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Growing African Violets from a Leaf

This article is a part of Chapter 11 of "African Violets for Everyone" . The chapter is entitled "A Little Bit of Magic - Cloning for African Violets"

OK. It is one of those things that “Everyone knows . . .” You just stick a leaf in a jar of water, and soon enough there is a new plant. Well, not quite so easy, perhaps. Rooting your leaf in water is possible, but it isn’t the best way to do it.

It is possible to propagate your African violet from various parts of the mother plant, but from leaf is the easiest and most successful way. It is a reliable method for growing new plants of most types of African violets except the most unstable of fantasies and bicolours. It is unsuitable for growing chimeras. In general, propagate from leaf unless a particular plant has demonstrated that it is too unreliable to be grown that way.

Added information: This photograph is of Optimara Stockholm. The flowers are a beautiful lavender blue. It is extremely reliable. This and other similarly vigorous cultivars are good plants to begin propagating for those without experience.

African violet Optimara Stockholm
How to do it: Planting the leaf

The leaf you grow from should be fresh and healthy. It is a common mistake to try to grow a new violet from an old outside leaf from the mother plant. Un­fortunately such leaves, although the plants can most easily spare them, are often too old to have babies. If they are really old they may root but never put up a plantlet at all. It is also best not to use the leaves from near the centre of the mother plant. They would grow well, but their removal will mar the original plant. Maximise your chances of success by choosing a leaf that is neither the oldest nor the youngest on the plant. For a variegated leaf African violet choose a leaf showing a lot of green.

Prepare the leaf by checking that it is healthy and clean, cut the stem to a length of 10-20 mm, cutting at an angle so that the cut edge, from which all roots and plantlets will come, is maximised. If the leaf is wilted or soft, recut and submerge in water for an hour or so to make it crisp again.

Plant your leaf in good quality African violet potting mix. Only place the cut end about 10 mm under the surface of the mix. You may need to support the leaf with a plant label or similar. If too large cut of the top. While a leaf will root successfully in water, it will later have to be moved to potting mix, or any plantlets it does produce will be weak and possibly lack the strength to grow on to satisfactory mature plants.

Occasionally new growers may find that leaves rot when grown in potting mix. If you find this a problem, dilute the mix with extra perlite and vermiculite, or try a mix of those two ingredients alone.Hormone rooting powders and solu­tions are unnecessary as African violets produce roots and shoots with ease.

Only use a small pot for your leaf. A 60 to 70 mm pot is plenty big enough. To propagate miniatures, use the smallest size. Leaves under propagation need water, and light just like full grown plants so place accordingly and set up with a wick if that is how you intend to water. Don’t fertilise for the first couple of weeks, until you believe the leaf has produced roots. You can determine that by lightly tugging to see if there is any resistance. After that fertilise, ei­ther with the standard African violet fertiliser, or with a higher nitrogen fer­tiliser to promote more rapid growth.

Don’t try to propagate in the coldest months of the year, unless your grow­ing area is really warm. This particularly applies to variegated leafed African violets. If their leaves are planted in late autumn or during winter, they may produce plantlets that are all white. Of course, if you are given a leaf of a cultivar that you would really like to grow, you will accept and plant it, no matter what the season. Growing the leaf in terrarium-like conditions (even if that just means covered with a plastic bag) may help to keep it from suffering from the cold weather.

If the worst happens, and you start spring with a pot full of little white plantlets that simply won’t colour up, repot the lot, including the mother leaf, into a larger pot, removing a little of the old potting mix when you do so. This will encourage new growth in the clump of plantlets and that growth will be greener in the warmer season.

Potting out

Pot the plantlets out when the clump has an overall height of 60 to 80 mm or the largest leaves are about the size of the top joint of your thumb.

There may be many plantlets or only one, but choose just a few to pot out and keep. Those with the strongest root systems will be your best choice. To avoid an overpopulation of African violets discard the excess plants unless you have a definite home for them.

Give each plant its own small pot; one about 60 mm is large enough. Trim off any weak outside leaves from the plantlet, then plant with the lowest leaves at the level of the potting mix. 

When the plant grows and fills the pot with roots, repot it into a larger pot (say 80 mm for a standard), and then to its final pot of 100 mm in which it can re­main for nine to twelve months. See Chapter 12 for more details about pot­ting. Miniatures should not be repotted into pots larger than 50 mm, and semiminiatures to 65 or 70 mm.

Throughout all of this, from planting the leaf to having a large plant with flowers on, do label the pot with the name of the plant, if indeed it has a name. There are many thousands of wonderful named cultivars, but if you lose the name it may be impossible to ever again work out what the plant is. Add the date of potting to the label for convenience in deciding when to repot.

