Does a pot need to have a drainage hole?

viche(7a MD)March 13, 2007

I know this is probably a dumb question, but I have a smallish potted house plant in a pot that I really didn't want to set in a drainage dish. Someone suggested that I could just fill the bottom of the pot with gravel without even having a drainage hole on the bottom of the pot. Won't this just lead to water collecting in the gravel at the bottom of the pot and then getting nasty. This person said they did it all the time.....

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You don't need a drainage hole, it just makes life a lot easier.

For every good practice there are people doing it 'wrong' and willing to testify how much they like doing things that way and how well it works for them.

I am guilty of that myself in some areas.

All I can say is I don't recommend going without a drainage hole, but you have nothing other than a possibly dead plant to lose by trying it and seeing how it works for you.

If you would like to grow all your plants (or just some) in containers without drainage holes and never have to worry about drainage or excess water again, look into hydroculture. Several folks on the house plant forum use this method and love it.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 5:59PM
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Would you be satisfied with having the plant in a pot with drainage holes sitting in a slightly larger decorative pot without drainage holes? You could take the plant and smaller pot out of the decorative pot, water it, let it drain until no more water comes out, and then set it back in the larger pot.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 10:45PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7're right about the water collecting in the bottom of the container. In such a case, the gravel serves no purpose but to take up valuable soil space. It's sure not providing 'drainage' is it? LOL

I'd suggest that your friend's plants are 'surviving', rather than thriving. Some folks don't know the difference, but I'll bet that you would.

Most people, I think, do what the previous poster suggested: don't use the decorative container as a planter, but as an ornamental sleeve.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2007 at 12:14PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You can make it a little easier to grow in a container without holes if you keep a few tips in mind. Gaining experience at it helps too.

If you stick to plants with less (subcuticular) waxiness in the leaves so that they show wilt easily. You can wait until the first signs of wilt to water. This is a form of stress, and not the best for your plants, but it would certainly be preferred to over-watering. You will quickly establish a water-needs pattern for the planting & learn to water at the approximate onset of wilt.

You can use a wooden probe (sharpen a dowel in a pencil sharpener - don't waste your money on an inexpensive moisture meter) to check for soil moisture. Insert it deep into the pot. If it comes out damp & cool - no need to water. If it comes out dry - water. The human hand cannot detect moisture in soils at levels much below 45% saturation. Only at about 30% saturation, do soils begin holding water so tightly that it is unavailable for assimilation by plants. This allows you about a 15% margin of error.

If you're able to keep from over-watering, it's inevitable that you'll have carbonate and metal salts build-up from irrigation water and any chemical fertilizers you might use. This can create a plasmolic effect that actually "sucks" moisture from roots (reverse osmosis), making it eventually impossible for the plants to absorb water from the salts-laden soil.

I have some penjing plantings that are in shallow trays, some several years old. I use distilled water for irrigation along with a minimal amount of soluble micro-nutrients and fish/seaweed emulsion at every watering while the plantings are actively growing. This eliminates the salt build-up problem.

You certainly CAN do it, but you'll need to be extra attentive if you choose a container w/o drainage.


    Bookmark   March 14, 2007 at 6:26PM
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My sister in law,. when I suggest she should provide drainage holes to her 100 odd plants, she accepts my suggestion and then ....I'm sure....forgets it.
For the most part, she does have most of her plants with saucers under them....but many do not.

She has been gardening for more years than I wish to count...and her plants thrive.

Why....because she knows her plants. She knows how to water, when to water...and when not to water.

I have no idea whether she uses something to take up space below the soil...and the roots. I assume the pot has such.

So do we need drainage holes? You guess.

The sleeve idea....the pot in a pot. Is a good way to have a plant take up a place as a decorative item in a room that one would not like to see a saucer under it.
I have a dracaena in such a pot....a very decorative ceramic holding a large clay. The plant drains well into the ceramic and after watering, waiting for a time, I just dump the drainage. Excellent idea.

Should a plant be in a pot that doesn't have such to gather water below the soil and the roots. I say way.
Such soil will soon be sogging wet at the roots and since the surface will dry out much sooner, more water will be given....and each time, more soppiness results...soon resulting in the death of the plant through rotting of the roots.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2007 at 1:44PM
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