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How to Identify and Save African Violet From Root Rot

After receiving a beautiful flowering violet as a gift, growers often notice that the plant begins to decline over time.

It wilts and fades away, becoming lifeless. A plant disease such as root rot may cause the problem.

Violets affected by root rot will not bloom. Root rot is a fungal disease that causes the leaves of plants to fade, darken, and fall off. The petioles become soft and mushy, and the trunk is bare. Heavy watering and poor drainage cause excess water in the pot, which promotes disease spread. Dry out the root system and treat with a natural fungicide as needed, but propagation may be the only cure in severe cases.

Let’s look at the most common causes of root rot and how you can revive your flagging African Violet.

Signs of African Violet Root Rot

Easy Spot Symptoms of Root Rot

Soggy and soft leaves are the most apparent symptoms of root rot. Brown scars and an overall yellowing appearance are signs that a leaf is sick.

An African Violet leaf’s delicate fuzz can also make a sickly leaf appear gray.

The next step is to inspect the stems. The disease of the roots will spread up through the soil and into the leaf itself, causing the plant to die.

Root rot is evident if your poor Violet’s soil stems turn brown or blackish.

Be on the lookout for a growing medium that never dries out, that’s always soggy and smells like egg, rotting fish, or sewerage.

Some pathogens, like mold, can grow on the tops of waterlogged soils, giving the area a grainy or fuzzy appearance to it.

Hidden Symptoms of Root Rot

Deep in the soil, your roots are the best indicator of a root rot infection. Take your African Violet out of the pot and inspect it.

Signs of Root rot
Healthy Roots

A healthy root system is pale, with many delicately colored roots that resemble fine hairs. However, the primary roots will be thicker and robust but still pale in color.

On the other hand, if a root is sick, it will be dark in color. They’ll be soft and flimsy to the touch, even coming apart. Unfortunately, they also stink, smelling like rotting eggs.

African Violet Root Rot: Causes and Solutions

Overwatering Leads to Fungal Growth

African violets need just the right amount of water. Plants thrive in a moist but not overly saturated growing medium.

Soggy mediums pose several issues. Plants require pockets of air around their root systems to thrive. It gives them room to grow, and the roots breathe as well.

Filling in the air pockets is accessible in a muddy pot, and they quickly become swampy. The roots suffocate and rot.

Solution:

Water your African Violet only when the top two inches of the growing medium are dry.

For me, there’s no better tool for getting a sense of your soil than using your own hands to poke around gently in the soil with my finger.

In this article, you can read more about what happens if you overwater your African Violets.

In general, if you wait until the top layer of the medium is dry, the medium will stay at the correct moisture level down below, where it matters the most.

Water Logging Results From Poor Drainage.

African Violets are incredibly picky when it comes to their soil. Therefore, it must be able to drain freely while still retaining a sufficient amount of water for the plants.

A lack of drainage in the medium will eventually submerge the roots.

A poorly designed pot will make it impossible for water to drain correctly. Unfortunately, many feature pots have insufficient drainage holes – or none at all!

Even high-quality mediums will become boggy and stagnant if there is no way for them to flow out.

Solution:

Choosing suitable soil and pot are critical components in achieving good plant draining.

African Violets prefer a well-structured growing medium with a lot of texture.

The addition of vermiculite, perlite, and small stones to the medium aids water flow and keeps the roots happy.

A minimum of three strategically placed holes in the bottom of the pot is required for proper drainage, but the more, the better!

In many cases, growers prefer to keep their African Violets in plastic nursery pots, then place them inside decorative pots. Pretty pot and strong roots make for a winning combination.

Inconsistent Watering

While overwatering is the most common cause of African Violet root rot, inconsistent watering is just as bad.

During prolonged periods of drought, the delicate, young root tips die off. Those dead tips rot quickly if you water heavily.

They become open wounds that can be infected by fungal diseases that kill your plant.

Solution:

Ensure to water your African Violet regularly, keeping in mind that they will require more water in the summer and less in the winter.

Always check before watering, and only water when the top two inches of the soil have dried out completely.

I prefer to set a timer to remind myself to check the soil moisture every week.

In addition to checking for pests, dust, or new leaves, you can perform other tasks, such as inspecting the soil.

It’s a calming and meditative process that benefits your garden and mental well-being.

Diseases of African Violet 

While fungal diseases are the most common cause of root rot, bacterial diseases and pests can also establish themselves in a sickly plant.

Therefore, it is critical to detect all the signs of root rot, even those that appear after the real villains have taken their course of action.

Fusarium diseases affect African Violets with particular severity.

Their soft, fuzzy leaves quickly become sodden, and their sprawling growth habit traps water in the soil, making them ideal for shady locations.

It provides just the right amount of persistent dampness to encourage the growth of fungi.

The fungi that cause most infections are already present in the soil.

Some are beneficial and decompose organic matter and return nutrients to the growing medium.

Keep the Moisture levels in check, or otherwise, they’ll start attacking living plant tissue.

