Violet Magic * Eight Tips for Successful Repotting
Reprinted from the 2017 January/February issue of the African Violet Magazine
Kent and Joyce Stork
Many of us know someone who is a magician with plants. Everything seems to thrive in that person’s care. The difference between a magic green thumb and a hapless brown thumb is often found in the subtle techniques of repotting. That’s especially true with African violets. Sick violets often recover if repotting is done well. Healthy violets often become weak if repotting is done poorly. Great transplanting skills can make violets thrive. Here are some repotting tips to help you develop your green thumb.
Tip #1 Choose the right potting mix for your climate.
A quality African violet potting mix should provide good water-holding capacity and ample air pockets to guarantee healthy roots. Growing violets in a humid climate will require a higher percentage of large-particles such as coarse perlite and/or coarse vermiculite. In a very dry climate, it is helpful to use more water-holding components such as sphagnum peat moss, coconut coir, and coarse vermiculite. In simpler terms: 1) If you have many problems with root rot, add more perlite to your mix. 2) If your violets tend to dry out too quickly, add more peat moss to your mix.
Tip #2 Begin by moistening the potting mix.
Very dry potting mix may become air-borne and cause coughing. Dry potting mix draws moisture out of delicate violet roots, causing the roots to wither. Pre-moistening your potting mix will eliminate both problems. Add approximately 1 part warm water to four parts of potting mix and stir vigorously to force the peat to absorb the water. The end result should have a moist crumbly texture which is neither dusty nor dripping wet.
Tip #3 Never pack the mix as you repot.
Always pile the mix loosely around the cutting or plant. Packing down the soil eliminates air pockets, increases the chances of root rot, and will actually stunt the violet’s growth. Air pockets in the mix will discourage rot diseases and allow roots to flourish. Adding water after repotting will compact the soil to some degree, but this is unavoidable. As needed, you may add a little more potting mix to the top of the pot to stabilize the plant.
Tip #4 Keep the pot small and shallow.
African violet roots generally do not grow deep or wide. In nature violet roots grow into the cracks in limestone or in mossy areas above the rocks, epiphytically. Violets grown indoors do not require a lot of room for the roots, so the pot should always be smaller than the plant. A confined area for roots provides a mild threat to the violet’s existence, and as such it triggers blooming. At full bloom, show violets are expected to be three times wider than the pot in which they are grown. Position the plant so that all leaves and stems are above the soil line and only the roots are buried.
Tip #5 Repot often.
Any potted plant has a lot of chemistry going on in its pot. Water, fertilizer, and potting mix components interact and change chemically over time–usually for the worse. Fresh quality potting mix provides an ideal environment for the roots, but after just a few months that environment may be much less satisfactory. The effects of these chemical changes are more dramatic in smaller pots. For best results, repot violets growing in pots smaller than 3” every 2-3 months; repot violets in 4” or larger pots every 6-12 months.
Tip #6 Avoid disturbing roots during repotting if you want to keep enjoying the flowers or buds.
Whenever the fibrous roots of violets are disturbed, the roots tend to stop functioning. This may cause open flowers to collapse, and developing buds may open much smaller in size than usual. To preserve flowers and buds, lift the entire root ball from the pot and set it into a larger pot (this may be easier if the plant has been watered a day or so ahead of transplanting.) Add fresh potting mix around the edges as needed. This gentle move to a larger pot is sometimes called a “soft” transplant.
Tip #7 If you must disturb the roots, remove buds, flowers, and older outside leaves.
Sometimes it is necessary to pot a plant down (into a smaller pot) or to refresh the soil (removing all of the old mix). Disturbed roots will not function well until new roots are generated. Because flowers, buds and outer leaves will die from lack of water, simply remove them during the repotting process. This also allows you to bury the neck that is (or will be) exposed by those lost leaves. This harsher repotting is often called a “hard” transplant.
Tip #8 Reduce shock by enclosing repotted violets in a clear plastic bag or a dome.
In average or dry climates, leaves will often wilt suddenly after a hard transplant. This is because the process of transpiration (the natural process of releasing water to the air through the leaves) continues whether or not roots are functioning. Transpiration may be reduced by increasing the humidity around the leaves. This can be done by enclosing the repotted plant in a closed environment (once the violet has been watered). Possible enclosures include clear domes, disposable plastic food containers, or large inflated clear plastic bags. Violets may stay safely inside these enclosures (out of direct sunlight) for a month or more, often without additional watering or need for attention. During that time it is normal to see condensed moisture inside the enclosure.