How to Save an Overwatered African Violet (Step by Step)


Indoor potted african violet showing overwatered symptoms

African Violet is one of the most beautiful houseplants that you can keep in your home. That is unless it is mushy or discolored from getting too much water.

Overwatering is a common misstep for many houseplant gardeners. It is easy to overdo it when you are trying to care for your plant.

Here are the steps to save your overwatered African violet:

  1. Assess the overall damage and move it to a shady area.
  2. Remove damaged leaves and blooms
  3. Assess the soil
  4. Trim off damaged roots and disinfect the soil
  5. Dry it out
  6. Repot with fresh/disinfected soil into a new pot
  7. Water Smarter

But, by the end of this post, you will know exactly how to fix your (and prevent) overwatered African Violet! 

Overwatering Vs. Underwatering: How to Tell the Difference

Learning the best way to water your African Violet is key to your success with this plant. Overwatering is one of the most common missteps in caring for African Violets.

It is common to get excited about your plant and water it on a schedule. If your African Violet has not had enough time to dry out before you water again it will cause issues. Your African Violet will suffer from overwatering.

Many African Violet owners don’t let their plant dry out enough between each watering. This is unhealthy for your plant. Too much water will prevent your African Violet from getting the nutrients it needs, and rot it.

While it is more common to overwater African Violets, underwatering is still possible. Underwatering happens when you allow your African Violet to dry out too much. This leads to nutrient deficiencies and eventually will kill your plant. 

You can tell if your African Violet is getting too little water by looking at the soil. If it is dust-dry, crackled, and firm then you need to increase how often you water.

The leaves will also tell you if they need more water. If they are dry and crispy, dark on the edges, or if your African Violet is no longer flowering you may need to water more.

Signs of Overwatered African Violet

Brown Spots on Leaves

Brown spots appearing on your African Violets are never a good sign. Most often this comes from overwatering. Overwatering prevents your plant from getting enough oxygen, which is essential to its health.

African Violets are prone to Edema. This is a condition caused by overwatering that throws off the balance of water the roots take in. If your African Violet has edema you will see brown, wart-like spots near the base of your leaves. (Source: University of Maryland ExtensionOpens in a new tab.)

Remove any leaves with brown spots. Unfortunately, once brown spots appear those leaves are no longer viable. Removing them makes it easier for your African Violet to grow new, healthy leaves.

Root Rot

If you are overwatering your African Violet your plant will develop

Root Rot. Mold grows in moist environments. If the soil is not drying between each watering or is not draining well, the mold that grows will rot the roots.

There are several steps to take in caring for Root Rot in your African Violet.

First, remove the plant from its pot and clear away the rotten soil. Next, inspect the roots. Healthy roots are white and firm, so remove any roots that are brown and mushy.

Once you have cleared the infected bits clean the remaining roots. Replant your African Violet in clean potting soil with good drainage. (New is best, but you can also clean the soil you have if the Root Rot is minor.)

Time is of the essence! Root Rot progresses fast, so acting as soon as you realize there is an issue will increase your success rate.

Crown Rot

Crown Rot is identified and treated similarly to Root Rot. The difference is the location of the rot. Root Rot can happen on any of the roots and can be mild or severe. Crown Rot happens at the crown of the root system. 

To treat Crown Rot complete the steps of Root Rot treatment and spray the root system with a fungicide. Know that if Crown Rot is severe your plant may not make it.

Mold Growing on Soil

If you find mold in your soil that is a clear sign your African Violet is getting too much water. Moldy white dots will appear on the top layer of the soil.

This mold won’t threaten your African Violet (or your family). But, it is still important to remove it as soon as you notice it.

You may be able to scrape the top layer of soil off and get rid of all the mold that way. You can also kill the mold with a diluted hydrogen peroxide mixture.

Use one part hydrogen peroxide to five parts water. If the mold extends beyond the top layer of soil it’s time to repot.

Shriveled Appearance and Mushy Stems

If your African Violet’s stems are mushy, or the plant has shriveled you are overwatering. A healthy plant will look strong and vivacious, with firm stems. If the stem has any give when you squeeze them there is an issue.

