Anyone use nice ceramic pots without drainage?

green971December 22, 2005

When I opened the post "what are you potting in?" I thought perhaps this was the topic, but it wasn't, so I thought that I would break my lurking habit and ask about this.

I have collected antique planters for years and have always been relatively successful planting my plants in them with out drainage holes, as many don't have them (I also use bisquit jars, chamber pots, red wing crocks etc.) I know that popular opinion says this is a no-no, and every now and then feel a little paranoid about doing this even though I have not had a "plantality" in quite a long time. I did see an instructional post a while back about drilling holes in ceramic with a special bit, but just can't bring myself to do it to pieces that are so old and heirloomy. I feel rather bad sometimes simply putting dirt in some of the nicer china pieces that I have used as planters....but it tends to soak out rather well, so no real harm done.

Does anyone else successfully grow plants in containers without drainage holes? This is a bit of a misery loves company post, but would love some company on this one.

Thanks for all of your insight and input on every-other question I could possibly have, as I always seem to find the answer at this site.

Happy Holidays,


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Hello Sara and welcome..
Yes, planting plants in drain-less pots is a NO-NO, but it depends on YOU. By you I'm speaking of everyone, not you personally..(S)
If one is an obsessive waterer, then I'd say, nope, don't do it..
I have more or less 400 plants, many of which are in ceramic pots w/o drainage, this includes Cactus and Succulents. Some have shards of broken clay, or pebbles on the bottom of the pot, and some just planted w/o anything.
I don't blame you for not wanting to drill holes in antiques. Uh uh.
You have different options. 1.plant directly in the pot. 2. keep plant in its plastic pot, set sheets of styrofoam or pebbles on the bottom then set growing pot on top. 3 is the drilling but I wouldn't do it in case it cracked your pot.
If you keep an eye on the plant, make sure not to overwater, let soil dry completely before watering again, your plant should do fine. Toni

    Bookmark   December 22, 2005 at 2:57PM
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Toni, thank you for your feed back. I am really quite good about not watering if it isn't needed. I live in Montana and we are very dry, arid here. There really is not a lot of humididty in our mountain air, so I really do not have a problem with plants not drying throughly, and I just wait until they are dry to water. Sometimes I do leave the plants in their plastic pots just like you said, (like with large crocks) but other times I don't feel like going out and fitting the right size smaller pot.....I think that I was thinking about no air getting to the roots more than rot from over watering. What do you think of that? Do you have an opinion about roots needing air eventually?
Thanks for your response.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2005 at 4:16PM
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Hi Sara..yes, I believe roots need to breath, so if and when you put a plant in a planter w/o drainage, make sure the plastic pot has at least an inch of open space on either other words, the pot should fit tight.
As for planting directly in a pot, well, this may not work for everyone, but so far these plants are doing fine. And they've been in these pots for yrs. When soil goes down, I add more..
W/my succulents, I let soil get really dry, sometime so much so it
If I could take pics of some of these planters I'd show u what I mean, but you can check out my site and click on succulents..There's plenty of pics w/planters w/o drainage..Toni

    Bookmark   December 22, 2005 at 4:44PM
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weedfree(z5 CO)

I've got a plant in a pot w/out a hole and it's doing fine. I'm just VERY careful about watering.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2005 at 5:00PM
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lunamoon(5 MA)

I have an assortment of plants in pots without drainage holes. I add a layer of pebbles to the bottom of the pot and water carefully. The pebble layer gives any extra water a place to go so the plant doesn't drown. As long as the soil isn't totally saturated there should be enough air in there for the roots to breathe.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2005 at 9:32PM
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There are also plants that don't need drainage holes. Pitcher Plants and Papyrus are two that come to mind. Since you can water these plants until there is water on the surface, it is impossible to overwater. The Papyrus grows fine in standing water. The plants for you, Toni?

    Bookmark   December 22, 2005 at 9:54PM
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Pete, do you mean the Papyrus? Oh don't get me started..LOL. I had one yrs summer I left it outside in a fish did great..but it was hard growing in winter. It grew in a 5 gallon aquarium, and would go dormant in winter, which I don't think is supposed to happen..I like the really think, fuzzy-looking Papyrus..Only had one Pitcher plant and that died after 2 yrs. Same w/a venus fly trap. Pete, do you grow any of the three? If so, how do you care for them? Toni

