If the leaves on your African violet are turning soft, it is probably because you are overwatering it. If you give the plant too much water, it will absorb more than it needs, causing the leaves and stems to become soft.
If the soil around the plant’s roots is waterlogged or soggy, the roots will die and this can lead to root rot. When the rot makes its way up to the rest of the plant, this also causes the leaves to become soft.
In this article, we will discuss more about why African violet leaves turn soft and what you can do to remedy this. So, if you are experiencing this problem, just keep reading.
Why are my African violet’s leaves turning soft?
The most common reason African violet leaves turn soft is that the plant is getting more water than it needs.
Overwatering is one of the most common mistakes made by new plant owners because they have not established a watering schedule that works for the plant. They may be giving it more water than it needs at each watering, or they may be watering it more frequently than it needs. Overwatering can also happen if the plant is left outside in the rain.
Either way, if the plant’s soil is constantly soggy and waterlogged and is not allowed to dry out between waterings, the plant will be forced to absorb more and more water, and the leaves will become soft due to the excess moisture.
Roots will also suffocate in boggy soil, because air and oxygen can no longer reach them. They will eventually die and the dead roots will begin to rot. This rot will travel up to the root crown, and from there up the stem and into the leaves. This will also cause the leaves to soften. Root rot is exacerbated by the presence of opportunistic pathogens, such as fungi and bacteria, that will attack the plant’s compromised roots.
Another factor that contributes to overwatering is the soil type. If the soil is poorly-draining or compacted, this will cause water to remain in the soil for longer than necessary.
Furthermore, if you are using a pot that has no drainage holes, the excess water will not be able to flow out and will remain under the soil where it will keep the soil and roots wet for longer.
What are the other signs of an overwatered African violet?
Now that we know that soft African violet leaves are due to overwatering, we will discuss the other signs you need to look out for if you suspect overwatering.
1. Curled leaves
If the leaves on your plant have begun to curl, this can be due to overwatering. This is more apparent when the temperature of the water is too cold.
Cold water is not good for the roots of the plant, and this can affect the leaves even if only the roots had direct contact with the cold water. Make sure you only use room-temperature water when watering your African violet.
2. Wrinkled leaves
If you notice that the leaves on your African violet have started to wrinkle, that means the plant has been overwatered for some time. Wrinkled leaves indicate that the plant can no longer absorb water effectively because the roots have been compromised to an alarming degree.
They have suffered significant damage and are no longer effectively absorbing water and nutrients from the soil, affecting the entire plant.
3. Yellowing leaves
Apart from turning soft, the leaves on an overwatered African violet will also start to discolor.
This change in color is due to moisture stress. If your plant’s leaves have changed color, it is best to also check the rest of the plant for signs of overwatering. You may need to check the roots, too, in case they have rotted.
4. Wilted leaves
Wilted leaves on an African violet can be indicative of a pest infestation or underwatering, but if the leaves are wilted while the soil is damp and there is no presence of pests, then overwatering is the culprit.
Just like the other leaf symptoms, wilting is also due to the roots’ inability to properly absorb water and nutrients.
5. Soft and mushy stems
Aside from soft leaves, overwatering an African violet can also lead to soft stems. Compared with a healthy plant, whose stems are firm and strong, an overwatered plant’s stems will feel mushy when you squeeze them.
Soft stems are more common in cases where the rot is caused by a fungal infection that has traveled up the roots and into the stems.
6. Brown spots on the leaves
The brown spots on the leaves are due to edema, or a build-up of excess water in the leaves. These wart-like lesions can also be traced back to overwatering. They are also an eyesore on the leaves and cannot be removed, but you can remove the damaged leaves to preserve the plant’s aesthetic.
7. Mold on the soil
Another sign that points to overwatering is visible mold growing on top of the soil. The mold will look like white dots on the uppermost layer of the soil.
Fortunately, this mold will not attack your plant; it will only grow on moist soil. Try to remove the mold as soon as you see it. You can use a hydrogen peroxide solution made of one part hydrogen peroxide to five parts water.
8. Root rot
This is the most serious consequence of overwatering, as we discussed earlier. This can also lead to crown rot, which is when the root rot, possibly hastened by pathogens, moves towards the crown of the root system and causes it to rot as well. When the crown of the root is affected this means the plant has even less chance of recovery, because almost all of the roots are now defective.
How to save an overwatered African violet
First, you will need to inspect the entire plant to assess the extent of the damage. Check whether the leaves are soft and mushy, if they have become discolored, or if there are brown lesions on them.
If the leaves have brown spots but the stems are still firm, the plant is not too badly affected yet and will take less time to recover than one that does have mushy stems.
Next, remove any brown, yellow, or wilted leaves and flowers. Do not remove the curled leaves, because these may just have curled due to the water temperature and will still be able to recover. By removing the damaged leaves and other foliage, you are relieving the plant from the stress of keeping these leaves alive. Once they are removed, the plant can focus its resources and energy toward healing itself.
Make sure you wash your hands properly before pinching the leaves off the plant. Support the stem of the leaf with your other hand so that you can pull it off more easily. You can also use a pair of scissors to cut the leaves off; just make sure that they are sterilized.
Next, check the soil in the pot. If there is mold on the top layer, remove it. Check whether the soil is compacted or dense. Place rocks or broken terracotta pot pieces at the bottom of the pot and make sure the pot itself has sufficient drainage holes at the bottom. These factors will help with the drainage of excess water from the soil and from the pot.
While checking the soil, also remove the plant. Shake and wash off as much soil as you can so you can inspect the roots closely. The roots will be delicate, so be gentle. Brown or black roots are rotten and should be removed. Using sterilized scissors, cut them all off until only healthy, white roots remain. Spray the healthy roots with fungicide and let the plant dry out on a paper towel.
After the plant has dried out, you can repot it. Use fresh soil and a pot with drainage holes at the bottom. Do not water the soil just yet, because fresh soil is usually quite moist as it is. Water the plant a week after repotting it to give the roots enough time to recover and to be able to absorb water properly.
The best way to avoid overwatering in the future is to check the soil first. Touch the top two inches of soil and, if they are dry, water the plant. If the soil is still damp, wait one or two days and check it again.
If an African violet’s leaves are becoming soft, it is most probably due to overwatering. You are either giving the plant too much water per watering, watering it more frequently than necessary, using soil that is compacted or dense, or using a pot that does not have drainage holes at the bottom.
Save your overwatered plant by checking the roots and making sure all the rotten parts are removed before repotting it in fresh soil, in a pot that has drainage holes.
Avoid overwatering by making sure you only water the plant when the soil is dry to the touch. If the soil is still damp, wait a few days and check it again. Once you have figured out how to properly water your plant, you should have no problem with overwatering in the future.
Image: istockphoto.com / Simone Madeo