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If you’ve got any idea about houseplants at all, you’ll know that the number two killer of houseplants is overwatering.
Plants don’t like having their roots sat in a pool of water. It doesn’t feel nice. It rots rot and can drown the plant.
With all this being said, I think I can pretty confidently answer the question ‘do houseplants need pots with holes?
Yes. In order to make it as easy as possible for you to keep your plant alive, it’s always best to keep a plant in a pot that has drainage holes in the bottom.
So, why is it so important that pots have drainage holes?
Drainage holes help in the fight against overwatering
If a pot has the no drainage hole, then the water has nowhere to go. It just sits at the bottom of the pot, waiting to pounce on your poor plant’s unsuspecting roots and rot them.
If the pot is terracotta, then the water will evaporate out of the sides of the pot, but it’ll be slow going and still isn’t ideal.
I nearly killed my yucca by planting it in a pot with no drainage hole. When I stuck my moisture probe in there the moisture was wet.
Off the scale wet.
Luckily they managed to dry out, and seem to be recovering (the little one is growing really well, the big one has produced side shoots, but the top leaves are going brown – is this good? Only they know).
Drainage holes make it easier to water plants thoroughly
Watering plants isn’t as easy as just dripping a bit of water on the top of the plant.
In the case of the majority of houseplants, they like a thorough soak and then to left to dry out almost completely. There are exceptions like ferns and peace lilies, but a lot of plants – spider plants, pothos, succulents, cacti, palms, like to be completely drenched and then left to dry out.
They do not like being left with their roots in water. A drainage hole is imperative, because it allows the water to flow through the soil and away. Leave your plant to drain on the draining board and then return them to their spot.
Some plants, like cacti and succulents, are rumoured to barely require watering at all.
All plants need water and light.
What really makes cacti and succulents thrive is a thorough soaking and then to be dried out quickly, so that the soil is moistened thoroughly but isn’t holding much water.
You could go all out and dry your plants (gently) with a hairdryer, but popping them in a sunny spot to air dry works for me.
It can help us see when it’s time to repot
Not many plants enjoy being rootbound.
By rootbound, I mean that the root system is too big for the pot that the plant’s in, and the pot is restricting its growth.
It’s worth knowing that some plants don’t mind being a bit rootbound. Spider plants, asparagus ferns, peace lilies, aloe vera, and Sansevieria are quite happy being snug in their pots, but others don’t like it at all.
One of the main signs that your plant is becoming rootbound is that the roots will start to protrude through the drainage hole that your pot should ideally have.
Although if you leave your plants sitting in water for days at a time, their roots will naturally grow down, so may not need repotting.
Similarly, tall thin plants, like some cacti, will grow a root system to keep them upright (my cactus grew one big root straight down out of the pot – he didn’t need a bigger pot, just a taller, thinner one.
If you notice a rogue root, turn your plant on an angle and gently ease it out of its pot. If you can see a mass of roots that are completely entangled and very little soil, then it’s time to repot.
Do a quick check before you start though, just in case your plant is one of the weirdos that like to be tightly bound.
If you have a plant without a drainage hole, then sometimes a rootbound plant will begin pushing its roots through the surface of the soil.
Fun story (well not fun fun, but you know) – My boyfriend got me a ZZ plant from Sainsbury’s and he picked out the most root bound one because he knew I’d want to save it.
It was so rootbound that the pot was warped and I had to use a knife to get it off. ZZ plant roots are WEIRD.
They’re really tuberous and thick and it was a very odd experience. The plant is repotted in his lovely new pot (terracotta, obvs has a hole in the bottom).
I know everyone says that ZZ plants are great for beginners, and that’s because they ARE.
The tuberous roots mean they’re alright with a bit of over and underwatering, and they’re not that fussy about light. Their leaves are quite waxy and glossy so it’s almost like having a fake plant. I highly recommend.
Do I have a picture of the ZZ plant? Er, kinda. Look in the top right corner of this one – that dark smudge in a terracotta pot is my ZZ plant. I’ve moved them since because I found a brighter spot and whilst they tolerate low light, almost all plants prefer medium to bright indirect light.
Update: here’s a better photo:
Holes allow airflow
Most houseplants don’t like heavy, compacted soil crushing their roots, and having a drainage hole in the bottom of the pot can allow air to flow more freely.
If you notice that your plant’s soil is very compacted there are things you can do:
You can often tell that the soil needs a bit of movement during watering – if the soil takes a while to penetrate (sorry) through the soil, or builds up on the surface and then runs over the sides, then just grab a chopstick or fork or something similar (I use my moisture probe) and poke a few holes in the soil.
Don’t be too aggressive – we’re trying to freshen up the soil here, not disembowel the roots of your plant.
Drainage holes can prevent the buildup of salts in the soil
This is especially important if you’re fertilising your plants.
You should be fertilising your plants (I use an organic seaweed solution), but if you’re new to houseplants, then it’s not usually necessary to add any plant food to your regimen until you’ve had your plant for about a year or so.
To fertilise, add some fertiliser (just a tiny bit) to your water and water your plants, and then follow with some fresh water. The fertiliser I use is linked on my resources page.
If you leave fertiliser touching the roots of your plants, it’s possible that the roots can be burned and damaged by it. Not cool.
Having a drainage hole in your pot means that any excess fertiliser can seep through the bottom of the pot and be washed away by the clean water.
It’s also important to not let your plants sit in a saucer of water that’s already been through the soil – it can’ pick up salts and other nasties on its way through that you don’t want being sucked back up by your plants.
What can you do with your hole-less pots?
Ok, so I hope I’ve made it pretty clear that taking care of your plants will be waaaay easier if they’re potted in pots with drainage holes.
But now what do we do with the hole-less pots we have leftover?
A plant pot is only a pot that some dumbass has put a plant in. Take the plant out, and you have a pot, with a million potential uses. I shall list a few here for your convenience:
- pen/pencil/crayon pot
- Loose change jar
- Hipster mug
- General crap receptacle
Use them as cover pots
This is the method I recommend. Keep your plants in their nursery pots (the plastic pots you buy them in) until they outgrow them. Pop the nursery pot into the hole-less pot and use it to disguise the (usually brown plastic) nursery pot. When it comes to watering, just take it out of the cover pot.
If the nursery pot is far too small for the cover pot, I put a layer of gravel in it until the plant pot fits. If you have a plant that loves moisture, you can put a small amount of water in the bottom of the cover pot to create a bit of humidity.
Drill holes in the bottom of them
Ever gone down a YouTube rabbit hole and ended up watching some old dude drill holes in the bottom of glass pots?
I have, and now I really want one for my orchid.
If you, or anyone in your immediate vicinity, is handy with a drill, you could have a crack at drilling a drainage hole in the bottom of the pot yourself.
There is a chance it might break, so it really depends on the value of the pot and the drill skills you have going on, but the option’s there.
In case anyone’s interested, the reason the dude was drilling holes in glass pots for orchids is that orchids like their roots to be exposed to the light. Those beautiful suckers are practically parasites, and wouldn’t usually root in the soil. Their roots photosynthesize too. Fancy.
Final thoughts on drainage holes in plant pots.
You need them.
If I can give you one tip that will help you in your quest to keep houseplants alive, let it be this one.
It will make it that bit more difficult to overwater them, which will, in turn, attract fewer pests, help prevent root rot, and fungus from growing.
Yes, you can water a hole-less pot and tip the excess water out, but it’s messy, and we don’t like mossy. Get another pot.
I hope this was helpful, let me know in the comments if you have questions!