Fungi that cause root rot: 

Fungus NameDescription
PhytophthoraThe stem rots, making it difficult to detect early. Infected crown leaves blacken and die. Prefers cold.
Fusarium solaniSpreads from soil level up into the plant as well as through roots. Prefers warm temperatures.
Rhizoctonia solaniCauses yellowing across the whole plant. Prefers low temperatures.
Thielaviopsis basicolaCauses brown lesions that wrap around roots and leave stems. 
PythiumGraying leaves, especially at the crown. Is fatal.

African Violet soft rot

There are a few diseases specific to African Violets. As bacteria damage the plant’s tissue, its leaves become soft and wet when you touch them, called “soft rot.”

The Erwinia bacterium is responsible for the disease, which gives off a distinct fishy odor as it progresses through the plant’s cells.

Although root rot isn’t the most common cause, it’s still important to watch for it. Soft rot is easily spread and can quickly ravage your collection.

Solution:

You need to quarantine the sick plant right away for any disease. Then, remove it from the rest of your collection and store it safely.

Trimming and discarding infected tissue is the next step in dealing with fungal disease.

Always use clean tools, preferably those that have been sterilized with rubbing alcohol or bleach. In this case, clippings can’t be composted, so they should either be thrown away or put in the trash.

However, the most effective strategy is prevention. The spores of fungi can only survive if they are kept cool, dry, and well ventilated.

They also prevent bacterial diseases, which thrive in wet and stagnant conditions.

Additionally, you can avoid the spread of disease between healthy and sick plants by sterilizing your tools after each use.

Never use old potting soil again, and pots must be cleaned before being used again.

Keep an eye out for pests, especially fungus gnats. Gnats spread fungal spores from plant to plant, even though they inflict very little harm on their hosts.

Having just one sick Violet can quickly spread throughout the entire collection.

You must also avoid wetting the African Violet’s leaves. Their soft, fluffy texture collects moisture, the perfect breeding ground for pathogens.

Infrequent Repotting

Unlike many indoor plants, African Violets enjoy frequent repotting. I recommend twice a year.

The African Violet quickly becomes unable to thrive in a pot that has been sitting stagnant for too long.

As the roots are undernourished and stressed, they become susceptible to root rot.

Solution:

As long as you’ve got a suitable growing medium, you don’t have to go through all the trouble of repotting your plants.

Repot in the middle of the spring and the middle of the fall, ideally on a warm, dry day.

Extra-large/ Too small pot

If you put your feet in shoes, you don’t fit, and an African Violet will feel the same way. Likewise, too large or too small a pot will hurt the plant’s roots.

Using a pot that is too large will hold more water than your plant can use, which is not ideal for African Violets.

I mentioned earlier that pathogens could thrive in areas that are out of the reach of the root system.

In contrast, a plant housed in a pot that is too small will suffer. Its roots become sick due to a lack of nourishment from the soil.

Roots worming their way up through the soil’s surface or drainage holes are warning signs.

Solution:

Any new pot for your African Violet should not be wider across the top than the crown by more than two inches.

This will allow it to grow without allowing disease-causing fungi and bacteria to take up too much space.

Inconsistent Temperature

African Violets are not bred to adapt to rapidly changing environments. During the spring and summer months, they prepare for growth.

They slow down their development when it is too hot to conserve energy.

They become agitated when they are forced to switch between summer and winter in a single day. 

Root rot can be linked to temperature changes. When the temperature drops in the summer, the plant uses less water, resulting in overwatering and root damage.

The Violet tries to prepare itself for each new set of circumstances, but it cannot meet the demands of the environment.

Solution:

The ideal temperature for African Violets is 65-75°F (18-24°C). Keep them warm and even, and avoid sudden chills at night.

This is especially true if the Violet is sitting on a window sill, as cold glass can radiate deep chills once the sun goes down.

How to Save African Violet from Root Rot

Step 1. Stop Watering

The first step is to allow Violet to dry out. Next, remove the watering can and enable the plant to dry out for a few days.

Next, empty any drip trays or saucers and will allow any water dripping from the pot’s bottom to drain completely.

Step 2. Remove the Infected Leaves and Parts

Next, using clean shears, gently trim away dead or dying leaves, beginning at the bottom and working your way up to the crown. A leaf that lacks green should be removed.

Step 3. Unpot the Plant and Dry out the root System

You must allow the roots to dry out completely before proceeding. It may appear drastic, but you will need to un-pot your plant and allow the roots to dry.

Place a sheet of cardboard or a tarpaulin in a shady, out-of-the-way location.

Tap the plant out of its pot and spread the root mass out, breaking up any clumps of wet soil as you go.

Allow the roots to air dry overnight. Smaller plants may be dry in four to five hours.

However, most of the soil must dry out to the point where it can be easily removed so that the roots can be treated.

Step 4. Trim off the Infected Roots

Once the root mass has dried, take some clean shears and remove dead, damaged, and infected roots.

Cutaway:

  • Roots that are brown, black, or bright orange.
  • brittle roots
  • Soggy or squishy roots that are shedding their outer layer, like the skin of an onion.

Step 5. Repot Using New Soil and Pot 

Now that the infected roots have been removed from your African Violet, it’s time to repot it.

To avoid re-infection, use fresh soil and a new pot. Make sure to use clean tools, and wash your hands before handling your brand-new medium and pot.

