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Pot Drainage Holes and How They Protect Your Plants

If you’ve been growing houseplants for any length of time you’ve noticed that some pots come with built-in drainage holes and some don’t. You may be wondering, are pot drainage holes important? We’re here to tell you why plant pots with drainage holes are not only important for your plants, but make taking care of your plants easier.

pot drainage holes

Why are Pot Drainage Holes Important?

With so many types of plant pots to choose from, it’s only natural to ask yourself, “Do houseplants need pots with holes?” The short answer is, yes. Whenever possible, choosing pots with holes for drainage will benefit your plant’s health and longevity. 

When watering plants in pots, it’s often recommended to water until the soil is consistently moist from top to bottom. To achieve this, chances are you’ll pour more water into the pot than the plant needs. A little extra is not a big deal, but a lot of excess water is a problem.

Pot drainage holes allow the soil to expel excess water so your plant’s soil is well-moistened, but does not stay soggy for prolonged periods. A good soil mix, with the proper balance of drainage and organic matter, retains all the moisture it needs. Allowing unneeded water to drain away avoids a host of problems houseplants incur when they sit in soggy soil.

What Happens When You Don’t Use Plant Pots with Drainage?

There are diseases you expose your houseplants to when their soil remains too wet for too long. While some diseases can be treated, if caught early, some diseases spread fast and can prove fatal to your beloved plants.

Root Rot

Root rot is a common disease among a wide variety of houseplants. The disease occurs when soil is not allowed to shed excess water, which invites the formation of soil fungi. These fungi attack the root’s health, causing them to turn dark and mushy. Once affected, the roots can no longer absorb moisture and nutrients your houseplants need to survive. The first signs of root rot are often shriveled leaves, sometimes with a foliage color change to yellow or red. 

Treating root rot depends on how quickly you’ve diagnosed the problem. If caught early, reducing water until the plant can recover may be enough. For more advanced cases, trimming away affected roots and repotting your plant in fresh soil is required. In some cases, where most of the roots have been destroyed, it’s unlikely the plant can be saved. 

Leaf Spot

Foliar leaf spot is another houseplant disease to watch for if you grow your plants without pot drainage holes. While not as common, if the leaves of your plant sit in contact with soggy soil for extended periods, leaf fungus may form. Water-soaked patches, wilting, and black or brown spots on leaves are typical early signs of this disease. If caught early, reducing water, ensuring proper drainage, and pruning of affected leaves is often enough. For more advanced fungal infections, use a houseplant fungicide, as directed, to treat the problem.

Creating Plant Pots with Drainage

Having plant pots with no drainage doesn’t mean you have to throw them away. There are two easy fixes to make your pot more plant-friendly. 

Drill Your Own Plant Pot Holes

Plastic plant pots are easy to convert to pots with proper drainage if you have a simple, handheld drill. This is done on either empty pots, or pots already hosting a houseplant. If the pot is empty, turn the pot upside down and rest it on its top. Use the drill to create three to four, evenly spaced, holes around the bottom of the pot. 

For a pot already holding a plant, this task is easier with two people involved. Have one person hold the pot on an angle, so the bottom is exposed as much as possible but the plant isn’t damaged. The person with the drill then creates the same evenly spaced holes, being careful not to insert the drill bit too deep into the pot and damage the plant’s roots. 

Once you’ve drilled holes into the pot, you’ll need a saucer placed under the pot to catch water as it drains during watering. The extra saucer needed is well worth it for not having to worry about soil fungus and root rot. 

Doubling Up on Decorative Pots

Some decorative pots, due to their material or design, aren’t suitable for drilling. In these cases, you can enjoy the aesthetics of your decorative pot without altering it by doubling up on plant pots. Often, when you buy a plant at the garden center, they come in a grower’s plastic pot with ample drainage at the bottom. Insert the plant, still in its plastic pot, into the decorative pot. 

The unattractive plastic pot is covered by the decorative pot, but you’ll still have the drainage your plant needs. This solution is temporary, as the plant will eventually outgrow its plastic pot, but it’s an instant solution for new plants adapting to their environment. When you’re ready to transplant your plant to a new, permanent pot, consider using self-watering pots that save you time and eliminate over-watering your plants. 

Add a Drainage Layer to Your Plant Pots

Add a Drainage Layer to Your Plant Pots

Another solution to creating plant pots with drainage, without drilling holes, is to make your own drainage within the pot. This method is not as effective as creating your own plant pots with drainage, but it does limit damage to roots. This method also requires the pot to be empty. 

Take small or medium-sized gravel and create a one to two-inch-deep layer at the bottom of the pot. Fill the pot with soil directly on top of the gravel, then place your plant into the pot. The gravel will allow excess water to trickle through gravel, separating it from the soil and the roots. As the plant grows, eventually the roots will grow long enough to reach, and spread throughout, the gravel. While the gravel gives an airy environment for the roots, it’s a good idea to move your plant to a deeper pot once the roots and gravel have met. 

Pot drainage holes are an essential part of protecting your houseplant’s health. Avoiding waterlogged soil is one of the easiest ways to keep serious plant diseases at bay. Whether you opt to purchase only plant pots with drainage, or adapt your current pots, both you and your houseplants will be happier for it. 

Pot Drainage Holes FAQ

How Big Should the Drainage Holes Be?

The size of the holes isn’t as important as the overall drainage. Whether its one, larger hole or several smaller holes, the important factor is that excess water has a a way to drain out of the pot.

Do All Houseplants Need Pots with Holes?

While some plants are more susceptible to the effects of soggy soil than others, all houseplants will benefit from growing in a pot with drainage holes. 

Are There Other Important Factors to Consider When Choosing a Plant Pot?

Another factor to consider is what material your pot is made of. For plants, like succulents, that are more susceptible to root rot, using an unglazed terracotta or clay pot is recommended. These materials naturally wick excess moisture from the soil, further protecting your plant’s roots. 

How Do I Keep Soil From Falling Out of My Pot’s Drainage Hole?

Terracotta pots, that often have one, large drainage holes, soil falling out can be a concern. To reduce soil loss, place a rock or piece of broken pot over the hole. The rock or pot piece should cover the hole but not completely seal it off. Once the pot is filled with soil, it will hold the cover in place but water will still be able to drain out. 

Do Outdoor Pots Also Need Drainage Holes?

The importance of drainage holes for outdoor plants will depend on your area’s climate. In hot and dry climates, being able to retain all the pot’s moisture for longer can be advantageous. On the other hand, in places where heavy rainfall occurs, a lack of drainage can leave your plant’s sitting in soaking-wet soil for days.