Growing African violets from leaves or cuttings is a simple propagation method for new plants. You have probably seen this done in water but you can also root them directly in potting mix.
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 and have too many leaves, see How to Repot African Violets.
How to Grow and Propagate 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.
Water 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.
How to Propagate 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)
Is rooting hormone required? Nope! These propagate just fine without added help.
1Prepare 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.
2Take 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.
3Trim 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.
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).
4Dib 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.
5Close 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.
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.
7Watch 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:
8Congratulations, 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. are not readily available to me here in Canada so I haven’t checked them out.
What African Violets Need
Sunlight | East or west windows are recommended. Avoid excessive heat and cold. You’ll know the light is insufficient if the plant doesn’t bloom, the leaves grow in elongated shapes, or crowns get leggy.
Fluorescent Lights | One foot above the plants, 12-14 hours per day.
Soil | Use a commercial mix intended for African violets combined with perlite, or make your own.
Water | Water deeply, until the saucer fills. Empty the saucer after 30 minutes. Best to water from below and avoid leaves. Also consider wick watering.
Temperature | 65-75°F (18-24°C)
Humidity | 40-50 percent | I keep some of my violets sitting above plant trays filled with water. When the air is too dry, I set clear bags over them (never touching the leaves).
Pot Sizes | 2-inch wide for plantlets, 3-inch wide for first-time blooming, 4-inch wide for 9-inch diameter plant
Pot Type | Plastic or clay. I love clay but I find it dries out too fast in the warm sun. These plastic ones have good drainage and saucers.
Fertilizer | One popular type used is Better Gro Orchid Plus 20-14-13. I use fish emulsion. Ask at your local garden nursery to see what they recommend in combination with your local water.
- 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
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
How to Propagate African Violets From Cuttings
Supplies & Materials
- 1 African violet
- 1 Bakery Clamshell or similar container
- 10 Plant tags
Prepare Growing Medium
- Combine equal parts vermiculite and perlite or fill 2-inch pots with potting mix.
- Soak filled pots in water and allow to drain.
- Take cuttings from 3rd row of leaves from middle of plant using clean scalpel taking at least 1-inch of stem with the leaf.
- Write plant tag for each cutting if you want to track them (flower color, etc.).
Trim Leaf Stem
- Place cutting on table with fuzzy side up. Cut last inch of stem at 45-degree angle, tapering to base.
- Use dibber in potting mix to create hole and insert cutting with leaf resting on side of pot. Bottom of leaf should be just above soil level.
- Close lid on clamshell if humidity is low.
- Provide 12 hours light per day. East-facing natural light (without hot sun) is good. Avoid drastic temperature changes and drafts.
- Keep even moisture and open clamshell if condensation forms.