Overwatering is one of the most common problems gardeners have to deal with when it comes to African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha). These beautiful flowering plants are low-maintenance but can be sensitive to excess moisture in their roots or leaves. The good news is that they can recover with adequate care.
To fix overwatered African violets, examine the plants for damage, dig them out, remove the soil from the roots, dry the roots with a clean towel, cut off damaged parts, dip the roots in a fungicide solution, replant the African violet in fresh, sterile soil, and provide adequate care afterwards.
In the following sections, I’ll be discussing these steps in more detail. Moreover, I will share some tips on how to avoid overwatering your African violets and explain some essential details about their watering requirements. Read on to learn more!
1. Examine Your African Violets for Damage
African violets are famous for their vivid flowers that can bloom several times a year under suitable environmental conditions. They require minimal care and can thrive even with a bit of neglect.
However, they are susceptible to numerous health issues when overwatered. That’s why it’s best to let the soil dry up a bit before watering. African violets will not immediately show stress symptoms when underwatered, but they are highly likely to show significant signs of deterioration when habitually overwatered.
So if you notice the surface of the soil around your African violets is still moist a week after your last watering session, it can indicate poor drainage or aeration issues that can negatively affect your plant.
If you suspect your African violets are suffering from overwatering, examine your plants for physical indicators.
Some signs of damage due to overwatering to look out for include:
- Yellowing leaves
- Drooping leaves
- Soft and weak stems
- Stunted growth
- Dark, soggy roots
If your African violets are exhibiting the symptoms listed above, your plants are most likely overwatered and need immediate attention for better chances of recovery. Otherwise, your African violets may suffer irreversible damage.
2. Carefully Dig Out the African Violets From Wet Soil
Potted indoor African violets are more susceptible to overwatering due to limited space in the pot. It can even be worse if the soil has poor drainage or the pot is not breathable enough.
Other factors that can contribute to overly wet soil around your African violets are its indirect light and low temperature levels.
African violets thrive best in a steadily warm environment with daytime temperatures ranging from 70 – 75°F (21.1 – 23.9°C) and a nighttime temperature of roughly 65°F (18.3°C). However, these temperatures are not high enough to help pull out the excess moisture from the soil through evaporation.
As a result, African violets tend to sit in excess moisture for extended periods when habitually overwatered, resulting in root and shoot damage.
If you are sure your plants are overwatered, remove them from the pots. Avoid pulling the plants out immediately. Instead, carefully dig around the soil with a clean hand shovel to loosen it. Once the soil is loose, gently hold the root ball when pulling the plant out.
It’s essential to remember that African violets naturally have thin, fibrous roots. Overwatering can make their roots even more sensitive and fragile, so you must be careful when handling them to prevent further damage.
It also helps to wear protective gloves to prevent the fungi from sticking to your hands and fingernails. Otherwise, you risk exposing your plant to the same fungi that caused the roots to rot.
3. Remove the Soil From the Roots
Once the plant is out of the pot, carefully remove the soil from the weak roots. It will help you examine the extent of the damage and tell whether the plant can still be saved or is better off destroyed to prevent the spread of disease.
African violets have shallow roots and have varying prognoses to root rot depending on how much of the roots have been damaged.
A good rule of thumb is that if at most ⅓ of the roots have visible darkening due to root rot, then the plant has better chances for recovery.
If more than a third of the roots are damaged, you may need more extensive pruning of roots and shoots. Even so, the chances for recovery are significantly lower and the process may take a while.
Here’s how you can go about it:
- To get a clear image of the extent of the damage, break off the soil around the root ball with your gloved fingers, and remove as much soil as possible.
- Remove the remaining soil around the roots by placing the plant under gentle running water. It is best to use tepid distilled or purified water to protect the vulnerable roots from potential further damage from substances that may be present in tap water.
- After removing all the soil, take off and dispose of your gloves properly.
4. Dry the Roots With a Clean Towel
If you use tap water to rid the roots of soil debris, you can rinse them with distilled water before drying them.