Water with 1 to 4 parts 3% hydrogen peroxide to water (that is one cup of peroxide to 4 cups of water.) The peroxide will kill any bacteria, fungus, insect, larva or egg, etc, without hurting the living plant.

Choose a pot with at least three drainage holes to keep the medium from becoming soggy.

A pot no more significant than an inch wide is ideal; a pot larger than two inches wide is perfect for larger plants.

African Violets prefer slightly acidic soil, free-draining and rich in organic matter.

I’d recommend making your own – I like a mix of two parts peat moss or coco coir and one part each vermiculite and perlite for structure and drainage.

This blend keeps the African Violet well-watered without being soggy, and the peat moss or coir maintains a suitable pH.

Still, you can always use a commercial African Violet mix. (Check out the prices on Amazon here)

Step 6. Watering after Repotting 

It’s time to water your African Violet once it’s settled into its new home.

Give the plant a good, long soak. Because the new medium is typically dehydrated, it’s good to hydrate it thoroughly with plenty of clean water.

Rainwater is preferable, but filtered or distilled water will suffice.

Allow the medium to dry before watering again. Allow the top two inches of the glass to dry between drinks.

This will give the roots enough time to recover and prevent re-infection.

Step 7. Care after Repotting

African Violets appreciate consistency. Keep them in bright but indirect light, at a consistent temperature, and with adequate ventilation.

Water only when the top two inches of the medium are dry, preferably with room-temperature rainwater or filtered water.

African Violets benefit from repotting every six months or so.

You don’t have to repot to a larger container every time; if the plant is happy in its original pot, all you have to do is change the growing medium.

So that they can produce their beautiful flowers and lots of fluffy leaves, they will get the nutrition they need from this source.

Propagating African Violet 

Unfortunately, root rot can completely devastate an African Violet. However, even if you only have one green leaf, you can still grow a new plant!

To propagate an African Violet, you will need

  • One firm, healthy African Violet leaf
  • Growing medium
  • Small pot or container with drainage holes
  • clean scalpel or scissors
  • Clear plastic bag or container
  • Clean rainwater or filtered water
  • Rooting hormone (optional)

How to Propagate African Violets from a Leaf:

  1. Fill your pot with an equal mix of perlite, vermiculite, and peat moss or coco coir. Wet it thoroughly and allow it to drain.
  2. Cut the stem of your leaf to 1.5 inches (3cm). 
  3. Next, carefully cut a shallow notch into the front of the stem at a 45° angle. This will encourage baby plants to sprout in a group at the front of the leaf. 
  4. Use a rooting hormone on the leaf’s cut area to promote rapid root growth. Cinnamon is an excellent at-home substitute, but many commercial products can be used in its place. (Amazon link)
  5. Poke a shallow hole in the growing medium and plant your leaf.
  6. Water thoroughly and allow to drain.
  7. Cover your leaf with a clear plastic bag or another small container to create a ‘greenhouse.’
  8. Place the leaf in a consistently warm and well-lit location. Water regularly to keep the medium damp without being soggy.

Small baby plants usually take up to twelve weeks to form. Once they are two or three inches tall, they can be moved to a bigger pot without a greenhouse.

Treating root rot with Chemical Fungicide

The use of commercial fungicides should be treated with caution, although they are unquestionably influential.

These powerful chemicals can pose a risk near our homes and places of work because indoor plants are kept in the same room as those who grow them.

The release of nutrients from the soil is also inhibited by using chemical fungicides, which kill off both friendly and harmful fungi.

Long-term use can lead to weaker plants overall, even if they are effective in the short term. It’s best to use them only in the most extreme cases.

You can take a more proactive approach to protect your indoor plants from fungal infection.

For example, root rot in African Violets can be prevented and treated with more gentle methods.

Homemade fungicide for root rot

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is an excellent treatment for root rot. Powdered cinnamon has antifungal properties, but it also promotes root growth.

Dusting the roots liberally before repotting will kill any remaining spores and get the entire system back on track.

Chamomile

Chamomile is another excellent indoor gardening tool. Chamomile flowers have strong antifungal properties and can be used as a water additive.

Simply brew a cup of soothing chamomile tea and pour it into your watering can once it has cooled.

It will aid in the control of any naturally occurring fungi in the soil.

Charcoal

With the right soil mix, charcoal is a great addition. Unfortunately, it is chemically reactive and attracts potentially hazardous compounds into the soil.

It’s almost like it’s cleaning the growing medium! While it is not a fungicide in and of itself, it does create conditions in the soil that make it difficult for fungi to thrive.

Remember that charcoal is alkaline, so be careful when using it with African Violets.

Keep them in acidic soils so that the good acids in the soil don’t get washed away by the bad ones.

They’re helpful, but you should be careful not to overuse them.

How to Prevent African Violet Root Rot

  • Water often, but let the top two inches of the medium dry out between waterings so that it doesn’t get wet.
  • Temperatures should be kept between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 and 24 degrees Celsius).
  • Repot African Violets twice a year in a mildly acidic, free-flowing medium.
  • Ensure that pots have at least three drainage holes and are kept free of standing water.