Mushy stems indicate a fungal infection created by too much water. A shriveled appearance is another sign that your African Violet has rotted. In both cases remove the diseased bits, clean the plant, and allow it to dry. (Source: Iowa State UniversityOpens in a new tab.)

Wilting

A wilted African Violet can mean one of three things. Either, you are not watering enough, you are watering too much, or you have pests. The soil will be the key to identifying which it is.

If your African Violet has wilted and the soil is damp you are overwatering. This drowns the roots and the African Violets are unable to get the oxygen they need. Repair any damage, and allow your African Violet to dry out.

If your soil does not feel too dry or wet, look for pests. Cyclamen mites and Mealybugs are the most common pests for African Violets. To get rid of pests you need to clean your leaves. (Source: Clemson UniversityOpens in a new tab.)

You can suffocate the pests by spraying your leaves with neem oil or insecticidal soap.

If you have rubbing alcohol around your house you can wipe each leaf with it to rid your African Violet of cyclamen mites or mealybugs.

Yellow Leaves

Yellow leaves are another sign of moisture stress from overwatering. If your African Violet has yellow leaves remove them and check the rest of the plant’s health.

If your leaves are yellow there is a good chance your roots have rotted and you will need to do some damage control.

Wrinkled Leaves

Wrinkled leaves are a sign that overwatering has caused major issues to your roots. Wrinkling is a sign that no water is able to travel up the roots to the plant tissue.

Take a look at your roots. Healthy roots should be white and plump. If your roots are brown and mushy they need to go. Wrinkled leaves may be a sign that the majority of your roots have rotted.

If you still have viable roots it is worth it to clean them and repot. If the roots all look brown and mushy it is time to try again with a different African Violet, unfortunately.

Curled Leaves

Curled leaves are a sign of overwatering. But, it is also a sign that the temperature of the water is causing stress to your African Violet.

If you are watering with cold water it will chill the roots of your African Violet. This causes the leaves to curl downward. Room temperature water is best, as it reduces the potential for any temperature shock.

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Saving Your Overwatered African Violet

These are the steps you will need to follow to heal an overwatered African Violet. There is a brief list, and then a detailed description below.

Step One: Assess the Overall Damage

It is important to see how damaged your overwatered african vilolet is. When you find few leaves have brown spots but your stems are firm and healthy then you will not need to rehabilitate as much as if the disease is present in other areas, too.

If there are any steps below that don’t apply to your plant feel free to skip ahead until the steps are applicable. Now, If your roots are healthy, there is no need to remove the damaged ones, etc.

Step Two: Remove Damaged Leaves and Blooms

Remove any yellow leaves, leaves with brown spots, or wilted blooms. Note: Do not remove leaves that curl downward from temperature shock. As long as they look healthy in every other way leave them. As you adjust the temperature of the water they should revive themselves.

Clearing the damaged leaves allows your African Violet to focus on the healing. It no longer has to spend energy sending nutrients to areas of the plant that are non-revivable.

First, wash your hands. Remove damaged leaves/blooms by pinching the leaf with your fingers near the base of the stem.

If you prefer to cut the leaves off make sure that your scissors are clean and sharp. Removing near the soil line sets your African Violet up for success to grow new leaves/blooms.

Step Three: Assess the Soil

Now we get to the heart of the issue. Overwatering causes many issues for the soil and root system. It’s important to understand your soil’s condition before you can work on fixing it.

Remove any mold growing on the soil. Then take your African Violet out of it’s pot to examine the root system. This is a good time to add some extra drainage to your pot.

Broken bits of terra cotta pot, large rocks, and recycled plastic all work well. Place these at the bottom of your pot before repotting to help water drain through the soil easier. 

Step Four: Remove Damaged Roots and Clean the Soil

Removing any damaged roots that you find during the inspection is critical. Your plant won’t be able to recover if all the damage is not removed first.