There is a photographic sequence showing some of these steps on p. 28 of the book. (Reproduced here in the small size suitable for the website. It appears in large size printed in the book, and as an image on the CD.)

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Can the leaf be used a second time for propagation?

Yes, if the leaf is in good condition, it can be replanted in the same way, after re­cutting the end of the stem. If it is still crisp and vigorous with a rich green colour it should be perfectly possible to grow a second crop of plantlets, although they are unlikely to be as numerous as the first lot. I am not sure that the average home grower needs dozens of the same cultivar, however, when there are so many other beauties to enjoy.

Difficulties in propagating from leaf:

In my early African violet days I tried planting a leaf in a rich, high quality garden soil. It was given the best of light, water and fertiliser for at least eight­een months and did nothing. There was no sign of even the tiniest plantlet even though the leaf was green and crisp and had produced some roots. I finally discov­ered that a much lighter potting mix is needed. How much lighter? Well, as men­tioned above, you can easily propagate in a mix of half and half perlite and vermicu­lite, or a mix of your normal African violet mix and a perlite/vermiculite combina­tion, and using these often will work where potting mix seems to give some trouble. The other reason I got no plant­lets could have been that my leaf was too mature.

Added information: The photograph here of Duo, a lovely red and white pinwheel type flower, illustrates chimera, a kind of African violet that will not be successfully reproduced from leaf. Yes, you can produce plantlets, but the flowers will not be of the same colour pattern as the parent plant.

African violet Duo
Why does a leaf just rot away instead of producing plantlets?

This can happen when the mix is too wet or of too solid a consistency or if perhaps the leaf wasn’t a healthy one to start with. If it was already deteriorating on the mother plant, the chances are that it will continue to do so.

This chapter goes on to discuss ways of propagating from side-shoot, from flower stems and from seed. African violets produce new plants very easily!

Here is how part of the sequence on propagation appears in the presentation on the CD.

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Here is a question I have been asked about Growing African Violets from Leaf:

I have finally had success with starting a new African violet with a leaf. Please tell me... when is it OK to remove the parent from the baby?

Answer:

I suggest that you leave the new little babies (there may well be several of them) to attain a reasonable size before separating them and planting individually.
When the largest leaves are about the size of the top joint of your thumb is a good idea. The plantlets will then have no trouble in growing on in their individual pots.

And here is a question on propagating a difficult African violet:

I have been growing and propagating african violets successfully for many years. Usually I propagate by putting leaves in vermiculite, but occasionally in water or potting soil.
I have one plant (my only one with red and white blossoms) that has defied all my attempts to propagate it. In water, in vermiculite, in potting soil -- the leaf just rots. Once in a while I get some roots in water, but when I plant it it rots. Any suggestions for something new to try? Or is this plant at a genetic dead end (at least at my house). It's getting old, and I don't want to lose a chance to have more of those beautiful blossoms.

Answer:

One possible reason could be that the actual plant itself is not really thriving at the moment. If the leaf you try to grow from isn't healthy sometimes it will just fail to root, but instead continue to deteriorate as it would have on the mother plant.
Another problem could be that the conditions are just not right for propagation. I don't know where you live, but if temperatures or humidity are too low, that could make it hard for the leaf to root. Really excessively high temperatures with excessive moisture gives fungus problems that lead to rot the conditions in which they thrive.
I make the following suggestions:

1. Make sure that you take the healthiest leaf you can from which to propagate - young enough to have sufficient vitality. Vermiculite is an excellent propagation material as you have obviously found before. In this case, however, it might be preferable to mix equal parts of perlite with it to make sure the leaf isn't staying too wet.
2. Sometimes leaves that are reluctant to propagate will do so if they are grown in terrarium conditions. Some kind of transparent cover with some
(restricted) ventilation is indicated, but not if you have temperatures above 30 degrees C. with humidity up around the 80%, this being a bit like the interior of a terrarium anyway.
3. If the mother plant is really thriving and you feel very courageous, you could cut the top out of it (hoping to root that) and see whether it produces a number of sideshoots (suckers) that you could grow on as new plants. Of course in the unlikely event that the main crown and the sideshoots fail to root you will have lost the plant, but it is most likely that they will all grow.
4. A slightly more difficult manner of propagation is from the flower stems. Remove all buds and flowers from the stems and reduce it to one or two
centimetres long only. Keep the two tiny leaves that are formed at the base of the flower spray. Plant with these leaves at the potting mix surface.
Success rates can be low but you will not have damaged the mother plant by taking the flowers.

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There are a number of articles on this site to help in caring for African violets. New material will be added from time to time.   

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