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Do indoor plants need drainage holes? cactus in clay pot being watered

Do Indoor Plants Need Drainage Holes? Explained For Beginners

If you have a few houseplants lying around in your home and you are a beginner in plant care, you might be wondering what are those tiny holes at the bottom of plant pots?

If drainage holes are such a big deal, why do some pots have them while other don’t?

More importantly, do indoor plants need drainage holes at all?

The short answer is yes, indoor plants need drainage holes. Although there are plants that can survive without any drainage holes, most indoor plants do need them. Drainage holes are extremely important for potted plants because they are the easiest and most effective method to cut down on the possibility of overwatering and keep the soil well drained, thus avoiding root rot. 

Although drainage holes in indoor plants are very important, there are many ways to work around pots that do not have them.

Luckily, I’ve compiled all the answers you need to know to make sure your plants have the best possible opportunity to flourish:

Can Plants Grow In Pots Without Holes?

The truth is that most plants do better when they are planted in well-drained soil.

Indoor plants can grow and even thrive in pots without drainage holes as long as they have proper drainage or receive the right amount of water they need.

In outdoor plants that aren’t planted straight in the soil, drainage holes are necessary because you cannot control the flow of water.

If you find yourself with a pot you love but it does not have any drainage holes, here are your 4 options:

1. Add Drainage Holes Yourself 

Drainage holes can be added to most pots with the proper tools.

Make sure the pot is not likely to break, and you have the proper tools.

Then you can add drainage holes and proceed to use the pot as you desire.

Before you go adding drainage holes yourself, checkout the guide below on how to do it safely!

2. Make the Pot Well-Drained Using Other Methods

Although the best option is to drill drainage holes, if you can’t, stress not! there are other ways you can make pots better drained.

You can make a drainage layer of gravel or stones to the bottom of the pot.

The drainage layer will go up about a fifth of the total height of the pot and then you will cover it completely with soil.

This allows the water to pass through the soil and settle at the bottom of the pot, preventing the soil from getting soggy.

3. Grow Water Loving Plants

There are certain varieties of plants that love water and need a lot of it.

Some plants can even grow without soil because they love water so much.

If you do not have a specific type of plant you wish to grow, consider plants that can grow just in water, such as: Spider Plant, Begonia, Chinese Evergreen, Pothos, Lucky Bamboo, etc.

Just remember to change the water every 3-4 days.

4. Use the Pot for Decoration Only

The easiest way to use a pot that does not have drainage holes is to use it for decoration only, especially if you really like the pot.

You can do this by planting your plants in a smaller pot and placing that pot inside of your decorative pot.

This will allow the plants to get proper drainage while still allowing you to use the pots you like.

Just keep an eye on any residual water that can collect in the decoration pot.

Throw that water away every few days – 1 week to avoid bacteria.

Why Do Some Plant Pots Have No Drainage Holes?

Though it sounds like it would be most logical for all plant pots to have drainage holes, there are two primary reasons why you may find some that do not.

First, it is possible that it is not actually designed to be a plant pot. 

Some things that could be used as pots but are not originally designed as pots include mason jars, vases, and buckets. Just because they weren’t designed as pots does not mean you cannot use them, but you may have to make some modifications.

Second, some pots are designed to sit on stands, hang from ceilings, or even be magnetized to the refrigerator. 

If these pots were designed with drainage holes, every time you watered your plants, you would have a huge mess on your hands.

These pots are commonly used for fake plants or for growing plants in very unconventional places. 

I used them when I experimented with growing plants in the car, click here to check that article out.

Drainage holes are usually preferred, but there are some cases when you do not have them, and that is okay too, as long as you adapt.

How Many Drainage Holes Are Enough?

Although most plant pots come with a standard one-hole right in the middle, it is better if a pot has at least two to four drainage holes. Having more drainage holes insures better drainage and helps the water drain even if one drainage hole gets clogged.

If you are adding drainage holes to a pot that does not have any, or you are concerned that one hole is not enough, you can add more.

For smaller pots, usually with a diameter of less than six inches, you can get away with just having one hole. 

Because the surface area of the pot is not that big, the water should not be able to collect at the far edges of the pot, and one hole should be sufficient.

If you do have a smaller pot with only one hole and you notice that water does not appear to be draining or soil remains too wet, check to make sure the drainage hole is not clogged with debris.

If this happens often, you may want to consider adding more holes.

How Big Do Drainage Holes Need To Be?

Small pots that are less than six inches in diameter can drain properly with a single quarter-inch hole in the center of the pot. For larger pots, you will need multiple half-inch holes, including one hole in the center of the pot and two to three more holes around the edges to ensure proper drainage.

However, regardless of the pot size, if you notice that there are unlevelled areas in the base of the pot where water might collect, you may want to add a hole there to allow the water to drain better.

It won’t hurt to have a few additional extra holes to ensure better drainage in your plant pot.

If you are working with a planter box, make sure to evenly space the half-inch holes all the way across the planter box.

Should You Drill Holes In Your Pots?

If you have pots that you would like to use, you could drill drainage holes in them and use them, but this only works for certain types of pots.

One thing to remember, no matter what type of pot you are drilling holes in, you should always wear safety glasses to protect your eyes.

