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12 common African violet leaf problems – with fixes

When an African violet develops leaf problems, like most plants there are a myriad of potential causes.

So, to save you spending hours sifting through reams of information, I thought I’d put together an easy to navigate guide.

Below you’ll find only the most probable reasons for specific leaf problems in African violets. I haven’t covered every eventuality, but it should be a good place to start your enquiries!

Click your issue below to go straight to the section and find the most likely cause.

1. My African violet has drooping leaves

Not enough water

There are a few reasons your plant’s leaves could be wilting, but the most likely is that it’s too dry. This is a simple one to remedy – water more!

First, make sure it needs water by pushing your finger into the compost to check it’s dry below the surface.

Try and always use tepid water so you don’t shock the plant. African violets aren’t keen on sudden changes in temperature.

Fill your watering can and wait for it to reach room temperature before giving it a drink. Thereafter, keep compost moist, but wait until the surface is dry before watering.

For soil that’s very parched and shrinking away from the sides of the pot, you could give it a full soak.

Immerse the pot in water (avoiding wetting the leaves) and leave it to drip dry before returning the plant to its pot cover or saucer.

Too much water

On the flipside, your droopy leaved plant could be too wet – especially if it’s winter and you haven’t reduced your watering frequency.

Alternatively, if it’s kept in a non-porous plastic pot, excess water can accumulate and leave your plant sitting in water. A big no-no for roots, which can be fatal for your plant.

Check the soil – is it soggy beneath the surface even though you haven’t watered in a while? Is there water left in the base of your pot cover or saucer?

Repotting in fresh potting soil (if it’s very sodden) and reducing your watering frequency may help, as long as the plant isn’t too far gone.  

You could also consider switching to a terracotta pot with better drainage. If you do change pots, keep a watchful eye that your plant doesn’t become too dry.

Crown rot

If limp, floppy outer leaves are accompanied by stunted new leaf growth and the central crown looking soft and mushy, the plant has crown rot disease. 

This is usually caused by overwatering, sometimes in combination with fluctuating temperatures. 

Crown rot is tricky to get under control and also infectious. You can try repotting (best done when soil is dry). 

Remove any damaged leaves (including their stalks) with a clean knife, discard all the old compost and pot up in a brand new potting mix. 

If you have other plants nearby, however, your best bet is to dispose of the plant.

If you’re in luck and the crown looks ok, your floppy plant may recover with a little attention. Hold off on the watering until the soil surface is completely dry. 

When you do water, try to avoid spilling any on the leaves and crown. Push the watering spout below the foliage and water carefully around the base of the plant. 

Repotting

Have you recently moved your plant into a new pot? If it’s drooping after repotting it could simply be sulking from the temporary disturbance to its roots.

Like many plants, their leaves can tend to go floppy in the days after repotting. By giving them plenty of bright indirect light and making sure to water well they should pick up in time.

2. My African violet leaves are curling

Chilled plant

Temperature is the most common cause of leaf curl in African violets. Foliage that looks folded or curled upwards at the edges means the plant has probably been chilled. 

These plants like to be kept at 60°F minimum, ideally around 70°F or so. They can handle the odd short spell of 50-60°F in winter as long as their soil is dry. 

But temperatures much lower than this, or prolonged periods of cold, will make the foliage curl. 

Make sure your plant isn’t sitting in a draughty spot, and move it away from the window if there’s any risk of frost.

Lack of light

If the curling isn’t just at the leaf edges, but instead the whole leaves are growing upwards, this points to a problem with light.

Do the stems look leggy and long, like they are reaching up for light? The plant should be quite compact and tightly packed, but if it appears splayed with very visible long stems, it’s likely it’s seeking out more light.

African violets like bright indirect light, so ideally choose an east or south facing window in summer, and west in winter. 

Protect them from very strong direct sunlight which can scorch their leaves. 

Rotate the plant regularly (a 90 degree turn about once a week) to make sure all leaves are getting a good amount of light. This will keep the shape even and symmetrical. 

Cyclamen mites

Occasionally, it could be that mite infestation is causing the leaf curl. Unfortunately the cyclamen mites that affect African violets (Steneotarsonemus pallidus) are too small to see with the naked eye. 

As well as curling leaves, look for signs of damage/stunting of new leaves in the central crown, which indicates the presence of mites. 

You might also notice these new leaves are fuzzier, which can make them look more grey in colour.  

If mites seem the likely culprit, you can treat them with a purpose-made houseplant insecticide (miticide) spray.  

Alongside spraying the plant, contain the infestation by keeping it well away from healthy plants and washing your hands after touching it. 

3. My African violet leaves are turning white

Powdery mildew

If the plant has developed a powdery white coating on the leaves, it’s most likely to be powdery mildew. Often insect-borne, this fungal disease thrives in high humidity and poor air circulation.

As long as only a few leaves are affected, treat the plant by cutting out the discoloured leaves with a clean knife, reducing humidity around the plant and improving air flow. 

