How to Water an African Violet

Plants need water to absorb nutrients from the soil and to convert light energy into food. A common way people kill African Violets is by misjudging their watering needs. In this post, I explore 3 methods for watering your plants and some watering tips for growing happy, healthy violets.  

How Much Water Does an African Violet Need?

  • A average-sized African Violet plant will probably need watering once a week if your humidity is fairly standard (20 – 40%) and your room temperatures are comfortable (17 – 25 degrees C). 
  • However, individual growing factors apply. In warmer weather and lower humidity levels, your plant may need watering more frequently. At higher humidity levels and cooler temperatures, your plant will need less water.
  • Avoid letting your pot dry out completely, this will damage and potentially kill the roots. It can also cause your potting mix to become hydrophobic (resist re-wetting)
  • Similarly, avoid overwatering your plant. This common mistake can cause rotting of the roots and crowns and the rapid death of your plant.
African Violet dying from over watering
African Violet suffering from crown rot. Over-watering is a common cause
Root Rot
African violet suffering root rot. Drying out, overwatering or fluctuating between too much and too little water can cause

Tip

If you accidentally over-water your plant and the pot feels too heavy, sit it on a couple sheets of absorbent paper tower for 20-30 minutes

Knowing When to Water

If you know how to read the signs, your plant will tell you when it needs water

  • Assess the middle leaves of the plant. If they appear firm, crisp and shiny your plant doesn’t need water. However, if the leaves are slightly droopy, dull, and limp, your plant probably needs water
  • Pick up your pot and assess its weight.  If you do this on a few occasions, both when the plant is on the drier side and after it has just been watered, you will soon get a feel for what is normal. If the pot feels on the lighter side, then your plant needs water. 
  •  Gently push your finger into the potting mix about 1.5 centimetres deep. If the mix feels damp and sticks to your fingers, then the plant does not need water. 

Prepare Your Water

  • Cold water can shock the roots of African Violet plants, ensure your water is at room temperature or slightly warm (tepid)
  • Water can be left in a bucket for 24 – 48 hours to age which will allow it to come to room temperature and for chlorine to evaporate
  • If your local water source is heavy in chlorine and chloramines, you can use aquarium water conditioner to neutralise these. Just a couple of drops in your bucket.
  • It’s best to fertilise plants little and often. African violets can be fed every time you water using fertiliser at half to quarter strength
Aquarium Water Conditioner
Aquarium water conditioner neutralises chlorine and chloramines
African Violet fertiliser
African Violet fertiliser

How to water your African Violet

  • Three techniques commonly used for watering African Violet are (1) top down, (2) bottom up, and (3) wick watering
  • Regardless of the method you use, all African Violets benefit from a top down water a few times a year to flush  any build up of fertiliser salts in the mix

1

Water from the top

  • Only water the potting mix and not the leaves, crown or flowers. Cold water on the plant leaves can cause marking. If you accidentally spill water on the plant crown, dry it with tissue or paper towel
  •  If needed you can gently push a leaf to the side to get access to the potting mix
  • To control water flow, use a bottle with a narrow spout or turkey baster 
  • Keep watering until the water starts to drip out the bottom drainage holes
  • Allow the plant to sit for a few minutes
  • Discard any excess, runoff water
My favourite method for top watering African Violets is to use a plastic 1-litre squeezable sauce bottle
turkey baster
A turkey baster can get water between the leaves easily and allows you to measure water quantity
Watering can with a narrow spout will help you water around the leaves

2

Water from the bottom

  • Watering from the bottom is super convenient and avoids the possibility of spilling water over the leaves or crown of the plant. 
  • This method is suitable if you have a limited collection of plants
  • If your pots are sitting in a saucer, fill this with water so the water level sits about 2 centimetres up the pot. Alternatively, fill your sink (or a tray) with water.
  •  Allow the pot to sit in the water for about 20 minutes. You should see the water level go down and the top of your potting mix become moist. 
  • If the pot won’t absorb water, then it’s possible the mix has dried out completely and  become hydrophobic. If this happens, you’ll need to top water using a soil surfactant (such as Wettasoil) 
Violets in sink with water

3

Wick watering

  • Wick-watering is a modified hydroponic system that keeps your plant constantly supplied with water
  • This method is most convenient when you have a collection of plants and if you are not good at remembering to water your plants.   
  • Wick watering allows you to: (1) constantly feed the plants at a dilute strength of fertiliser, (2) water less frequently, since the watering happens on autopilot, (3) be gone sometimes
  •  In my experience plants under artificial lights grow faster and bloom bountifully using the wick method
  • Wick watering also has some drawbacks. It’s easy to forget your plants, and pests/diseases can escape your attention when you’re not regularly picking up your plant and inspecting it
  • This method tends to keep the mix wetter, so it requires a potting mix that is very light and open to prevent the roots or crown rotting. To achieve this, extra perlite must be added to the mix
  •  A wick is usually added at the time of potting up your plant. However, they can be added later to established plants, just a little more fiddly. 
  • Cut a 7 to 10cm length of polyester or nylon string (or acrylic knitting yarn). Wet the wick, then poke it through the drainage hole in your pot so that about 2cm is inside the pot and the remainder hangs out the bottom of the pot. Add mix and pot up your plant the usual way. 
  • Water your plant from the top until water is running both out the drainage holes and off the wick. 
  • Allow your plant to drain for 30 mins. Then, sit it on top of a a container of water. The wick should be touching the water but the water should not tough the bottom of the pot. 
  • Several types of water containers are possible, including jars, plastic food containers, communal trays or self-watering (water well) pots
  • For more information and instructions see my post on wick watering step by step instructions
Plants wick watering in jars
Plants wick watering on individual water reservoirs
Plants wick watering on communal tray
Group of plants wick wating from communal trays (shared water reservoirs)
Ceramic African Violet Pot

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