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Drainage holes are recommended for most indoor plants because they let the excess water sip out, preventing the problem of overwatering and root rot up to a certain extend. But do all indoor plants need drainage holes? What happens if we keep a plant in a pot without any drainage hole? Let’s find out!
Drainage holes are crucial for most indoor plants as it helps remove excess water, preventing salt and fertilizer buildup and helps with aeration of the soil. Some plants can do well even without drainage holes if you have a light soil mix, and you can water the plant just right.
Most beginners end up overwatering their indoor plants. I did a poll in the community of 1000+ fellow plant owners and found that 78% of people end up exterminating their plant due to overwatering. Thus, using a pot without a drainage hole will only bring that number up.
However, if you have experience of keeping plants and you know exactly how much water the plant needs, then you may succeed in keeping them in small pots without any drainage.
However, it is recommended for most people to have drainage holes in the pot.
But what makes drainage holes so important? I did a thorough study, and here is what I have found out.
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Can indoor plants survive without drainage?
Depending upon the type of plant you choose and how well you water them, your indoor plant will thrive or wilt in a pot with no drainage.
If you can figure out the perfect watering frequency and water them just right so that the roots of the plant don’t stay soaked, then your plant may survive in a pot without any drainage.
However, if you notice that the plant is not growing, the leaves are turning yellow/brown, or the plant is droopy, then check the roots of the plants immediately.
If the roots have turned mushy and brown, then you are probably overwatering them. Repot the plant immediately and let the soil dry out if you want to save the plant from dying.
Why is drainage important for potted plants?
Drainage holes play an essential role in the survival of indoor plants. Let’s go through some of the essential points that make drainage holes so important.
Standing water at the bottom:
Except for some aquatic plants, most indoor plants don’t prefer standing in water.
And when we don’t have drainage holes, what happens is the water from the top layer of the soil evaporates, and the soil feels dry and flaky, but the bottom of the pot is already soaked as excess water didn’t have any escape.
As a result, we add more water by judging through the topsoil, which ends up soaking the entire soil.
The roots of the plant remain wet and start rotting. Bacterial and fungal infections are other common problems you can face when your plant is standing in soggy soil.
Your plants are likely to experience root rot followed by wilting, which ends up annihilating the plant altogether.
No exchange of gases:
As the soil gets water-logged, the air pockets in the soil disappear. As a result, the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide dissolved in the soil gets pretty low.
Most indoor plants need these gases to survive, and when the roots of the plants don’t get access to these, the plant cannot function properly, and it starts wilting.
Studies have found that the roots of the plant need oxygen and carbon dioxide, just like the leaves do. And if we overwater the soil, we will likely drown them.
Salt and fertilizer buildup:
Drainage holes not only help with releasing the excess water in the pot it also helps with the salt and fertilizer buildup in the soil.
If the pot has no drainage holes, the fertilizer and salt from the water will buildup in the soil over time. That can hamper the quality of soil, alter the pH, and damage your plants’ roots.
When the pot has drainage holes, and we water the plant thoroughly, the salt escapes the pot along with excess water. This prevents the buildup in the long run.
But when there is no drainage hole, the salt will buildup, and your plant will start showing some signs like brown tips, stagnant growth, burnt leaves, and crusty white soil.
It is crucial to notice these signs early on and take the necessary action to save your plant from wilting.
What kind of plants don’t need drainage?
A wide range of plants can survive in a pot without any drainage holes. These includes:
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Apart from these, most succulents, cactus, and other small plants can also do well in plants without any drainage. However, not everyone can keep their plants thriving in a no drainage pot.
It is recommended to use an appropriately sized pot with enough drainage holes when you are just getting started with the hobby.
It would be best if you were careful with your plant’s watering when there are no drainage holes. Another crucial aspect is to choose a soil mix that is extremely light and doesn’t hold on to the water for a long period.
The rule of thumb is you should water your plant with half the amount of water as the soil in a pot. For example, if your pot holds two gallons of soil, only use 1/4-1/2 gallon of water.
You should also water the plant when the soil is completely dry. You can use a hygrometer to measure the soil’s moisture and water your plant accordingly.
How do you pot a plant in a pot without drainage?
We all want to use those cute little countertop pots or those jute and fabric pots that look stunning in our space.
But those pots do come with a challenge, and one of them is a lack of drainage holes. Now what I do to tackle the challenge is:
If I am planting succulents and other small plants in small pots that I place in countertops and other spots, then having a pot without drainage holes are really helpful.
These pots prevent water leakage, which makes them an excellent addition to the beauty of the space.
However, the challenge is to keep the plant alive. So for that, you need to keep the following things in mind:
- Use a well-draining mix that is light and doesn’t retain too much moisture.
- Water the plant when the soil is completely dry.
- Only add the required amount of water to drench the soil a little bit, do not make the soil soggy.
- Look for signs of overwatering and underwatering and adjust accordingly.
If I plan to use jute pots, hanging pots, large metal, and ceramic pots, then I usually don’t pot the plant directly.
Instead, I use a smaller plastic pot with drainage, pot the plant in that, and place them in the decorative pot so that the plastic pot is not visible from a distance.
A few things to keep in mind for this setup are:
- Always take the plastic pot to a sink and water the plant, and let the excess water drain out before bringing it back.
- Use a drainage tray whenever possible to collect the excess water.
The third and last way to cut the spill and keep large plants in your living space is by using the double pot method. It’s as simple as it sounds.
Just use two pots, one larger than the other. For example, if you are using one 6″ pot, then use it with one 4″ pot.
Now pot the plant in the smaller pot and take the larger pot and fill it with a few inches of gravel. Put the smaller pot inside the larger pot and make sure the smaller pot has drainage holes and the larger pot doesn’t.
This way, when you water the plant, the excess water will sip out, and the pebbles or gravel will hold on to the water and not let the plant sit on it.
A few things to keep in mind while doing so:
- Always empty the excess water from the larger size pot once in a while.
- Use a well-draining potting mix so that the soil doesn’t hold too much water.
How do I improve the drainage in my pots?
Most people believe that adding a small layer of rocks or gravel at the bottom of the pot helps with the drainage.
However, the reality is far from that. Adding a layer of gravel at the bottom will only make things worse. The soil is more likely to hold on to the water, and as a result, your plants will remain soaked.
A better way to do that is to use well-draining potting soil or adding some coarse sand at the bottom of the pot for drainage.
You can also use some drainage disks to ensure the holes are not clogged with the soil.
Apart from that, adding some perlite and coarse sand in the soil mix can also help with the soil’s drainage. However, don’t add too much sand as it will make the soil compact and less breathable.
Are drainage holes necessary for indoor plants? Yes, drainage holes are crucial for most plant owners. If the pot doesn’t have a drainage hole, then there is a likelihood that most owners will end up with a wilting plant.
Some indoor plants like succulents, cactuses, and other small plants can survive in a pot with no drainage holes.
But one needs to be careful with the soil mix and water to ensure their plants remain healthy and don’t die off. It is recommended for most beginners to use a pot with good drainage.
You can slowly transition to a pot without drainage as you master the art of keeping your plants alive.
Source: University of Illinois