While tap water is generally safe, some areas may have higher levels of chlorine, depending on the season. Your African violets are already under so much stress from root rot, so it helps to add an extra layer of caution to ensure that they wouldn’t have to deal with other health issues like chlorine toxicity.
Dry your African violets off immediately with a clean, lint-free towel or paper towels. Disposable towels are better because you can get rid of them immediately after use. That way, you don’t risk spreading the fungi to other plants. Just be sure not to compost the paper towels.
However, if you plan to use a washable towel, remember to soak it in warm water around 160°F (71°C) for at least ten minutes. You can also add two tablespoons (30 ml) of vinegar to the tub to ensure that the fungi cannot survive.
5. Cut Off Damaged Foliage and Roots
Once the roots are dry, locate the darkened roots and snip them off with sterile gardening shears or scissors. You must use clean tools to ensure that you do not introduce more harmful microbes to the already vulnerable roots.
To err on the side of safety, remove an extra ¼ inch (0.6 cm) from the infected roots in addition to the dark and decaying tips.
The leaves and stems should also be proportionately pruned to reduce the stress on the roots. Remove visibly damaged leaves because they are beyond repair. Cut off additional leaves to balance the amount removed from the roots.
For instance, removing ¼ of the roots will require removing ¼ of the leaves to help the plant recover more easily. Sick roots cannot keep up with the needs of the whole plant.
6. Dip the Roots in a Fungicide Solution
This step is essential when it comes to eliminating leftover fungi on your African violets’ roots. However, it is not recommended because commercial fungicides may be too expensive for home gardeners, especially if you only have a few potted indoor plants.
Moreover, commercially available fungicides cannot treat all kinds of fungal infections. Some of them work against specific fungal species but may not work for others.
In large agricultural fields with widespread fungal infections, farmers and agriculturists send plant samples to the laboratory to diagnose and determine the fungal species responsible for the disease. That way, they can find and use the appropriate fungicide to apply to the plants.
Some gardeners may even find it more economical and practical to just dispose of the infected plants and buy new ones from reputable sellers.
However, if you are eager to rescue your African violets and willing to shell out some cash, you can purchase a fungicide formula to treat your infected plants.
You may want to try the Bonide Revitalize Bio Fungicide Concentrate (available on Amazon.com). This product is amazing because it works as a prevention and treatment for fungal and bacterial infections that affect the roots or shoots.
Regardless of the product you choose, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to avoid inflicting further damage to your plants.
7. Replant Your African Violets in Fresh, Sterile Soil
When replanting your African violets, you need to review and assess the reasons why they suffered from overwatering in the first place. Addressing these issues will help you avoid the same problem in the future.
Here are some things you need to consider:
The Substrate Needs Good Drainage
One of the main reasons your African violets have been overwatered is poor drainage of the soil. Regardless of how many mistakes you make when you feed your plant or how much water you add to your pot, it’s hard to overwater your African violets if the soil effectively drains excess moisture.
So when replanting your African violets, choose a substrate with excellent drainage. A soil mixture composed of equal parts sandy soil, loam with humus, and peat moss is ideal for African violets.
Use Sterile Soil or Potting Mix
Avoid using soil from the same source as your first pot, as it may contain harmful microorganisms that can infect your plant again. You may instead purchase sterile potting mix from reputable sellers in your area to ensure your plant is safe from new diseases.
You can also use a soilless substrate of equal parts perlite or vermiculite and peat moss. They are less likely to contain pests or harmful microbes and provide an excellent balance between moisture retention and drainage.
Choose a Substrate and a Pot That Provide Good Aeration
Another reason roots rot is that the excess water blocks air spaces in the soil, causing oxygen deficiency in the roots. Perlite and vermiculite provide excellent aeration, in addition to the benefits mentioned above, making them suitable substrates for African violets.
The pot’s material, such as plastic, can also hinder proper aeration in the soil that could have helped draw out excess moisture. Clay pots with drainage holes at the bottom work best for African violets because they are more breathable, and the clay material can absorb the excess water from the soil.
Do not use oversized pots. As discussed, African violets have shallow roots, so having too much soil and space is not ideal for them. You can use a pot that has a half-inch (1.25 cm) wider circumference than the spread of the plant.
