Soil is the center of your plant’s universe: it supplies essential nutrients, retains moisture, permits airflow, and provides stability. Most plants can’t survive without it—including your African violet.
But when it comes to this velvety companion, all potting mixes are not created equally.
Wild African violets are only found in East Africa. They grow in rocky crevices with very little soil, drawing water from the moss around them. In this unique environment, African violets developed roots that thrive in constant, light moisture and need substantial airflow.
The fuzzy African violet on your nightstand is a descendant of the wild variety and needs a similar environment to stay vigorous.
Understanding African Violet Potting Mix
Since it’s not likely you’ll be planting your African violet on any rocky ledges, how do you mimic these conditions in your home? African violets need a potting mix that checks the following boxes:
- The right water retention: always slightly moist, but never damp
- Lightweight and fluffy for proper aeration
- Slightly acidic for optimal nutrient absorption
What’s the difference between African violet potting soil and regular potting soil?
If you have standard potting soil lying around, you may be tempted to use it for your African violet. Beware: This can kill your sensitive plant. That’s because traditional soil is far too dense and retains more moisture than your plant can handle.
An African violet’s soil sensitivity contributes to its finicky reputation, but it will thrive if you meet its specific needs. African violets need special lightweight soil. In fact, many mixes contain no soil at all and are a mix of fluffy and granular organic material.
Hang on to that bag of potting soil, though. It just needs a few extra components to transform into the potting mix African violet dreams are made of (more on that later).
Choosing Your African Violet Potting Mix
There are two ways to obtain the right potting mix for your African violet: you can purchase a premixed specialty blend or make your own! Both options will provide your plant the nourishment it needs to grow; for most plant parents, the right choice is just a matter of personal preference.
A Friendly Tip: Whichever route you take, make sure you moisten the soil before potting.
Commercial African Violet Potting Mix
Buying a specialty African violet potting mix is an easy and convenient option. This approach eliminates guesswork, because it is formulated with African violets in mind. This ensures your plant receives the right mix of nutrients with the proper levels of aeration and moisture retention.
Many people also choose commercial African violet soil to sidestep the time-consuming process of making their own.
Mixing African Violet Potting Mix at Home
Whether you don’t want to buy special soil for each type of plant you own or you just like to get your hands dirty, African violet potting mix is easy to make yourself!
You can opt for either a soilless or soil-based mix; your plant will be happy either way. The Missouri Botanical Garden offers an excellent recipe for each:
Cornell Modified Peat Lite Soilless Mix
- 2 1/4 quarts peat moss
- 1 1/4 quarts vermiculite
- 1 1/4 quarts perlite
- 2 1/2 tablespoons limestone
- 1 1/4 teaspoons superphosphate
African Violet Soil Mix
- 1 part peat moss, humus, or leaf mold
- 1 part garden soil
- 1 part perlite, vermiculite, or sand
Pasteurizing Homemade African Violet Potting Mix
Pasteurizing your mix eliminates any bacteria, plant diseases, insects, or weed seeds hiding in your ingredients. While home pasteurization might sound intimidating, it’s quite easy to do! Here’s how it works:
- Heat your oven to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature will eliminate any unwanted hitchhikers.
- Moisten your soil mixture and spread evenly over a large roasting tray or lipped cookie sheet. If using peat moss, thoroughly wet it before combining it with other ingredients.
- Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes to an hour.
- Monitor the temperature with a cooking thermometer; don’t let it heat above 180 degrees or healthy bacteria will be eliminated as well.
- Remove the tinfoil and set in the open air for at least four days, stirring several times daily to aerate the soil.
Fertilizing Your African Violet Potting Mix
Your plant will deplete nutrients in the soil as it uses them to power growth. Adding a gentle fertilizer monthly will replenish them without burning your plant. Another way to please this sensitive houseplant is to use a urea-free liquid solution every time you water. A 100% water-soluble solution can be added directly to your watering can, bottom watering saucer, or self-watering container.
Since African violets are often bottom watered, they are prone to fertilizer buildup. Every 3 to 4 months, water your plant from the top (avoiding the delicate leaves!) to flush any fertilizer salts accumulated in the soil.
Using African Violet Potting Mix for Other Plants
African violet soil is not suitable for many types of houseplants because it is extremely lightweight and well-aerated. This type of potting mix doesn’t enable the levels of water retention other common plants need to survive.
A few types of plants thrive in lightweight soil and can tolerate higher acidity. These species generally do well in African violet potting mix, and this includes cacti, some species of succulents, and seeds/transplants.
Can I Use Orchid Potting Mix for African Violets? (and Vice Versa)
Although both orchids and African violets require extremely lightweight potting mix, the elements of each species’ preferred soil are too dissimilar to use interchangeably. It’s best to give each delicate companion the exact potting mix they need.
What is your preferred African violet potting mix? Share your success stories and favorite homemade recipes 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!