When properly cared for, African violets can produce cheerful, vibrant blooms nearly year-round. That’s one reason they’re such a popular fixture in indoor gardens worldwide. But to encourage your plant to produce this show-stopping display, you’ll need to make sure it’s happy and healthy.
Mastering African violet care is a little more complicated than it is with other flowering species. That’s why we created the African Violet Resource Center blog. There you’ll find a wealth of resources to nurture this rewarding, quirky houseplant.
Today, we’ll take a look at one of the most important elements of African violet care: providing the right type of pot. We’ll help you understand the unique jungle environment in which these tropical beauties evolved, so you can pick a planter that emulates the conditions for yours to thrive.
Let’s dig a little deeper into African violet pots, and what to look for in the perfect container.
Do African Violets Need a Special Pot?
All the houseplants that adorn our countertops and windowsills evolved in specific natural environments. Throughout thousands of years, they made the most of their surroundings and learned to thrive in the available elements.
As a plant parent, your job is to emulate their natural environment in your home. Houseplants that evolved in desert-like conditions (like cactuses and succulents, for instance) need sandy, dry soil. Other species, like orchids and lilies, prefer a shady den over a sunroom, because they evolved in low-light environments.
African violets evolved in a particularly unique environment: shady, rocky outcrops in the Tanzanian jungle. While you don’t necessarily need a specialty pot, you should choose one that helps you emulate their preferred conditions. This means:
- Absorbing moisture from below: Rocky outcrops provide very little soil for African violets to root into. Instead, these plants cling to the moss growing beneath them, and absorb the moisture their hosts retain from the surrounding environment. That’s why African violets struggle in poor draining containers—it’s too much direct moisture!
- Protection from the sun: The dense jungle canopy provides protection from direct sunlight. That’s why the African violet has an unusual Achilles’ heel: its leaves burn when exposed to sunlight while wet. Most growers minimize burn risk by avoiding top-watering all together, and opting for bottom-watering pots instead.
- Thrive in high humidity: Jungles get steamy, and your African violet likes a little moisture! But since it doesn’t like to get wet, you can’t mist its leaves like other houseplants. This means you need to pick a pot that helps boost humidity in the air around it.
Do African Violets Need to Be Watered From the Bottom?
While there are a few ways to meet all of the evolutionary requirements for a happy houseplant, picking the right container and watering method is key. And in the world of the African violet, bottom-watering reigns supreme.
This technique involves placing your plant into a secondary container of water so it can control the amount of moisture it takes up. This method protects its sensitive leaves, eliminates guesswork, and provides a sweet, sweet moisture boost to the surrounding air.
You can bottom-water with a standard planter by setting it in a tub or sink filled with room-temperature water for 10 to 15 minutes a few times a week. You can also keep it on top of a shallow saucer of water indefinitely, replenishing the water in the saucer as your plant depletes it. Regardless of your approach, make sure to use a planter with a draining hole at the bottom. (Otherwise, your plant has no way to access the water beneath it!)
But we prefer African violet pots that do the work for you. And that’s where self-watering, or sub-irrigating, containers come in.
Meet & Greet: Self-Watering African Violet Pots
A sub-irrigating pot is one that is specially designed for bottom-watering. These containers come in two pieces. The first is a standard container, in which you plant your African violet. The second is a water reservoir that attaches beneath the first.
Self-watering African violet pots are a grower’s best friend! Here’s why:
- Eliminate guesswork: Rather than relying on your best instinct to decide when to water, and how much, your plant can take up the amount of moisture it needs at any point. They’re also low-maintenance; just keep an eye on the reservoir and refill once all the water has been depleted.
- Prevent waterlogging: Bottom-watering keeps your plant’s roots saturated while the surrounding soil stays dry. This is particularly helpful for delicate African violet roots, which can get squished by heavy, wet soil. Plus, traditional watering methods can oversaturate the soil while leaving the root ball thirsty.
- Promote air flow: Roots need air too! And when you water from above, you risk oversaturating the top soil and prohibiting oxygen from reaching the root ball. Self-watering pots let your plant access water from below and air from above.
What to Look for in a Self-Watering African Violet Pot
When it comes to self-watering African violet pots, there are plenty to choose from! Look for these key elements when choosing yours:
- Easy to check reservoir: Pick a pot with a see-through reservoir, or one that is easy to disconnect from the primary container. This makes it easy to take a quick peek and refresh your plant’s water when it’s time for a boost.
- Buffer zone: A well-designed self-watering pot has a separation between the growing medium and the water. This promotes airflow and keeps your plant from getting oversaturated. Yours may come with a wick that sticks into the soil or aeration stones at the bottom of the pot. Or create a DIY buffer zone by laying a few inches of gravel at the bottom of the pot beneath the growing medium.
- The right size: Even the best planter won’t do much good if it’s the wrong size for your plant. African violets bloom best when they’re a little root-bound, so choose a container that’s just a little tight. We recommend one that’s around ⅓ the size of the plant. (In other words, your plant should be about 3x larger than its pot.)
Where to Buy Self-Watering African Violet Pots
Now you know everything about self-watering pots—except where to buy them! Most garden centers, nurseries, and big-box retailers offer these handy containers. And they don’t have to be specifically for African violets, as long as they meet the requirements mentioned above. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Modern African violet pots: For pots with a trendy, cosmopolitan appearance, look no further than retailers like Moma Design Store, Urban Outfitters, and Greenery Unlimited.
- Vintage African violet pots: Etsy specializes in handmade and vintage goods, so log in and browse hundreds of digital shops for a one-of-a-kind planter. Or head to your local antique store—bottom-watering has been around a long time!
- Inexpensive African violet pots: For bottom-watering on a budget, check Target, Walmart, or a community Facebook marketplace for secondhand buys.
Pro-Tips for African Violet Pots & Watering
Whether you’re using a self-watering African violet pot, bottom-watering with another method, or opting to carefully top-water, keep these best practices in mind:
- Focus on the roots: Your primary objective is to get water to the roots while keeping the surrounding area relatively dry. Bottom-watering makes this easy! If you’re using a top-watering method, opt for a skinny-necked watering can to have greater control over water flow and easily get beneath the leaves.
- Use room-temperature water: Cold water can shock your African violet’s delicate roots and create major issues below ground. Always use room-temperature water to avoid upsetting your plant at bathtime.
- Monitor moisture: With a self-watering African violet pot, it’s easy to tell when your plant is ready for a drink—the reservoir is low! If you’re using a different method, utilize a soil meter to monitor moisture levels closer to the root ball.
- Don’t overwater: Wet soil compacts, and can suffocate African violet roots. This can lead to root rot and other complications. So be sure to water regularly, but sparingly.
- Master fertilization: Adequate moisture keeps nutrients flowing from your plant’s soil to its roots. But too little, or too much, fertilizer will complicate the process. Check out our guide to fertilizing African violets for beginner-friendly tips.
What else would you like to know about African violet pots? Start a conversation in the comments below!
Join the African Violet Club!
Whether you’re just starting out or are a seasoned grower, African Violet Resource Center has everything you need to help your plant grow vibrant and strong. Explore our other articles, visit our online shop, and connect with other houseplant lovers in our Facebook group to learn everything you need to know about this rewarding hobby!