Drainage for potted plants is probably the most underrated aspect of container gardening, and how well you can handle it will ultimately make or break your plant. Provide your container plants with healthy doses of light, air and water and they will do fine in most situations, but if you want your plants to thrive to the fullest, then you also need to make sure their roots are well-watered and aerated.
While drainage in gardening is often defined as water moving across and out of the soil, from the standpoint of your plant’s well-being the trick is to have the plant’s media retain the right amount of water in the process. It’s no good if the roots suffocate either; they will need some air too!
It’s useful to remember that pots and planters aren’t any plant’s natural environment, and that your plants are cut off from a whole range of nutrients and moisture naturally occurring in the ground. Learning to strike the right balance between poor and excessive container drainage means that your plants won’t suffer from root rot or insufficient aeration, and they’ll be free to shine! So here are four essential steps you ought to take to ensure efficient drainage for potted plants.
1. Start with the right planter
Generally speaking, you are advised to purchase a planter that will be proportional in size to the plant itself – but rather than get a pot that’s too small and too shallow for your chosen plant, go ahead and err on the side of caution a little bit. A deeper, taller planter will increase the porosity of your soil or potting mix, meaning that the roots of your plant will be able to get more air.
Interestingly enough, a shallow, wide planter will yield worse results than a tall pot with identical capacity, porosity-wise. When there are more layers of soil or potting mix in a planter, there’s a greater likelihood that the top of your planter will retain some much-needed air when the bottom is saturated with excess water.
Smaller containers, on the other hand, will drain at a much quicker rate, forcing you to water your plant much more often. So do yourself (and your plant) a favor, get a planter that’s relatively large, and let gravity handle the rest.
2. Drill drainage holes in your pot
Still wondering whether your planters should have drainage holes drilled in them? Don’t. Consider it a fact of nature that in the grand majority of cases, your plants will fare much better if you allow excess water to exit the container.
While aquatic plants, as their name suggests, are adapted to living in water environments and can flourish in them, most other plants will suffer from root rot when overwatered. Adequate drainage and proper ventilation are therefore essential for your plants to thrive, and the easiest and most natural way to ensure the soil can release surplus moisture is drilling drainage holes at the bottom of your pot.
How many of them do you actually need? A few drainage holes, or anywhere between three and five, will serve the purpose, so long as the holes are spaced more or less evenly across the base of the planter and they’re around 1/4 inch in diameter. Consider getting a saucer to avoid messy spills or otherwise accommodate for water and dirt flowing out of the container.
3. Use a drainage-friendly potting mix
Natural soil may have worked for plants and trees for countless millennia and yet you’d be mistaken to think the same has to be true for container plants. Roots have unlimited space to develop and branch out in the ground, but that’s obviously not the case when plants are grown in planters. Put some garden dirt into a flower pot and it will soak up the moisture without draining; lack of drainage can then result in your container becoming waterlogged – and for the plant living in it, that’s potentially lethal.
Potting mix, on the other hand, is specifically designed to allow water and air to drain and flow easily, making it a superior choice for container plants. Rather than heavy soil, potting mixes contain lightweight materials such as peat moss, vermiculite and perlite, and to make them even more efficient they’re created to cater to the specific needs of specific plants.
Regardless of their actual composition, they typically come with good porosity – which is to say that they promote root aeration and seed germination, and they also make it easier for new roots to grow. Different kinds of potting mix are readily available at most nurseries and garden centers.
4. Don’t put rocks at the bottom of your planter
Contrary to popular belief, adding rocks, gravel or even pot shards at the bottom of your plant container will not improve the pot’s overall drainage. Many gardeners still labor under the misapprehension that a layer of these objects can store water for the plant’s roots to feed on, and that it somehow makes it easier for water to drain in the case of planters with drainage holes.
In reality, creating a thick layer like that means that you are merely increasing the risk of clogging your pot, waterlogging your plants – and, well, becoming guilty of plantslaughter. Besides, you already know you’re going to need a few drainage holes in your planter, so whatever for would you need that water tank at the pot’s bottom?
Keep it simple instead. A good potting mix is the only thing you’ll ever need to fill your container with – also, or perhaps especially, if you already grow your plant in traditional dirt and you’re looking to make the soil lighter and to avoid root rot.
Drainage made easy
Here at Planters Et Cetera, we believe that drainage for potted plants really isn’t the sort of rocket science it’s sometimes made out to be! Start out with the practical steps above and let us know how it goes for you. And if you feel like you need more reading matter on all things gardening, make sure you also take a look at our introduction to container gardening – complete with our favorite plants and some advice on how to grow them.
Since our fiberglass planters are multi-purpose, they don’t come with any pre-drilled drainage holes. You can either drill these holes yourself with a standard drill (see more information here: Preparing Your Planters – Care, Drainage, and Irrigation), or just request us to drill them for you, at no charge, when you purchase your planters. So go ahead and check out our extensive collection of top-quality fiberglass planters!