FAQ - Pots


Question: I have several self watering pots that worked fine for awhile but when I repotted the violets, I cleaned the pot with water/bleach and now they won't work. Is there anything I can do to make the pots work again? What mineral deposit is clogging it? Are there any products I can soak it in to dissolve it or would that hurt the violet when I replant it?

Answer: Soaking it in a vinegar solution for several days to dissolve the mineral (lime is a common mineral that clogs the pores) and then in distilled water for several days to remove the acidity should help. You can test to see if they are working by laying a dry sheet of paper towel inside the empty pots that are set into their reservoir pots. The toweling should be moist in a matter of hours. Sometimes these pots just harden up and never recover. Rather than buying more of the ceramic pots, I would suggest that you look into Dandy pots which are made of plastic and available from a number of vendors. These seem to work well and last longer. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork 

Question: I planted my African violet in a "Self Watering" pot. Would this work? It seems that leaves are getting droopy.

Answer: First of all, if you just transplanted your African violet in the last two to seven days, it is not uncommon for the leaves to droop, especially if you disturbed the roots. Usually the leaves rebound after a couple of days. If the violet was transplanted more than a week ago, you may have a faulty pot. Not all of the self-watering pots function properly. Feel the soil. If it feels dry, the pot may not be allowing enough water to seep into the soil. If it feels wet, then the pot may be allowing too much water to seep in and the droopy leaves may be an indication that the roots are beginning to rot. If the pot is not functioning properly, you may need to remove the violet from the pot and start over using a different pot, following the directions found in the article on repotting on this web site. If you had a wet pot, pay particular attention to step 4 in the directions which deal with how to remove rotted sections of the plant. The self-watering pots can and do work, however I am not crazy about them because of their unreliability. There is also a problem with fertilizer salts building up in the soil as time passes, and few people realize that they must transplant once a year to get rid of the salts. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: I was told years ago that African violets do best in plastic pots, rather than clay. Is this still true? Other than the "self watering" is there a recommended pot. My plants which are over 25 years old have been doing ok in the plastic, but I always get nervous when it comes to transplanting; because of the question of the size of the pot.

Answer: Most growers favor plastic pots for a number of reasons: 1) Constant water methods (wicking or capillary matting) work best with plastic pots. Clay pots allow too much evaporation and become covered with mineral deposit very quickly. Sometimes the soil will go dry at the top of a wick-watered clay pot, probably because the moisture is evaporating out the sides. 2) Plastic pots are more easily available in smaller and more squatty sizes. Violets seem to bloom best in pots that are about one-third the diameter of the leaves, and the roots do not extend much beyond two or three inches below the surface of the soil. 3) Plastic pots are less expensive to buy and easier to clean for reuse than clay pots. 4) The biggest problem with plastic pots is the sharp rim that cut leaves that rested on the rim. That can be resolved by selecting only pots which were designed with rolled edges. Clay pots seem to accumulate salts in the rim which burns leaves that come in contact. Now there are times when a clay pot is desirable-- most especially in hot climates or greenhouse growing. The evaporation from the clay works as a cooling device and actually keeps the roots cooler. Since many growers are in climate-controlled environments, this feature seems to be less important these days. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: Please help. May have been using self watering pots incorrectly. Is the reservoir to be filled enough for water to come in contact with porous bottom of flower pot? Or is the water there merely to provide humidity that is somehow absorbed through the porous bottom of the flower pots?

Answer: I think you are referring to the double ceramic pots that have an inside pot with an unglazed bottom to absorb water. If so, the bottom of the inside pot must be in contact with the water in order for water to move through the clay into the potting mix. If it has not been in contact with the water, the soil has probably become extremely dry. If it has been in contact, but the soil is terribly wet, it may be the pot's fault. These pots are sometimes unpredictable and can allow too much water or not enough water to move through. What sort of symptoms are you seeing? I'll be happy to analyze and suggest how to correct the problem. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork 

Question: I have several African violets, and I have some now that are growing from cuttings from the original violets. Is it possible to plant them in a group in one pot? How close together should they be if I do this? I have also thought of taking the pot and putting larger rocks between the plants underground, so as to make it physically as if they were in multiple pots, while all being in the same container. is this necessary?

Answer: It is definitely possible to plant violets together in one pot, but we generally discourage you from doing so. This is because of three important facts: 1) When violets are getting enough light to bloom, the leaves will grow horizontally. 2) The roots will always be approximately 1/3 the diameter of the foliage. 3) Violets tend to bloom best when the roots are confined. It is rather difficult to confine the roots when the leaves are pushing into one another. The result of doing this is likely to be tangled leaves and lack of bloom, neither of which is desirable. On the other hand, you might have success putting large rocks in the soil to create planting pockets throughout the pot. I have sunk pots into planters that contained other green plants with some success. It still isn't ideal for the long run, but you could definitely achieve an interesting landscape by doing so. Make sure that you provide adequate drainage and use a light porous potting mix. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: What exactly should one look for in a ceramic self-watering pot. I recently received one as a gift and the inner pot has a hole in the bottom. Is this standard?

Answer: It isn't standard to have a hole in the bottom but it is, in my opinion, better. Because there is a hole, you must not allow the water in the outside container to actually touch the bottom of the inside pot... doing so would overwhelm the roots with water and soon result in rot. Instead, you must insert a wick made of a man-made material such as nylon or acrylic (yarn works well). The potting mix and the wick must both be wet when to poke it through for it to work properly. The wick should go all the way through the potting mix and dangle all the way to the bottom of the outside container. Keep water in the bottom container at all times. You may add a bit of fertilizer to the water. Why do I think this is better? Because you will be able to water from the top occasionally to leach out the excess salts that build up in the soil. You will not have to repot as often because of this and your violet is more likely to thrive. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: How do the self watering pots work?

Answer: There are several several types of self-watering pots and different ways to self-water. 1) The two-piece ceramic violet pots commonly found at discount stores work by allowing water to seep through the unglazed part of the inside pot. They may work well, but many growers find that the rate of seepage varies and some plants get too wet while others are too dry. In addition, these pots lack drainage holes, which means that salts can not be leached out of the potting mix and you must repot at least yearly to replace the mix. 2) Wick watering is a second method. Self-watering pots that have a wicking reservoir (Dandy Pots or Volkmann Bros. Reservoir Wick Pot) are most commonly found online. Similar systems can be improvised at home using a plastic tub with a lid (with a hole cut in the lid) or screening placed over a tray of water. In these, the pot is placed above a reservoir of water with a nylon or acrylic cord dangling from the pot into the water. The potting mix must be quite porous (1 part each of sphagnum peat, vermiculite and perlite is recommended) so as to avoid over-saturated soil which can result in rot. These can be watered from the top on occasion to leach out salts. 3) Some growers like a method of capillary mat watering. Here the pots (again filled with a porous potting mix) are set onto a thick absorbent mat that is saturated with water in a tray. The water makes contact with the bottom of the pot but doesn't inundate the roots. 4) A fourth method is the Oyama pots or Texas watering. This is a method of planting using a thick layer of perlite at the bottom of the pot through which water can flow without overwhelming the roots. Each grower has to decide which method fits their personal style and budget. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

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