African violets should be small houseplants. They are advertised as easy to care for and are a common gifted houseplant around Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. They are easy to keep but are also far from being hands off with their care.
To keep the growth tamed, trimming is needed, and the plant’s environment kept stable. Without three specific elements being provided for African Violets, too many leaves can be the result.
Not only does this effect the plant’s aesthetics, but it diverts energy away from where you’d ideally want the plant to focus its energy on, which is blooming. The result of overcrowding is less blooms, smaller leaves, and likely, the complete stalling of growth.
Despite being an easy to care for plant suitable to beginner indoor gardeners, nursing an African Violet back to prime health takes its difficulty up a notch.
It is completely doable to fix an overcrowded African Violet, but it is not as straightforward as trimming the excess leaves at the top off. That would cause extreme stress for the plant, contributing to further problems.
The 3 Causes of Too Many Leaves on an African Violet
1 – Nitrogen Overload
Overdosage with fertilizers is a frequent cause of damage to almost all species of plants. With African Violets, it is super easy to get the feeding wrong. Especially with miniature varieties.
If you aren’t aware, a standard African Violet will be in a 3” pot. Anything smaller is a miniature and should be fed fertilizer at half strength.
Standard African Violets should be fed with a fertilizer that has 14% nitrogen. Miniatures should only get 7% Nitrogen.
As these are constantly growing, producing pups (more on those to follow) and blooms, you need to use a fertilizer that is lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorous. This will encourage the plant to bloom instead of putting out new leaves.
Something to remember with fertilizers is that the fist number is Nitrogen and that is for leaf growth. The middle number is phosphorous and that is for blooming. The last number is potassium (potash) and that is a growth regulator, and yet another essential nutrient that the plant needs to keep its roots healthy.
A Nitrogen overload will happen if you feed too much of any fertilizer. Ideally, a specially formulated fertilizer for African Violets would be used. But it should be used with caution because fertilizers can include two types of feed for nitrogen.
Ammonium Nitrate vs. Urea
Read the label on the fertilizer because the form that is used in the formula has an effect on the plant’s ability to use it. Both urea and nitrate contain nitrogen, but in different forms.
The plant needs to convert both nutrients before it becomes soluble for the plant. That happens faster with Ammonium Nitrate than with Urea.
Yet, the majority of fertilizers, (even the so-called special formulations) for African Violets contain Urea, which has been found to add up to 46% more nitrogen. That high concentration can result in root burn that can be so severe that it can result in an African Violet dying.
Ammonium nitrate and urea both contain the element nitrogen, but in different forms. Even so, plants cannot use some of the nitrogen in either product until it has been converted.
Since ammonium nitrate has nitrate in it already, plants get nitrogen from it a bit faster than if you apply urea.
As these are fed in monthly cycles, it is easy to overload the plant with fertilizer. Some from the previous application may still be soluble.
If you switch your plant food from one with Ammonium to Urea or vice versa, the changes will likely be noticeable within the first few weeks.
On variegated leaved African Violets, Nitrogen overload will be easy to spot. The entire leaf turns green, causing the plant to lose its variegation.
On non-variegated leaf varieties, the greenery will become noticeably lighter.
2 – Lighting Problems
Without adequate lighting, African Violets leaves droop and lose color vibrancy. Light colored foliage and drooping leaves are the result of a lack of light.
On the other end of the lighting scale, light in excess will raise the temperature, risk leaf scorch, and the plant will put out a lot more leaves, however each leaf will be smaller and have thinner stalks.
Growing African Violets indoors, the best source of light is east or north facing windows. If you have yours there and still experiencing symptoms of excessive light, try filtering the sunlight as they should never be exposed to direct sunlight.
Remember that the leaves on African Violets should grow flat against the soil. Not upward. If you notice your African Violet’s leaves curling, that’s caused by a lack of light. African Violets leaves drooping is caused by excessive light, or exposure to direct sunlight.
To keep the leaves flat, it should be exposed to indirect sunlight for at least 8 hours daily. Remember to turn the plant on occasion too. Good practice is to rotate it a quarter turn each time you water it. Otherwise, it will grow toward the light.
3 – Excessive Heat
Despite being a tropical plant, African Violets prefer the same temperature as us. Climates around the 70-degree Fahrenheit mark. They struggle in temperatures over 80oF.
The temperature fluctuation from daytime to night-time should not differ drastically. Aim for a 5oF difference maximum.
What to be careful with is drafts from frequently used doors or drafty windows as those will lower the temperature considerably. Drastic temperature fluctuations will stress the plant, and it is stress that leads to African Violets overcrowding.
Why African Violets Get Overcrowded (Tight Crown)
An overgrown African Violet is what many would refer to as having too many leaves. The real issue is not the excessive leaves but the crown. African Violets should only be single crown plants.
No matter how careful you are with the growing conditions, the plant will always produce suckers. These are new baby plants and can be propagated if you want to grow new plants.
If the suckers are not removed, overcrowding will happen. What is essentially happening on an African Violet with too many leaves is that more than one plant is growing in the same pot.
The result of that is the plant throws all of its energy into nourishing the new plants, instead of focusing on blooming.
What you need to do is get rid of the suckers. Depending on how long it has been going for, there may be a lot of trimming needed.
Suckers grow from the crown of the plant. Not on the leaves or the stems and they have no roots. Only the parent plant roots.
Suckers can grow roots when propagated, but not while they are attached to the parent plant. All they will do is grow leaves. Small leaves at that.
Rather than only removing the leaves, remove the suckers in their entirety. Trace each leaf stem back to the crown of the plant, and if you can, tear it off, or better is to use a sharp knife to cleanly shear it off of the plant.
The result will be a much neater plant with only a single crown and the mature leaves left. With the excess foliage gone, the plant will be able to put all of its energy into blooming instead of producing pups/suckers.
You do need to keep on top of it though. Every month, when you see new suckers trying to come through, pull them off.
And Repot Twice Yearly to Prevent African Violets from Growing a Neck
Somewhat unique with African violets is keeping their size compact by preventing it growing upward into a tree like structure. It will do that if you don’t keep it tamed. A necky African Violet will have far more leaves than it needs and it does detract from its beauty.
Small and compact are the way to go here, but it is not as simple as beheading the plant by cutting it down. With these, it is good practice to cut the roots, not the neck.
Do this a couple of times a year by taking the plant out the pot and trimming the root ball. How much depends on the length of the main stalk.
If it has put out a half inch of stem, remove a half inch from the root ball, then replace the volume in the pot with an African Violet soil mix as that’s rich in peat, and very airy, allowing the roots to poke through.
This keeps the upward growth to a minimum, and the root ball nice and compact in the pot. In terms of the size of the pot to use, recommended is to have it be the exact size of the root ball. African Violets are one of the rare plants that love to be pot-bound.
By keeping on top of the root size, you should be able to keep to the same size of pot rather than repotting in a bigger pot.
The goal with African Violets is to help it throw its energy into blooming instead of leaf production. Do that by keeping it single crowned (removing pups), and occasionally trimming the root ball and repotting.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.