Removing affected leaves will also help air flow by making the plant less compact and crowded.

You can also spray the plant with a fungicide to treat and prevent future infections. However, if all the foliage has signs of infection, it may be beyond saving. 

Time to go plant shopping!

Excessive light

Too much direct light can cause leaf bleaching. These plants prefer indirect or filtered light. Excessive sunlight can damage chlorophyll production and make leaves turn white. 

To help you diagnose it, look for signs of leaf scorching (yellowing edges and sometimes small holes) which also point to too much direct light.

Move it to a spot where it won’t be exposed to bright direct sunlight and new growth should come through green.

Spontaneous genetic mutation

If the growing conditions are fine, but newly grown leaves are emerging white or mottled/variegated, the discolouration could be down to a spontaneous mutation. 

These white leaves will need more light than unaffected foliage as they have less chlorophyll, so cannot produce as much energy. 

If you don’t like the look of the white leaves, or prefer more uniform colouring, keep the plant in lower light and it will grow new green growth to compensate. 

You can then snip off the white leaves to bring it back to its former glory.  

4. My African violet leaves are turning pale green

Too much light

Like whitening leaves, pale green leaves on an African violet are most likely down to too much direct sunlight.

It’s not always the case that leaves bleach completely with an excess of light. If the chlorophyll damage isn’t so severe, leaves will fade less dramatically to a light, insipid green. 

Notice where your plant is sat. Does too much direct light seem likely? Move it to a spot with filtered or indirect light. Over time it should put on new dark green growth.

5. My African violet leaves are turning yellow

Dry air

Dry air is a frequent cause of leaf yellowing in African violets. These plants love high humidity, so air that’s very dry (i.e. in centrally heated rooms) can make leaves look parched. 

Every couple of days, carefully mist your plant with room temperature water using a very fine spray. Make sure the plant is out of direct sunshine to avoid leaf scorch. 

A lower maintenance approach is to keep the pot on a damp tray of pebbles and top up the water as and when needed. 

Or, if you have several humidity loving plants, it might be worth investing in an air humidifier to create the perfect microclimate.  

Too much sunlight

Overexposure to sunlight can also turn an African violet’s leaves yellow. This again comes down to the plant’s immediate environment. 

If it’s sat in direct sunlight, either use a sheer curtain to diffuse the light or move it to a spot with bright but indirect natural light.

New growth should come through healthy and green, and you can snip off yellow foliage to rejuvenate the plant.  

Under or over feeding

Yellow leaves can sometimes indicate either a lack of nutrients, or a build-up of too many nutrients. Are you using a purpose-made fertiliser for African violets? 

If you’re not using the right feed, or have been feeding too infrequently, establish a regular feeding schedule using a specialist fertiliser. 

Carefully consult the directions to make sure your plant gets the right amount (and strength) of feed.

If you suspect you’ve been too keen in your feeding, rinse the soil by thoroughly drenching with lukewarm water a few times. 

Let the soil dry out in between each rinse and leave the pot to drip dry before returning to its saucer or pot cover.

Lay off the fertiliser for 3-4 weeks and see if things improve. Once they do, resume feeding using half strength fertiliser for the first few weeks to let the plant reacclimatise.

Leaves are dying of old age

Are only the lower leaves turning yellow? The oldest leaves are at the bottom of the plant, nearest to the soil. When they reach the end of their life cycle, they’ll start to yellow. 

As long as the new foliage higher up looks healthy, yellow lower leaves are no cause for concern. 

Either wait for the ageing yellow leaves to fall naturally or remove them with a sharp sterile knife or pair of snips.

6. My African violet leaves are turning brown

Overwatering

Are the brown leaves also soft and mushy? Overwatering can choke roots of oxygen and cause root rot, which shows itself in soft browning leaves. 

To save the plant, you’ll need to act fast. Inspect the roots, cutting off any brown mushy ones with a clean knife. Remove any affected leaves too.

Repot the plant in fresh potting soil and water sparingly – just enough to keep soil moist without leaving the base of the plant sitting in water. 

Too much heat/light

If the leaves have dry brown spots, edges or tips, it’s most likely leaf scorch – caused by light or heat that’s too intense. This could be down to central heating or too much direct sun. 

Have a look at the flowers. If they’re starting to brown too, it’s another useful indicator that heat and/or light are the problem.  

Mist the plant regularly with room temperature water and move it well away from the window pane to avoid future leaf burn.

Scorched leaves won’t repair themselves, so are best removed so they can be replaced by new healthy green growth.

Water spilling on leaves

Brown spots can also develop where water droplets have landed on the leaves (see My African violet leaves have spots).

7. My African violet leaves are turning purple

Soil/fertiliser nutrient issues

This one is fairly easy to diagnose. If the leaves, particularly on the undersides, are turning purple, it’s likely down to a nutritional deficiency. 

