Bzzzz February 2nd, 2008

For the novice, the word “propagation” can seem a bit intimating. After all, it sounds so scientific.

But the fact is, propagation is just a fancy way of saying “make more.”

If you’re interested in dipping your toe into the world of plant propagation (and we are talking plants here), there is no easier plant to start with than the lovely African violet.


Although she’s been gone for many years, I always associate African violets with my grandmother. She always had pots of blooming violets on her windowsills. Now, I almost always have some violets growing in my light garden or the windowsills. I continually propagate them and have some ready for giving away for special occasions. I will also group them on the dining table for a live flower arrangement that doesn’t cost a fortune or require loads of chemicals at the flower farm.

Recently, I took one of the prettiest of my violets to my Great Aunt Maxine for her 90th birthday celebration. While I was at her house I noticed she had some violets of her own. What better opportunity to add to my collection in a meaningful way? She supplied a baggie and I loaded up with new cuttings.

To propagate your African violet, select a leaf that is not too big and not too small. You don’t want an old gnarly leaf or one that is too tiny. Select a medium-sized, vigorous leaf and cleanly slice it off the plant, leaving about 1” of stem.

Now, here’s the hard part. It seems counter-intuitive, but you’re going to have to cut the leaf in half, leaving about 1” of leaf on the stem.

My grandmother used to root her cuttings in plain water, suspending them through a hole in some aluminum foil. This works just fine. But a better, and faster, way is to root the cutting directly in some soilless medium. This is typically available as African violet soil in nurseries. I can find it in my local grocery store.


Give your cuttings a head start by using a rooting hormone, such as Rootone. Just dip the stem end into the rooting hormone powder before planting the stem in some soilless medium.

Since the plants don’t have roots, it’s important to keep the cutting moist. I just pop a plastic bag over the top of the pot to retain moisture and make sure I water regularly. In your zeal for moisture, don’t overly seal the plant in or you’ll be creating an environment where diseases can flourish.

Plants need light to grow, so make sure you provide adequate light. A sunny windowsill in the winter will do the trick. In the summer, you’ll need to make sure the sun isn’t too intense or the leaves will burn and the soil medium will dry out too quickly. I find that my light garden provides the perfect environment for propagating and keeping live plants.

Some other useful tips for growing African violets:

-When propagating or repotting, use African violet potting soil. It’s soilless, so it’s lighter, doesn’t compact and gives the aeration and drainage that the African violets need. Violets do just fine in the temperatures of the average household—65 to 73 degrees.

-Make sure you protect cuttings and grown plants from drafts. Violet leaves are covered with tiny little “hairs.”

-Avoid getting leaves wet when watering to prevent discoloration. Are you violets dusty? Just use a soft-bristled paintbrush to brush off dust or accumulated dirt.

-Nurseries sell specialized African violet pots with an inner and outer layer for indirect watering. I have never had as much success with this method as with traditional terra cotta pots. My favorite pots are by Guy Wolff. Large Guy Wolff pots can be expensive, but the tiny ones are very reasonable—and just the right thing to give your African violets a good start in life.

Interested in the African violet lifestyle? There is a whole society devoted to the promoting African violets, the African Violet Society. I remember when we used to live in Florida there was a local African violet club that got together monthly to talk about their violets. They also had annual competitions at the local fair. Next to the chicken displays, this was always my favorite part of the fair.

Isn’t it amazing that there is a special interest group for everything?

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