is better not to do major repotting in mid-winter unless you have truly warm conditions in which to grow your plants. That means warm at night as well as during the day. Spring is the ideal time as there is all the warmth of summer ahead for the plants to regrow, but any time that it is warm is satisfactory.

So here’s how to go about it:


Photo 4 shows a plant that needs to be divided. It is growing in a most unruly fashion. The few flowers and buds have already been removed. Once the crowns are planted separately it should not be too long before lots more flowers are produced.

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Make sure you have on hand some high quality African violet potting mix and sufficient small pots for your plants. You may decide to keep all the different crowns coming from the pot, or you may decide to just keep the best one or two so provide accordingly. (Photo 5).

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Have courage and tip out the pot that you are going to deal with. Shake as much of the potting mix as possible away from the roots. An implement can be used to “comb” more mix away from the roots. (Photo 6)

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Then gently divide the plants. It won’t matter if you break a few leaves as this will be a good time to remove all the outside leaves from the various crowns, so that new growth from the centre can take over. Just take care not to damage the centres as that is where all the new growth will come. (Photo 7).

This plant had four crowns. Three is plenty for me to pot up. The small one on the bottom right of the photograph is to be discarded. It has no roots and the leaves are badly distorted. It would grow, but it is the least preferred.
Roots may also be damaged during division; in fact that is almost inevitable and doesn’t matter too much.

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 Photo 8 shows some of the leaves that have been removed during the dividing process. Many of them are old and damaged but there are some that would propagate quite well if planted. I am not going to pot them, however. As I just said, three plants of the variety is plenty for me.
Photo 9 shows the three chosen crowns with outside leaves removed and roots trimmed appropriately. There should be a balance between the roots and the leaves of each crown.
Where there are fewer roots I like to remove more leaves and use a smaller pot.
For each crown you should select a pot that is only slightly larger than the amount of roots on the plant. In particular, for an un-rooted crown of a standard African violet I normally use a pot no larger than 70mm across.
Remember that African violets thrive best in shallow pots, so trim off excess roots so that the plant will end up with the bottom leaves level with or just above the surface of the potting mix. Should it be that some crowns have no roots left at all when you have trimmed that’s perfectly satisfactory since the crown alone can be planted and will grow new roots in the fresh potting mix. You may, however, choose those with roots already formed as I did.

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In Photo 10 the smallest of the crowns has been potted into a 50 mm. or 2 inch pot. The level of the mix around the plant may look a little high, but experience has shown me that this very light mix does settle a little once it is moistened.

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After potting up as many of the crowns as you want to grow, water them by placing in a shallow dish or saucer of luke-warm water until the whole of the mix has become dampened (Photo 11). Once watered they need a final brush up to remove crumbs of potting mix from the leaves and leaf stems, and the pots should be wiped over so they are beautifully clean. The little plants are now ready to start growing.

Once moistened, I like to keep newly potted plants on a dry tray for about a week before placing on my normal watering system. I re-wet them at that stage. This is not necessarily essential as many growers immediately place on a wick watering or capillary matting system. When some new growth is seen or when you are sure that roots have formed, start applying an appropriate weak fertiliser. Roots form quickly in warm conditions.
Keep the new little plants moist, fertilise lightly, keep warm and keep in a good light. Attention to these matters will facilitate rooting and good growth. You will be rewarded with well-formed plants that should, with good care, flower abundantly

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This variegated plant had been sitting on the shelf waiting for attention for some months. I first decided to repot it back in February. The weather was very hot then. I knew that if I repotted I would have plants that really were just plain green because the high temperatures would cause the variegation to virtually disappear. I put a label on it saying “Repot in a cooler time”. Well I meant it to happen in May, but it didn’t. Now I have done the job in the middle of winter. It is possible that growth will be very white because of low temperatures now. I will keep the little plants in an enclosed terrarium-like environment to try to overcome this.
Two months later, one of the plants had been discarded because it seemed reluctant to grow, but the others are growing on strongly.

This article first appeared in my e-newsletter, "The African Violet Way" for July 2017


Please do not copy this article. Link to it freely instead.

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