    Bookmark   December 22, 2005 at 10:24PM
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Toni, your plants are beautiful. I do see that there are those with out drainage. I didn't think about the plants getting oxygen through the soil, but that certainly makes sense. My plants have been in ceramic pots for many years also, but sometimes the doubts creep in, even though I can see that things are fine. I also think that some of the older pots are not glazed the same as new ceramics and have a bit of the same effect as clay pots and absorb some of the excess moisture in the soil - therefore no rotting.
Thank you all for your input. Very reassuring.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2005 at 10:26PM
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Sara, congrats on de-lurking and welcome to the house plants forum! I have done my fair share of drilling holes in crocks. I have never had one crack or break, but I can fully understand not wanting to do this to antiques or really nice pottery. At this time I have a plant in an antique iron kettle. Needless to say I havent drilled holes in To be sure I don't damage the kettle I put the plant in a plastic pot and remove it when it is watering time. My only concern with putting plants in pots without dranige holes is that you can't flush the soil or soak the plant when you accidentaly severly under water it. Otherwise if your plants are doing fine without drainage then keep doing what you have been doing. The plant police are not going to raid your house for not having drainage holes:)
Feel free to check out my photo may even find some plants in there without drain holes:)


    Bookmark   December 23, 2005 at 12:36AM
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Sara, as has been can indeed grow plants successfully in drainless pots....but...for novice gardeners, it is definitely not the most reliable way to grow houseplants.
You must know your plants, their requirements in watering and the soil the plant is in.

It is necessary to realize just where the roots are...about two thirds the way down....and if one were to just see to the surface being dry, that does not speak well of whether the roots need water.

The roots must have a way of deflecting the water something must be put under the roots...under the that water given can drain away and not sit in contact with the roots.
That said, you can get away with the roots sitting in water for only so much time....sooner or later, it'll catch up to your plant....and then ...goodbye plant.

There are steps to avoid the rotting of roots. Spreading charcoal directly over the drainage layer is one way.
Charcoal keeps the soil "sweet" by absorbing any noxiious by-products created in decaying matter in the soil or potting mix. Rotting material is an invite for fungus gnats.

As far as putting a hole into a ceramic pot...that's easy...and does not require a special drill bit....any sharp, small sized drill bit can do the job...if you use care. The small size bit is followed by a slight larger size.....and if necessary...still a larger one.
I've done two or three this past spring...very successfully.

But, where you have a very decorative pot, you certainly don't want to spoil it by making you should then think "sleeve"....put the plant into a pot, that you put it into the decorative one. Still though, the sleeve must have room for the plant to sit above so that it can receive the draining water...and not be in contact with the roots above. The excess water is then dumped from out of it.

There are on the market some very good looking metal pots.....brass, copper, silver or silverplate, pewter, polished steel, iron or aluminum.
There is certain limitations to using these pots. Best used as sleeves...since many of the metals, once given water, will tarnish...or worse...corrode and give to the plant such by-products that come about from such corrosive action. Often they will need cleaning or polishing.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2005 at 2:54PM
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I have several plants in ceramic planters and wall pockets w/o holes, including hoyas, african violets, heart-leaf philodendren and a variegated ivy. I water sparingly but often as I'm in an apartment that's always too warm and the plants dry out quickly. All seem happy, but if any were to start looking bad, I would probably repot them. I too have always felt guilty about this practice. It feels good to let it out:)

    Bookmark   December 25, 2005 at 3:50AM
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jon_d(Northern Calif.)

I had this idea but have never carried it out: When potting up in a container without drainage, put in a plastic straw or two on one side, trimmed to just above the surface.

Then, when you water, you can pour off the excess water, and, hopefully, prevent or slowdown a buildup of salts. In any case, one should consider potting in such a container to be a temporary situation. Repot these plants more often than houseplants in proper containers. How often?, you are thinking.... I don't know--it depends on your water quality and the plant.

I grow plants in terrariums without drainage. In these wide containers I water and then remove the excess by making hole down to the bottom with my finger and then draining all the standing water with a turkey baster. That leaves the media fully saturated but still well aereated. I usually use long fiber moss in terrariums, but a soiless mix without compost works well too, as long as the ingredients are fairly chunky.


    Bookmark   December 26, 2005 at 12:45PM
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I have a few plants in pots like this. One thing I try to do is stick my finger WAY into the soil when watering to make sure it needs it. I know I can't reach all the way down, but it gives me some idea.
Another thing is to make sure to repot often. I do this about once a year. I don't mean putting a plant into a larger container, I mean removing most of the soil from the roots and putting it back into the same pot with fresh potting soil. Good soil will be lighter, less compact and able to bring air to the roots as well as keep moisture pretty evenly distributed throughout.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2006 at 2:44PM
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Green971...all of these plants are living happily in planters without drainholes. They range in age up to over 8 years. They are not typical "houseplants." They stay indoors 24/7, 365 days a year.


    Bookmark   November 15, 2006 at 3:06PM
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