African violets resemble certain plants from succulent family (such as Kalanchoes), but they are not succulents. They come from Africa, just like many succulent do, but their natural habitat is completely different. These beauties are native to tropical areas of Tanzania and Kenya, that means regions with high humidity and rainfall, which is an exact opposite to a typical dry semi-desert and desert native land of succulents. But what soil is good for these plants. And can you plant them in a soil mix branded as “succulent soil”?
The answer isn’t that straightforward, because you can get various “succulent soil mixes” in the store. Before we dive into details, let me give you a quick answer though: As a rule of a thumb, you should not use a typical succulent soil mix for African violets. They need a soil that holds moisture, soil with little drainage. And that’s not something you look for with succulents. Thing are never black and white though…
Some succulent soil mixes contain a lot of peat moss–which is good for African violets
You can find dozens of products branded as “succulent soil mix” on Amazon. If you go trough them one by one, however, you will realize something: they differ in ingredients, sometimes significantly. For example, you can find soil mixes branded as “succulent and cacti soil mix” that contain up to 50% of peat moss. We have a great article online about peat moss for succulents, but you do not need to read it now to get the main point: Peat moss retains moisture. That’s actually terrible for succulents, but great for African violet.
The point I try to come to here is that while a great succulent soil mix isn’t good for African violets, most commercially sold succulent soil mixes aren’t that great, and actually will fit other plants better–for example African violets. In my opinion, a soil mix that contains 50% of peat moss and 50% of inorganic material (think coarse sand, pumice, perlite, coco coir, etc) will work great for African violet. And it doesn’t matter how do they brand it.
You can always improve your succulent soil to make it fitting for African violets
Maybe you bought a big pack of succulent soil, and still have half of it left in your garage. Now you are hooked with African violets, but do not feel like buying another big sack of special soil, just to leave half of it in your garage again. There’s not space anyway, and you do not want to throw money away. I have good news for you: you can always adjust your succulent soil to meet the needs of African violets. And it is no rocket science.
Just make sure to add enough peat moss (or similar material, such as high quality compost soil, ideally one from your own garden) to the mix, so organic material accounts for 50% of the soil at least. The rest does not matter much. Be it coarse sand, perlite, pumice, or even Vermiculite (producers really put a variety of things in a “succulent soil mix”), African violets will be just fine with any of these materials.
Fertilization and frequent watering is another option, though I do not recommend it
If you decide to plant your African violets in a gritty succulent soil mix with just about 20% of organic material (or perhaps you already did so, and are reading this post a bit too late), you do not have to panic. Of course, you can always repot your plants–won’t be neither the first time nor the last time. But you have also a work-around you can apply here.
Planted in soil that lacks the required nutrient content, you can make sure your violets get what they need, fertilizing them with a specialized fertilizer, such as this one from Amazon. You can also water your plants more often, making sure they get the desired humidity and moisture of the soil. Having said that, this isn’t an ideal solution.
First of all, fertilizers for African violets are not cheap, and the more you use them the less economical the growing becomes. But I also believe that we should aim for simplicity in life. And ideal setup for African violet (or for any other plant) is the one that requires as little attention from our side as possible. That’s why it makes sense planting African violets in a soil mix fitting for their needs, so you do not have to remember to fertilize and water them often.
As you can see, a black and white answer to the question “Is succulent soil good for African violets?” does not exist. You can buy many products branded as “succulent soil mix” online or offline, and some of them may actually have good proportion of organic and inorganic materials for African violets. Such products aren’t actually good for succulents, but that isn’t your problem in this case :). Good luck with your plants!
May also interest you: Are LECA balls good for succulents?