Choosing a good pot and soil is how you lay the groundwork for your African Violet’s growth. Your Saintpaulia will be much easier to care for when you’re not fighting against a poor root environment. This post will explain what your African Violet needs from its potting mix and container.
African Violet soil should allow air and water to flow but hold enough moisture to keep the roots moist. Start with a mix of perlite, vermiculite, and spongy fibers like coir or peat moss. A little compost for nutrients helps too. The best pot for your African Violet will be fairly shallow with good drainage.
You should always be prepared to make adjustments to suit your plant, your location, and your care style. We’ll help you understand how your choice of soil and pot affects your African Violet’s other needs. Once you know that, you’ll be able to adapt on the fly without our help!
What Kind of Soil Do African Violets Like?
When they’re not inside our homes, offices, or greenhouses, African Violets live in the high-altitude rainforests of eastern Africa. They grow in the mossy cracks of rocks, nourished by rain, mist, and rotting bits of other plants.
That’s a pretty far cry from the kind of soil most of us have in our lawns and gardens. Your typical outdoor soil is much too thick for a Saintpaulia. You should always grow your African Violet in a soilless potting mix.
For the sake of convenience, we’ll use the terms “potting mix,” “potting soil”, and just plain “soil” interchangeably. But remember that you should never plant a Saintpaulia in actual garden soil.
What Makes a Good African Violet Soil
What should you look for when you’re picking soil for your Saintpaulia? There are three main factors:
Number 1: Drainage
The biggest risk of using the wrong kind of potting mix is that it may hold too much moisture. When there’s a lot of water in the soil, it fills the tiny holes that normally hold oxygen. This weakens the roots, which need air to breathe, and encourages certain kinds of fungi and bacteria. This leads to a dehydrated plant with rotting roots.
Though we usually call this problem “overwatering”, it often has more to do with the soil than the watering can. It’s hard to avoid a swampy pot when the potting mix is so dense that water can’t escape.
We’re not going to get too deep into the physics of it all, but the basic rule is that soils with smaller particles hold more water. Coarser blends leave bigger gaps for air and allow excess liquid to trickle out faster. Your African Violet needs a soil with decent drainage to live its best life.
Number 2: Retention
African Violets won’t stay healthy if their roots are constantly drying out. Their soil should stay a little bit damp between waterings. This keeps them from getting dehydrated.
That might sound like it’s contradicting everything we just said about drainage. The key is to strike a balance. You don’t want your soil to hold so much liquid that it turns into sludge. And you don’t want all the water to drain away before your African Violet can drink it.
What you’re shooting for is soil that’s around as damp as a mop head you’ve just squeezed out. Obviously, it will be wetter than that right after you water, and drier after sitting for a few days. But keep it as close to that as you can.
Number 3: Support
Saintpaulias have thin, delicate roots. In the wild, they like to anchor onto craggy rocks for support. When there’s nothing to prop up their root systems, they won’t be able to grow to their full potential.
We’re not saying you need to put big rocks in the pot. However, it’s good if the soil includes a bit of grit for your African Violet to cling to.
What To Put in African Violet Potting Mix
I’m a participant in the Amazon associate program which means I’ll earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you) when you buy through some of the links on this website, in which case I thank you.
We’re going to suggest a couple of specific blends for your African Violets a little further down. First, though, we want to explain what each ingredient contributes to the mix. This will make it easier to tweak the formula based on your care approach.
This is a classic base ingredient for potting mixes, and most store-bought blends use a lot of it. It’s good for water retention, and it lowers the pH of the soil, which is good for acid-loving plants like African Violets. However, it has an annoying tendency to become water-repellent if it dries out all the way.
Another water-retentive ingredient that’s light and airy. It’s pH-neutral, and some people consider it more eco-friendly than peat moss. On the other hand, it’s generally more expensive.
Loose, spongy crumbles of organic matter produced by earthworms. It’s good for the soil structure and provides a low, gentle dose of nutrients, reducing the need for fertilizer. It holds quite a bit of moisture, so don’t make it more than 15-20% of your total mix. Also known as worm castings or earthworm compost.
Crushed-up limestone. Provides some calcium and magnesium, but the main purpose is to balance the pH a bit if it’s too acidic due to the peat content.
This crumbly mineral substance can soak up a fair amount of water. But the coarse horticultural-grade kind also leaves space for aeration. It’s a borderline ingredient between the finer materials that provide water retention and the grittier ones that allow drainage.
Perlite is basically a coarser version of vermiculite that’s very useful for boosting the drainage of soil mixes. It’s nice and chunky, giving your Saintpaulia’s roots something to grip.
Big chunks of bark are good for drainage and structure. They’re slightly acidic, too.
This porous rock works a lot like perlite, though it’s heavier. It’s excellent for anchoring delicate roots.
Should You Buy Potting Soil for African Violets?