Moisten the Potting Mix Before Replanting Your African Violets
Regardless of what soil type or mixture you use, it is best to moisten it before replanting your African violets. You can do this by spraying water directly into the substrate until it feels moist but not soggy. Peat moss can hold enough moisture to feed your plants later.
Avoid watering the African violets immediately after replanting to avoid blocking air spaces and causing shock to the plant. It also helps to keep it away from direct sunlight. A curtained eastern or northern window is ideal for a recovering African violet.
As the roots try to recover, cover the pot in a plastic bag to increase the humidity around the plant. Ensure that the plastic bag is inflated and spacious enough not to touch the plant. You can use a stake to hold the top of the plastic bag so that the condensation can slide to the sides and not fall directly on the leaves. Check the soil weekly to see if you need to add more water.
8. Provide Enough Water to Your African Violets
Three to four weeks after replanting your African violets, you can remove the plastic bag and water the plants accordingly. The frequency and amount of water your African violets need will depend on several factors.
Check out some of the guidelines below:
How Often Should I Water African Violets?
You should water African violets once a week or when the upper ½ – 1 inch (1.25 – 2.5 cm) of the soil feels dry to the touch. The frequency varies depending on the season, the temperature, and the humidity in your area.
How Much Water Should I Feed African Violets?
You should feed your African violets with enough water until you see the excess draining from the drainage holes. Let the pot drain out for an hour, and throw away the excess water accumulating on the plant saucer.
How Can I Avoid Overwatering African Violets?
You can avoid overwatering African violets by adding water only when the soil’s upper ½ – 1 inch (1.25 – 2.5 cm) is dry. Alternatively, you can install a wick into the soil and let the bottom part of the wick feed from a water container with lukewarm water.
Wick-watering is effective at delivering water only when the soil feels dry or when the plant needs moisture. It is also helpful when you have to be away from home for a while. Be sure to replace the wick monthly and refill the water container accordingly to keep the setup working efficiently.
During colder seasons, you may need to refill the container with warmer water to prevent it from cooling down too much and damaging the roots.
Water Requirements of African Violets
Novice gardeners may feel alarmed when they learn how sensitive African violets are to overwatering. Some may even feel discouraged about growing African violets because of it.
The truth is that most indoor plants are sensitive to overwatering and need adequate care for optimum health and growth. The key is understanding each plant’s growth requirements and providing them accordingly. Once you know the basics, you can build a routine around them.
African violets are famous for their simple maintenance requirements. Here are some things to remember about their watering needs:
- African violets can tolerate a bit of dryness. As long as you plant them in a substrate with good drainage, it’s almost impossible to overwater them. Deep-watering once a week or when the top inch (2.5 cm) of the soil is dry should be enough to meet your plants’ water needs.
- African violets are sensitive to cold water. They prefer tepid water around 70°F (21.1°C) and may fail to bloom when constantly fed with water at lower temperatures. To learn more about how African Violets react to cold water, you can read my other article: Can You Water African Violets with Ice Cubes?
- The leaves of African violets are sensitive to water droplets. It is recommended to add water directly into the soil to prevent droplets from sitting on the leaves. You should also avoid misting your African violets for the same reason. Otherwise, the water droplets can cause discoloration or water spots on the leaves.
- African violets are susceptible to damage from chlorine. While these plants can benefit from low amounts of chlorine, too much can negatively affect the plant’s ability to produce flowers. That’s why it’s best to use purified or distilled water instead of tap water on your African violets, especially during fertilization.
- African violets prefer top-watering. However, you have to avoid pouring water directly on the leaves. Although bottom-watering also works, it is time-consuming and may not be very efficient for the plant’s shallow roots.
African violets are relatively easy to grow indoors. However, since they grow in tiny pots, the soil quality may deteriorate over time and affect drainage capacity, resulting in excess water retention.
Luckily, it is possible to fix overwatered African violets. The key is early detection and immediate action. Refer to the information above to help your African violets recover as quickly as possible.