Behind the Scenes – Potting Down a Neck

Hi Everyone – it’s been some time since I’ve had the wherewithal to put together a Behind the Scenes post for you. I thought this would be a good tutorial.

Do you have a plant on your shelves that has started to resemble a palm tree rather than an African violet? Me, too, so I documented the process of potting down a neck on my plant, Roulette. Here is a photo of it on one of the shelves in the Sunroom. You can see one of the twisted leaves looking right at you sideways, and in the shadows, there is that neck . . .

Roulette, on Annie's shelves.
Roulette, on Annie’s shelves.

Here’s a closer look at that neck and a dried up stub of a blossom stalk:

A closer look at the neck on Roulette.
A closer look at the neck on Roulette.

Yup – that’s pretty much a palm tree, and while it’s a good look for an actual palm tree, it’s not so great for an African violet. In addition, I waited way too long before potting it down. Much longer and I would have had to cut it off at the knees and restarted the crown.

Here’s a look at it from the top, down. Roulette’s symmetry can be challenging at the best of times, but my neglect has allowed it to really go crazy with a ton of gaps in the foliage, as well as a number of twisted leaves.

Roulette, from the top, down.
Roulette, from the top, down.

Alrighty then . . . Not my finest hour, and just another reminder about limiting one’s collection to a manageable size. Onward . . .

The first step is to disbud. Completely.

Roulette, being disbudded
Roulette, being disbudded

I grasp the blossom stalk gently at close to the neck as I can, and then pull it toward me gently. GENTLY. :-) If one direction doesn’t work, try the other. One will work and you will feel it pop right off at the neck. When I said completely, I wasn’t kidding.

Here we are with most of the really awful leaves removed, and I used my trusty bent-nosed tweezers to remove that dried up stub that we saw above.

Roulette, after most recalcitrant leaves have been groomed out, and showing that dead stub removed.
Roulette, after most recalcitrant leaves have been groomed out, and showing that dead stub removed.

If you grow for show it’s really important that you get everything off, because if the judges see that dried up stub, it’s points off. Here’s a closer look.

Roulette, with a better look at that dried up stub.
Roulette, with a better look at that dried up stub.

Next, is looking at the foliage. Yeah – those are leaves growing sideways. I could have avoided this if I had spent more time checking my plants, grooming, and repotting on a more regular schedule.

A twisted leaf on Roulette.
A twisted leaf on Roulette.

What to do? Gently move the leave to a better, upright position. GENTLY – you don’t really want that particular leave to remove itself from the neck. Imagine the plant without that leaf, and you’ll see a massive gap in the foliage. So we’ll just turn it and watch it over the weeks and months to come. Here it is with both the sideways leaves in the photo above shifted around. You can see even more clearly that there would be a great big gap if that leaf at 9 o’clock had come off!

The twisted leaf turned right-side up.
The twisted leaf turned right-side up.

Next, remove at least a full row of leaves – possibly more. You can also see in this photo that I have started to scrape the neck of this plant, in effect, “picking the scab” where older leaves were removed . You’ll continue this around the entire neck, but first, down to the potting bench!

Roulette, with part of its neck scraped.
Roulette, with part of its neck scraped.

The reason you scrape the neck – and I use my thumbnail for this – is to create a better chance for the plant to put roots out once the neck is potted down.

Down on the bench the plant come out of its pot.

Roulette, out of its pot.

You can see that the roots of the plant have grown down through the coarse perlite, looking for water. Next, hold the plant securely as I’m demonstrating (I’m ambidextrous, but mainly I’m left-handed, so I’m holding the plant with my non-dominant hand), and then gently – GENTLY – grab a hold of the coarse perlite with your dominate hand and pull it away from the root ball. You do not reuse this coarse perlite. Toss it out.

Next, see how the top of the potting mix has yellowed? Those are fertilizer salts. You want to remove that portion of the mix. You’ll find that there are generally no roots there.

Roulette, with the neck partially scraped and the old coarse perlite removed.
Roulette, with the neck partially scraped and the old coarse perlite removed.

Here we are, with that top mix removed, and the neck fully scraped.

Roulette with the neck fully scraped and the the old topsoil removed.
Roulette with the neck fully scraped and the the old topsoil removed.

Wash out your pot or get a new one, be sure you have a label – in this case I reused my old one and just added the new potting date.

Roulette's pot, washed and ready to re-use.
Roulette’s pot, washed and ready to re-use.

Next I add a wick, a fresh layer of coarse perlite, and I set the rootball down into the pot. You want the scraped neck to be covered with fresh potting mix. If your neck is still too high you might need to slice off a portion of the root back so that your plant will seat itself well in the pot. Add new potting mix up to the top of the pot. Ensure that the plant is centered in the pot. Do not tamp the potting mix down, rather, water the plant in using your squirt or tattoo wash bottle.

Roulette, repotted and groomed.
Roulette, repotted and groomed.

And, voilà! Twisted leaves are straightening up to fly right. The symmetry is passable, and soon the symmetry will be much better.

Some folks prefer to put a freshly repotted plant under a dome for a day or two – it certainly doesn’t hurt – but when a plant has a well-established root system like Roulette does, I generally just put it back on the shelf and let it acclimate itself and start growing again on its own. In addition, I removed all blossoms and leaves that were no longer necessary, that allows the plant to focus first on establishing itself in its pot. Continued regular grooming and disbudding will then allow it to focus on its foliage.

One thing I did this time, was to put this plant on a lower shelf where I could more easily see it. Previously it was up on a top shelf in the back where I couldn’t see it well. It’s historically been a good show plant for me, and since it has demonstrated the tendency to throw a wonky leaf every now and then, I want to be able to catch it before it becomes a problem.

I hope this tutorial has been helpful for you – feel free to ask questions in the comments, below, or using the Ask Annie choice in the Show ‘n Tell tab here on the website :-)


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