To do this, use your fingers to dislodge the infected soil and remove rotten roots. Remember, these will be brown and mushy. African Violet’s roots are delicate, so move gently with this step.

You don’t want to accidentally break off any healthy roots in the process. Clean off the remaining roots and use fresh soil and a new pot to repot your African Violet.

Getting new soil is best, but it is possible to disinfect the soil you have. Try washing it with a bleach and water solution (one-part bleach to five parts water), and allow it to dry.

You can also use a fungicide or a homemade hydrogen peroxide solution (diluted the same as the bleach). It is best to buy new potting soil if possible. Then you cut the risk of reinfection.

Step Five: Dry it Out

Before you repot your African Violet leave the plant out of the pot for a bit to dry. Place the plant with the remaining roots and soil on a safe surface overnight. Laying down some newspaper or putting it in an old cardboard box can reduce the mess.

This gives the roots and soil a chance to dry out easier than it could do in a pot. Leave your plant there for a day or so until the soil seems nice and dry. If you have pets or small children leave your African Violet somewhere safe.

Step Six: Repot

Once the soil dries it is time to repot your African Violet. You can clean and disinfect the pot that your African Violet was in before. But if you had major Root Rot it’s worth it to get a new pot. This reduces the chance of repeat infection.

Make sure that your pot has good drainage holes in the bottom. Boost the drainage potential by adding large rocks, broken terra cotta, or bits of plastic to the bottom of the pot. Then plant your African Violet in fresh soil. 

If you are purchasing a new pot you might want to consider a self watering pot. You pour the water into the pot and then the African Violet takes what it needs without sitting in water.

They remove a lot of the guesswork for you and can be a great tool if you are worried about inconsistent watering.

Step Seven: Water Smarter

Once your African Violet has recovered from too much water this step is key.

A repeat offense will be harder to come back from. Listening to cues from your African Violet will set you up for better success than trying to create a water cycle based on the calendar.

Water your plant when the top 1-2 inches (2.54-5.08 cm) are dry to the touch.

This is roughly the distance to your first knuckle, but if you’d rather not stick your finger in the pot you can also purchase a water level marker.

If there is any sign of moisture in that top layer of soil, leave it just a bit longer. Listen to your plant and you should find a schedule that will help your plant thrive!

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Common Watering Mistakes

MistakeHow to Avoid
Inconsistent WateringCheck the soil levels regularly. Water as soon as the soil is dry. Consider using a self watering pot.
Watering too MuchOnly water when the top of the soil is dry. This will reduce the chance of overwatering issues.
Wet Soil from OverwateringWater only when the soil has dried out. Water enough to sustain the plant, but the soil should never be sopping.
Watering the Leaves and Not the Roots Be careful to water the soil only. Wetting the leaves will cause spotting.
Watering During the Heat of the DayThis is an inefficient way to water. Watering in the mornings will allow your African Violet to soak up the water without the heat evaporating any.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are the leaves on my African Violets soft, limp, and mushy?

When an African Violet gets too much water the leaves will often retain some of the excess water in the leaves. This will cause the leaves to soften, and become limp and mushy

How do I know if my African Violet has Root Rot?

Examine your soil and root system to identify Root Rot. Healthy roots are white and plump. Roots that have Root Rot will be brown and mushy. It is important to clear the diseased roots, clean the soil, and repot in a clean pot. 

What is a self watering pot?

A self-watering pot allows you to water less frequently. You pour water into a reservoir that does not touch your African Violets soil or roots.

As the water evaporates it moves to a new chamber that your African Violet can drink from. This reduces the chance of overwatering because it is a regulated system. It is a very popular option for people who keep African Violets in their homes.

Should I top or bottom water my African Violet?

African Violets do well with both top or bottom watering. Whichever you choose it is important to not water the leaves, when possible. This can cause spots on the leaves. 

Arifur Rahman

I'm the owner of gardenforindoor.com. After completing my bachelor of science in agriculture, I'm serving as a civil service officer at the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh. I started Garden For Indoor to make your indoor gardening journey easy and enjoyable.

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