Plant Pots You Can Drill Holes in

For ceramic, thick glass, terracotta, and clay pots, you must use a diamond drill bit to lower the risk of the pot shattering. 

Before drilling your holes, add a little bit of water to the bottom of the pot where you intend to drill. 

Then start drilling at an angle before straightening up to finish the hole.

Here is exactly how to do it:

Metal pots will need to be drilled with a cobalt steel bit as metal cutting through metal requires extra durability.

Drilling metal pots is significantly easier, you do not need to add water before drilling and there is no danger they will crack, there is no special technique.

However, be careful of the metal shards that are produced when drilling the holes because they can cut you or get into your eyes.

For plastic pots, more often you can add holes with a nail. If the plastic is thicker, you may choose to use an electric drill as well.

Sharp twist bits are best for drilling into plastic.

To summarise, these are the type of  plant pots that you can drill holes in:

  1. Ceramic
  2. Clay
  3. Very thick glass
  4. Terracotta
  5. Clay pots
  6. Metal
  7. Plastic

If you are unsure about drilling holes in any of these pots, it’s best to reach out to a professional or just a handy neighbour.

Plant Pots You Shouldn’t Drill Holes in

If you are working with thin glass pots, it is best not to try to drill holes in them as there is a high risk of the pots shattering and being rendered useless, or worse, you could cut yourself.

There are other ways that you can use these pots, though.

For example, you can use it as a decorative pot with another pot inside that does have drainage holes.

Then when it is time to water plants, you can remove the interior pot, water the plant, and return the plant to the decorative glass pot once the excess water has drained.

Peat-pots are made of something called peat moss which is an organic and biodegradable material.

You do not necessarily need to drill holes in peat-pots because water will drain naturally as it seeps through the pot over time.

The type of pots you shouldn’t drill holes in are:

  1. Thin glass pots
  2. Peat-pots

If you find yourself with any of these pots and you want to throw them away, don’t!

Checkout my article about recycling plant pots and plant soil first.

5 Plants that Don’t Need Drainage Holes

As a general rule, I would recommend indoor plant pots with drainage holes, it just safer that way. 

However, there are plants that can thrive without drainage holes, usually plants that grow in or around water or are naturally from tropical environments.

Other examples are plants that barely need any water, thus the chance of overwatering is slim to none.

Some examples of plants that can grow in pots without drainage holes are:

1. Spider Plant

Spider plants are extremely adaptable and can survive in pretty much any environment. 

You can grow a Spider plant from a single leaf in a glass of water, so they can thrive without any soil at all.

In fact, it is common for people to grow Spider plants in hanging pots without any drainage holes and they are perfectly fine. 

The key of growing a Spider plant in a pot without drainage is to leave the soil to dry out completely between watering it again.

2. Begonia

Begonias are beautiful plants that love water. 

All Begonias grow in soil moist at all times and can grow just in water as long as you change it ever 1-3 days to prevent bacteria. 

The secret of growing a Begonia in a pot without drainage is to let the top half inch of the soil dry out a bit before watering again.

3. Snake Plant

Snake plants are one of the best plants for pots that do not need drainage holes because they are extremely tough plants. 

In fact, they can actually be grown anywhere from water without soil to dry soil and still thrive.

However, they do tend to do better in damp soil rather than water alone.

If you are looking for a beautiful green plant to grow in a pot that you cannot or do not want to add drainage holes too, the Snake Plant is probably one of the best options as it’s very tough to overwater or underwater. 

The key of growing Snake Plants in pots with no holes is to let the top inch of the soil dry before watering again. 

4. Succulent

Succulents are related to cacti.

Traditionally, they are plants that are known for not needing a lot of water because when they are watered, their leaves absorb and store water for extended periods of time.

Though they are more commonly found in drier climates, if planted in pots without drainage holes and watered infrequently, they can thrive.

The most important thing to remember with succulents and water is that less is more.

5. Chinese Evergreen

Chinese evergreens absolutely love water. 

Though there is such a thing as too much water, generally speaking, as long as the water is not sitting on the surface of the soil for extended periods of time, these plants will do quite well in pots without drainage holes.

It is also important to note that as long as the soil is damp, you don’t need to water further. 

Only when the soil has become dry should additional water be added, thus making it easy to avoid overwatering.

3 Plants that Always Need Drainage Holes

The truth is that most plants survive better with soil that is properly drained, and though there are ways to get around the lack of drainage holes, having them is more ideal.

Certain plants, particularly those that are susceptible to overwatering, need drainage holes to survive:

1. Peace Lily

This is a little known fact, but Peace Lilies are much more tolerant of underwatering than overwatering.

The best sign of when a Peace Lily needs more water is when the leaves start drooping slightly. 

Because of this, the Peace Lily doesn’t need a fixed watering schedule and as such, it needs very god drainage to make sure the roots don’t rot in moist soil.

2. Azalea

Azalea plants absolutely hate receiving too much water, and they have difficulty surviving with excessive amounts of water. 

This is particularly true when the soil they are planted in is constantly in a soggy state. 

Because of their low tolerance to overwatering, it is best if they are planted in pots with drainage holes.

3. Yucca

Yucca plants have tough woody stems, and they only require small amounts of water. 

If they are planted in pots without proper drainage, it can cause them to die or rot from overwatering. 

It is best to plant them in a pot with good drainage and water them sparsely.

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