This simple method shows how to take leaf cuttings from African violets (Saintpaulias) to grow new plants. It’s an easy way to have more of your plants you love and make extras to give as gifts.
I made a short video showing how it’s done and there is a step-by-step tutorial (below) as well. If your plants are overgrown, see How to Repot African Violets.
The Beauty of African Violets
I’m quite certain I got my love of growing African violets from my mom who always had some in bloom throughout my childhood. There was something so wonderful about having these brilliant purple, pink, and white flowers blooming indoors in the middle of a Canadian winter. And, as a kid, the thick, fuzzy green leaves were rather intriguing.
Old-Style Propagation Method
In those days, we used the water propagation method. A leaf was taken from the mother plant, and placed in a baby food jar of water. To keep the leaf above water level, we would add a piece of wax paper across the top of the jar, held in place with an elastic band. A slit in the paper allowed the stem to reach the water below while the leaf stayed dry on top.
Roots would grow and eventually the violet would be potted up and placed on the windowsill with the rest of the plants.
Starting Roots in Growing Medium
I continued using the water method for years until I read compelling evidence that starting roots in growing medium (moist, not damp) is, overall, more likely to be successful. When you take root cuttings of any kind, some will root and others will not. For African violets, rooting the way I’ll show you here seems to increase the likelihood of success.
The argument is that roots that grow in water tend to be bloated and unstable. Once the plant is placed in growing medium, it has a lot of re-work to do to become content in potting mix. The ones started in a light, growing medium seem to put their energy right into new plantlet growth. Bottom line, do what works for you.
The method I’m using here is one of many similar ones. I hope you will feel encouraged to try it, and adapt as you like. If you enjoy gardening like I do, it’s one more way to keep it going year-round, even when the weather outside is cold and miserable.
Is it Legal to Propagate Cuttings?
- Some plant tags and seed packets include a statement saying that propagation is prohibited.
- This means the plants or seeds are trademarked.
- For seeds, it means that you can grow them, but you are not legally permitted to save any seeds they produce.
- For plants like African violets, it means you are not permitted to take cuttings to propagate new plants.
- The exclusive propagation rights are in effect so long as the trademark is active, which is generally 5 or 10 years.
- Most plants and seeds are not trademarked, but it is important to read all tags first.
Watch Propagating Leaf Cuttings
How to Progagate New African Violets from Leaf Cuttings
Supplies and Materials
- 1 (or more) African violet plant(s) with at least 3 rows of strong, healthy leaves
- Shallow, plastic pots (2″-size works nicely)
- 1 bakery clamshell – large enough to hold the pots
- Potting mix for African violets (optional now, will be needed when new plants are larger)
- Scalpel or other fine cutting blade | You may also see them sold as ‘craft knife pen cutters’.
- Rubbing alcohol (to clean the cutting blade)
- Plant tags, labels, or tape (to keep track of cuttings)
1 Prepare Growing Medium
I use a combination of vermiculite and perlite. You can also add in some potting mix for African violets. The goal is to have a light-weight growing medium that retains moisture without being too damp or dry.
Fill a 2-inch pot for each cutting. Soak the growing medium and allow to drain thoroughly.
2 Take Your Cuttings
For best success, take your leaf cutting from the third row of leaves from the center of the plant.
Looking from above, you can see that the leaves grow in circles around the middle.
- The youngest leaves are small and often unsuitable for propagation.
- The oldest, outer leaves often have tough or woody stems that make it difficult to root.
- Choose your leaf cutting from the middle of the plant, ensuring that the stem is still tender and not tough.
You can root cuttings from leaves that have broken off the plant, if they are healthy, or twist them off at the base of the stem, if you can reach in there without damaging the rest of the plant.
I like to use a scalpel, getting a nice, clean cut. The tool you see here is marketed as a quilting tool, used to remove tight stitches.
Always clean the blade with rubbing alcohol between uses.
Tag, You’re It
If you want to keep track of your cuttings, be sure to write plant tags with the name and date or use tape like I do.
I mark the mother plant pot with a code on a piece of tape, and write a duplicate one to place on the little pot used for the cutting. This is particularly handy when I do not know the name of the hybrid but want to track how well each plant propagates.
Love houseplants? Here are 3 of my favourite houseplant fanatics to follow.
3 Trim the Leaf Stem
Place the leaf cutting on a table with the fuzzy side facing up.
Cut the stem at approximately one-inch in length.
Next, make an angled cut down the stem, removing a wedge-shaped piece with the deepest cut at the base.
This is the section of the plant that will produce the new plantlets.
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Also see: How often should I water my houseplants?
Should I Trim the Leaf?
You may have seen tutorials where the leaf is also reduced in size, by cutting off the top two-thirds or one half. The idea is that you want the plant to put its energy into growing new babies, not maintaining a big leaf.
My choice for this is kind of goofy. I just can’t stand how it looks when leaves are cut in half so I don’t do it. The plant still propagates fine without cutting of the leaf top, so we’ll say this is fine either way. I’ve seen professional growers do it both ways (chop the leaf versus keep it intact).
4 Dib and Plant
Using a dibber (or the end of a pencil), create a hole in the growing medium to accommodate the leaf stem. You want it on an angle so the cutting will sit at 45-degrees with the fuzzy side up.
Insert the leaf cutting, ensuring that the bottom of the leaf is just above soil level.
5 Close the Clamshell
A clamshell creates a terrarium-like environment for the cuttings. You can also sit a plastic bag over top or simply ensure that your growing space has decent humidity.
Place under grow lights for 12 hours per day or provide gentle, east-facing natural light.
Maintain consistent conditions the best you can, avoiding any drastic temperature, light, or moisture changes.
6 Keep Moist
How often you water the growing medium will depend entirely on the humidity levels and other growing conditions in your home. Water droplets should form on the inner side of the clamshell lid. If they are present, no watering is necessary.
7 Watch for Growth
In 2-3 months, you should notice little green balls appearing at soil level. These will grow into new stems and leaves.
When there are at least four strong leaves, you can repot into African violet growing mix in a tiny pot (they do not like big pots), or you can wait it out if everything still looks strong and healthy.
Sometimes I have had the original cutting die off naturally during this time, other times it hangs in there.
Also, not every new stems may survive or you may need to reduce how many you keep to ensure that they each have adequate growing space. There are several videos on YouTube showing this separation and potting process in case you need it.
Here Are Some Results
These are how the potted cuttings look almost 4 months later:
8 Congratulations, You Did It
Around 6-7 months you should have enough new growth from a crown to pot up your new plant. Blooms may arrive in these next few months, if your growing conditions encourage it.
Should I Use Fertilizer?
I have ready all sorts of contradictory advice about using fertilizers during the propagation phase. Personally, I do not use any so I have no experience to share.
Once mature, African violets can benefit from modest doses of liquid fertilizer made for this species of houseplant, as well as Superthrive. Over-use of these products can harm or kill the plants so do follow the instructions on the product labels carefully.
I would research them first before making a selection. The ones I see recommended in the U.S. (like some of these African violet ones on Amazon) are not readily available to me here in Canada so I haven’t checked them out.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
- African Violet Society of America | Good resource for growing tips, community, plant sales, and local chapters
- African Violet Society of Canada | Good resource for growing tips, community, plant sales, and local chapters
- African Violets (Saintpaulias) | Wikipedia
- African Violet Blooming Tips | PDF format | avsa.org
- The Houseplant Guru – African Violets | Lisa Eldred Steinkopf | Wonderful resource for houseplant growing tips