How Do You Save an Overwatered African Violet?

African violets are a popular indoor plant choice among many. These small-sized indoor plants are delicate and susceptible to rot and disease. Overwatering is one of the common factors in their decay. So the question arises – how do you save an overwatered African violet?

To save an overwatered African Violet, carefully remove the plant from its pot and put it on several layers of paper towels or newspaper. Dry the roots and remove any decaying roots and leaves. Clean the roots of any soil carefully as the roots of African violets tend to break easily. 

The article describes the attributes of the African violet, the major problems due to overwatering them, and the remedies thereof. 

African Violet: An Overview

African violet, also known as Saintpaulia, is a popular ornamental plant. Its scientific name is Streptocarpus ionanthus. These perennial flowering plants are native to Tanzania and southeast Kenya. Several of its species are in the endangered category. The plant was discovered by Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire in the year 1892 in Tanzania.   

African violets grow to a height of 6 – 15 cm (2.4 – 6 in) and a width of 6 – 30 cm (2.4 – 12 in). The flowers are 2 – 3 cm (0.78 – 1.2 in) in diameter with five-lobed velvety petals. These flowers grow on thin stalks in clusters of 3 – 10 or more and have a beautiful violet color. The leaves are of a rounded oval shape, have a hairy texture, and grow to a size of 2.5 – 8.5 cm (1 – 3.3 in) in length with 2 – 8 cm (0.78 – 3.14 in.) petiole. 

These plants are classified according to their size. You can find the size table as below:

NameSize
MicroLess than 7.5 cms (3 in.)
Super – Mini7.5 – 10 cms. (3 – 4 in.)
Mini10 – 15 cms (4 – 6 in.)
Semi-Mini15 – 20 cms. (6 – 8 in.)
Standard20 – 30 cms. (8 -12 in.)
Large/Giant30 – 40 cms. (12-16 in.)

African violet propagates asexually. The plant can be divided into daughter plants or grown from leaf cuttings. They are sensitive to temperature. In fact, you can see leaf discoloration on pouring cold water on them. African violets are day-neutral plants. In other words, they flower irrespective of the amount of sunlight received.

What Happens When You Overwater African Violets?

One of the major threats of potted African violet is overwatering. These plants are at their best when the soil is just moist and not overdamped. Too much water leads to crown rot, root rot, pythium, and denitrification. Their details follow:

Crown Rot

Crown rot is caused by Phytophthora fungus. It attacks the African violet when the soil is heavy and soggy. This fungus is fatal to the plant if left untreated. Due to crown rot, it becomes mushy or appears translucent brown with a soft, jelly-like texture. The color of the crown darkens, and it appears brown or black in color. The other symptoms of crown rot are:

  • Growth of web-like substance on the crown
  • Growth of web-like substance on the leaves
  • Wilting of leaves
  • Slow growth

Root Rot

Root rot in African violet is caused by Cylindrocarpon fungus. This fungus thrives in wet and soggy conditions and is near-fatal to the plant if left untreated. You can identify root rot if the plant collapses over its base. In other words, the top part of the plant separates from its roots even though the crown is still intact. The other symptoms of root rot are:

  • Decaying roots
  • Yellow or yellowish-brown stripes on the roots
  • Pale or dark leaves
  • Wilting of leaves 
  • Slow growth

Pythium

Pythium is a fungus that infests African violet when it is potted in unsterilized soil. The Pythium spores are inactive in dry conditions and grow when the soil is overwatered. It attacks both the crown and root of the plant. You can identify a Pythium attack when the crown turns light grey in color, and the stems begin to rot from the base. The other symptoms of a Pythium attack are:

  • Stems wilt or turn mushy while the leaves may be relatively healthy
  • Leaves turn pale or appear greyish in color
  • Crown turn pale or appear greyish in color
  • Leaves start to drop
  • Slow growth

Denitrification

Due to overwatering, the soil loses nitrogen, an essential plant nutrient. Nitrogen is available as nitrates in the soil. In soggy conditions, the nitrates get converted into elemental nitrogen gas and escape into the atmosphere. 

Steps to Take for Saving an Overwatered African Violet

In case you have overwatered your African violet and see any of the degenerating symptoms as mentioned above, there are chances that you can still save it. 

In general, there are two techniques for the overwatering problem: treatment of an overwatered African violet and preventing overwatering of African violet. If your African Violet is overwatered, you basically need to dry it of excess water. The next section helps you with tips on how to do so. Also as prevention is better than cure, we have a section on how to prevent over watering your African violets.  

Treatment of an overwatered African violet

Treatment of African violet can restore it to its original beauty. For treating an overwatered plant, remove it from its pot and gently clean the soil from its roots. This should be done carefully as African violets have delicate roots. Then place the plant on a towel or on several layers of newspaper. Dry the roots and remove any part of it, which shows signs of rotting or infection.

Dry the soil in the air or, better still, use fresh, sterilized soil. For crown rot or Pythium attack, treat the soil with fungicides like Benomyl. For root rot, treat the soil with Kphite. Remove any rotting leaves or branches from the plant before repotting it. Dust the entire plant with sulphur to avoid any further infection. Use a smaller pot in the beginning so that the plant can quickly develop a firm rootball.

If the root system of the African violet is irreparably damaged, cut the plant into two and throw away the infected bottom part. Repot the upper part of the plant and give it time to generate a new root system. 

Preventing Overwatering of African Violet

It is always a good practice to prevent overwatering of African violet. As a rule of thumb, it is better to underwater African violet than to overwater them. 

Develop a routine for watering the African violets or use a self-watering device to keep the soil optimally moist. Use soil that does not retain water. You can try using block harvested, sphagnum peat moss for the purpose. Ensure that you do not compact the soil too tightly.

To check for dry soil, stick half an inch of your finger into the soil. If too many soil particles stick to it, there is no need to water it. Ensure that the pot has a hole below it for draining any excess water. Use room temperature or lukewarm water for your African violets. 

Final Thoughts

We understood that overwatering of African violets could lead to their decay. Primarily, it leads to root rot, crown rot, or other fungal attacks. 

Overwatering also leads to denitrification, which depletes the soil of nitrates, an essential plant nutrient. We then understood that we could save an overwatered African violet by taking it out of the pot, drying it, removing the rotting parts and then repotting it in new soil or treated soil.

African violets make beautiful house plants, and with a little care, they go with us a long way. We just need to be a little cautious while watering them and be observant in case they catch any disease. 

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