Specifically, your plant is probably lacking in phosphorus. This could be down to your choice of potting soil or fertiliser.

Soil that’s lacking in available nutrients, or using a poorly balanced feed, can mean your plant simply doesn’t have access to enough phosphorus.

Treat your plant to a regular feed with high-quality fertiliser formulated especially for African violets.

Soft water

Alternatively if you’re using soft water, which is slightly acidic, it might be a problem with the pH balance of the soil. 

The optimum soil pH is between 5.8 and 6.2. Much lower than that and your plant will struggle to absorb the available phosphorus. 

Whether it’s a pH imbalance or a simple lack of nutrients causing the purple leaves, your best bet is to repot.

Shake off all the old soil, taking care not to damage roots. Repot in fresh, open potting soil with a light, open structure and the right pH (you can get testing kits fairly cheaply).

Give it a really thorough water with lukewarm water and leave it to drip dry. Wait a week, then start to feed weekly with a specialist African violet feed. 

8. My African violet leaves are brittle

Cyclamen mites

Brittle, stunted leaves in the centre of a tightly packed crown points to a cyclamen mite infestation. 

To help you diagnose it, look for other symptoms. Are the leaves curling too? Are they darkening on the edges? Fuzzier than usual?

If so, it’s a fairly safe bet your plant has mites. Treat it with a good miticide, keeping it well away from your other healthy plants until recovered.

Too much light

Alternatively, brittle leaves in the crown could be down to too much light exposure. To find out, use a piece of tissue paper to cover the middle of the plant and leave it there for a week. 

If the centre starts to open up, your problem is light intensity. Move your plant to a less brightly lit spot where it will receive indirect light.

If the leaves don’t show any improvement and the crown stays tight, it’s likely to be cyclamen mites. Treat the plant with a miticide as above.

Over fertilising

In some cases a tight, brittle crown can be a sign the plant has been overfed. An excess of nutrients can accumulate in soil and do more harm than good. 

Alongside leaves that crack or rip easily, look for stunted growth and yellowing leaves. Sometimes you’ll also see salt deposits on the soil’s surface or around the inside of the pot. 

To remedy a build up of nutrients, stop feeding immediately and flush the soil by drenching with tepid water a few times before resuming feeding.  

Leave the soil to dry out between rinses and before returning the plant to its pot cover or saucer. 

Only resume feeding again after 3-4 weeks, and then only use half strength feed for the first month or so.

9. My African violet leaves are mushy

Overwatering

If you have given your plant too much water and left it with saturated soil, it can starve roots of oxygen. 

This leads to root rot, which is the most likely reason for leaves turning brown and mushy. You could see your plant succumb unless you treat it promptly. 

See the Overwatering advice in My African violet leaves are turning brown.

10. My African violet leaves are falling off

Overwatering

If your plant is losing leaves (or flowers), there’s a good chance it’s being overwatered. Does it also look limp and droopy? Are the leaves turning soft? Does the soil feel soggy between waterings?

See the Overwatering advice in My African violet leaves are turning brown.

Old age

Are only the lower leaves falling? Are they yellowing before they fall? If so, they are most likely dying of old age. 

The old leaves should be replaced by new foliage in the centre. African violets grow new leaves from the inside out. 

If you can see healthy new green growth coming in, the chances are your plant is fine.  

11. My African violet leaves are getting small

Over fertilising

Stunted leaves are most likely to be a sign of over feeding. Does the plant have a tightly bunched crown? Are the leaves shiny and/or prone to cracking/tearing when you touch them? 

Look for other telltale signs like yellowing on the leaves and salt deposits on the soil surface or around the inside of the pot.  

Rinse the soil to eliminate the build up of fertiliser salts. See the Over fertilising advice in My African violet leaves are brittle.

12. My African violet leaves have spots

Water spots

Brown spotting is most often a result of spilled water sitting on the leaves. 

African violets dislike water pooling on their foliage. In the wild they’re used to living in sheltered spots, so aren’t exposed to much rainfall.

Undispersed water droplets are magnified by sunlight, causing localised spots of scorching. 

If larger areas are affected, particularly at the leaf tips and edges, it could be heat or light-related leaf scorch instead.  

While scorched spots look unsightly, they won’t harm the rest of the plant. You can remove the leaves to make way for new healthy growth.

And take extra care with the watering in future! 

Hopefully you now have a better idea of what’s wrong with your plant. If you found this guide to African violet leaf problems helpful at all, I’d love it if you could share it with your plant loving friends.

Sources:

https://www.optimara.com/

https://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/chiwonlee/plsc211/student%20papers/articles01/crector/africanviolets.htm

https://www.purdue.edu/hla/sites/yardandgarden/leaf-spots-not-always-from-pests/#:~:text=Gardeners%20often%20become%20alarmed%20when,water%20contacts%20the%20leaf%20tissue.

Image by Gini George from Pixabay

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