Root Burn is a condition caused by certain types of fertilizers which use a low-grade source of nitrogen called urea. Urea is an inexpensive, non-organic source of nitrogen that is synthesized from natural gas. Though cheap to produce, urea nitrogen is caustic to the tender roots of African Violets. The damage caused by Root Burn stifles the African Violet's ability to properly absorb water and nutrients. While Root Burn probably will not by fatal to your African Violet, it will leave them looking sickly and, in many cases, unable to flower.
Without taking a live sample of the roots and examining them under a microscope, you will not know with certainty that your African Violet is suffering from Root Burn. However, if you have ruled out other causes and have verified that your fertilizer contains urea nitrogen, then the likelihood is considerable that Root Burn is the problem. (Note: Even if you cannot rule out other causes, it is highly recommended that you eliminate your African Violet's exposure to urea nitrogen. In cases where other pathogens or pests have been determined to be at work, Root Burn from urea nitrogen will continue to cause unnecessary stress to your African Violet, thereby diminishing the outlook for a full and timely recovery.)
First, drench the soil with lukewarm water and let drain. This will help leach out any of the urea nitrogen that is causing Root Burn.
Next, switch to a Violet Food that does not contain urea nitrogen. This can be determined by looking at the Guaranteed Analysis on the fertilizer label. Nitrogen sources will be listed first under the Guaranteed Analysis. For standard African Violets (i.e., in 3-inch pot sizes or larger), we recommend using Optimara Violet Food. While it does not contain any urea nitrogen, it is 100 percent water soluble and provides the proper balance of primary and secondary nutrients. For Miniature Violets, you may want to try Optimara Miniature Plant Food. This urea-free fertilizer has a slightly different formulation to accommodate the specific needs of miniatures.
Never use fertilizers which contain urea nitrogen.
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