How to Prune African Violets in 4 Easy Steps
Pruning your African Violet can seem a little daunting. These tender plants have soft leaves and beautiful blooms that you will likely want to keep intact as you prune. In this article, gardening expert and houseplant enthusiast Madison Moulton teaches you how to prune African Violets in four simple steps.
African violets are one of the most beloved houseplants around the world. Incredibly popular in the 1970s, they have retained their fame through the decades, remaining one of the most widely grown houseplants around the world. They are certainly one of the most famous flowering houseplants, grown for their stunning pearlescent flowers in purple, white and pink.
Flowers are not the only thing to love about African violets. Their fluffy leaves also provide plenty of interest, emerging from the center of the plant in rows that are just begging to be planted in containers.
If you’re not a fan of foliage though, you’ll be glad to find African violets flower almost all year round when grown in the right conditions and with the right care.
Part of that care involves a practice houseplant owners tend to avoid – pruning. Pruning African violets may not be high on the care priority list, but there are many reasons to consider trimming your plant back throughout the year.
Do African Violets Need Pruning?
Pruning is a task typically associated with outdoor plants. We think of the importance of pruning fruit trees to shape them or trimming back perennials to revive them before the new season begins. Houseplant owners often ignore the importance of pruning, or perhaps believe it is not necessary for tropical plants grown in containers.
When it comes to African violets, there is some truth to that. Strictly, they don’t need to be pruned to stay alive. In most cases, they will continue to grow happily without any trimming at all. But that doesn’t mean pruning is a useless task.
Reasons To Prune
Pruning has many benefits for the growth of your African violet – especially in flowering. It is also a vital tool to battle cases of pests and diseases, allowing you to quickly prevent spread and save your plants from an early demise.
Promoting New Growth
These flowering houseplants are known for being slightly fussier plants to keep happy. They have so many appreciated societies dedicated to their growth and propagation for a reason. There are several issues that can impact growth, stopping the plant from putting out new leaves and flowers.
Pruning back older leaves that are not performing well encourages the production of new and healthy leaves. These leaves are better able to support the plant and also improve the overall look of the plant.
When trimmed correctly, the plant will be pushed to put out new foliage, continuing the cycle of growth and boosting performance.
Pruning is most often used as a tool to encourage flowering. Flowering takes plenty of energy from a plant, produced from sunlight, water, carbon dioxide and nutrients.
There is a finite amount of these resources to go around. So, when your plant is focusing on producing leaves, there is little attention left to go toward producing flowers. Trimming excess leaves back helps direct the energy where you want it to go.
Pruning spent flowers also makes space for new blooms to emerge. The less energy your African violet spends on keeping spent flowers around, the more it has to direct toward healthy foliage and flowers.
Preventing the Spread of Disease
African violets are prone to a few pest and disease problems. Because the plant is so compact and dense, these issues can rapidly spread from leaf to leaf, eventually taking over the entire plant if not resolved. Pruning can help prevent this issue by removing the risks as soon as they appear.
Although pruning is not the only step in preventing the spread of the disease, is it an effective tool in saving your plant from an early death.
African violet growers are typically very picky about how the plants look. They need to be perfectly balanced and shaped, framing the beautiful flowers in the center.
If your plant has faced some recent damage and has become unsightly, pruning a few leaves can help preserve shape and get your plant looking its best again.
This is also helpful if your plant has become lopsided due to uneven light exposure. Pruning and regular rotating of the container can help keep the rounded shape tidy.
When to Prune
As there are specific reasons to prune, rather than the typical annual prune required by some other plants, it makes sense that you should only prune when any of these reasons pop up.
This will likely be quite often throughout the year, especially to remove spent flowers and damaged leaves. While you shouldn’t remove too much of the plant at one time, a regular trim is beneficial for their health.
Keep a sharp pair of pruning shears handy to complete a simple trim every couple of weeks or months as the need arises. You can check on your plants whenever you water to determine the perfect time for a trim.
What You’ll Need
Technically, you don’t really need any tools to start pruning. Many growers simply use their fingers to remove excess foliage and spent flowers (with clean hands of course). However, if you prefer not to get your hands dirty, you can use a sharp pair of shears or even sharp scissors to trim away the soft herbaceous growth.
How To Prune African Violets
When you think your plant needs to trim, you can go through this list of tasks. Not all will be needed every time you prune. Take a look at the needs of your plant and only complete the required tasks.
Step 1: Remove Lower Leaves
The most common start to the pruning process is removing the lower older leaves. This improves airflow around the base of the plant and encourages the development of new young leaves.
Trim these off at the center, taking care not to damage any other parts of the plant (especially the crown) in the process. African violet growth is delicate and any point of damage can become a target for pests and diseases.
You’ll notice the leaves grow in rows up to the center. It’s best to remove the lowest row of leaves every month or two for the strongest possible flowering. Aim for just over 10 leaves on the plant in total. Any more will detract from potential flowers.
When trimming the lower leaves, make sure you remove them evenly. Don’t get only on one side of the plant, leaving your plant unbalanced and lopsided. Also don’t remove the leaves at the very center as this can lead to stunted growth and a lack of new leaves or flowers.
Step 2: Trim Spent Flowers
African violet blooms can last a long time. But unfortunately, they can’t last forever. Once flowers begin to die back, trim them off gently, making sure you don’t damage the crown or any leaves at the same time.
The easiest way to do this is to simply pinch off the soft growth with your fingers, leaving your plant looking healthy and regal again.
Step 3: Removing Signs of Damage & Disease
Heavily damaged leaves impact overall growth and prevent flowering. Trim them off as soon as you spot them to encourage new and healthy growth.
The same applies to diseases leaves, trimmed immediately to stop the spread of the problem to other leaves or worse, your other houseplants. Clean your shears afterward to prevent the spread of disease and discard all leaves you’ve removed.
Step 4: Shape the Plant
One of the most beloved parts of African violets is their uniquely symmetrical look. Once you’ve trimmed back a few leaves and flowers, the whole plant may not look as symmetrical as it once was. Before you put the pruning shears away, trim any areas that don’t match the other side of the plant.
You should aim to keep a minimum of 8 or 9 leaves on the plant at once, but any more than that can typically be trimmed without negative effects. Don’t remove more than about a third of the plant at once. If growth is still lopsided, wait for new growth to appear and shape after your next pruning session.
When you’ve finished pruning, you can likely put your shears away until the next time your plant needs a trim. But there are two additional tasks you can consider doing, depending on how much of the plant was removed.
African violets are one of a few plants that can be propagated from individual leaves. As long as the leaves you’ve removed when propagating are healthy and disease-free, you can use them to grow even more plants.
These leaves can be rooted in a light potting mix with a toothpick used to keep the leaf off the moist soil. After several weeks or even months, a plantlet should appear at the base that will grow into a full and healthy new plant.
If you’ve had a few rounds of removing lower sections of leaves, your African violet may look unusually tall with a gap around the base. This stretched growth is known as a neck as most prefer to remove them to stop the plant from becoming lopsided and falling over.
To remove this neck, all you need to do is repot your African violet, burying the neck so the new leaves are just above the soil line. You can even keep the plant in the same container, trimming the roots back slightly to manage size.
While African violet pruning may seem tedious, especially with how often a trim is needed, it has many benefits, including new plant growth. It will help prevent pests, diseases, and extend the life of your plants. Follow the steps listed above for an easier time pruning your plants, followed by plentiful blooms this growing season.