This post shares tips about how to plant in pots without drainage holes. If you like it, you’ll love a roundup of my 15 DIY planters to help you decorate with plants!
How to plant in pots without drainage holes
Hello hello, and welcome to a post all about how to plant in pots without drainage holes. This should be a short and easy post, but you know, it’s about plants. So I’m going to make it much longer and more detailed than necessary because I can talk for hours about plants.
I also have a lot of thoughts on the topic of how to plant in pots without drainage holes, and those thoughts have evolved over the years. And it’s a somewhat controversial topic! So let’s jump in.
Are pots without drainage holes bad?
Yes and no. There’s a reason that when you buy plants at a nursery, they almost always come in pots with drainage holes. Root rot from overwatering is probably the #1 houseplant killer, especially for new plant lovers. Planting in a pot with a drainage hole is one of the key ways to help prevent overwatering and root rot.
Many plant pots that are designed to hold plants have built-in drainage in either the bottom or the sides. Drainage is critical for many plants because you don’t want the water puddling in the bottom of your planter, causing problems and making for some unhappy, water-logged plant roots.
Think about it—in nature, the plants aren’t in enclosed spaces like pots. They are watered by rain, and then they dry out between mother nature’s waterings. You want to mimic that same environment for your houseplants.
What can I do with pots without drainage holes?
You can still use them! Check out my posts about how to drill drainage holes in ceramic planters and concrete planters. It’s super easy. If you don’t have a drainage saucer, you can water plants in the sink, let the water drain fully out the bottom, and then set the pot on something like a cork landing pad.
You can also find a plastic nursery pot that has holes in the bottom and stick them right inside a pretty planter that doesn’t have drainage holes. But this isn’t always practical because you have to find just the right size plastic pot to fit comfortably inside of the pot you’re looking to fill.
But although having drainage holes is the best option, it isn’t always practical. You might want to upcycle something into a planter that isn’t meant to be one.
I like to use a lot of things that aren’t meant to be planters. Some of these include my DIY stainless steel bowl hanging planter, an old candle holder turned into a planter, a tea tin turned into a tiny planter, a DIY teacup cactus planter, and more. So here’s a solution.
So here’s what you need to plant in pots without drainage holes:
- Pebbles, small rocks, or perlite; grab them outside or pick up a cheap bag from the dollar store
- Coffee filters, the number depends on how big your pot is
And here’s how to add drainage into a planter!
Step 1: Grab the rocks or perlite
Dump a layer of pebble, rocks, or perlite into your planter. I use perlite more these days because it’s super cheap and lightweight. And I always have it on hand. This is also a great option for hanging planters because perlite doesn’t add nearly as much weight as rocks do.
However, these pictures show small pebbles because that’s what I had on hand when I was planting this pothos and throwing this planter together. Just keep weight in mind 🙂
Step 2: Add a coffee filter on top
Add a coffee filter on top. The coffee filter will obviously break down over time, and that’s fine. I use the coffee filter initially just to prevent too much soil getting packed down into the rocks. And I also think it helps to provide a barrier for the roots as the plant is growing. This is just a temporary measure to keep things tidy.
Step 3: Add soil and plant!
Add a layer of soil appropriate for your plant, pop the plant in, and then fill the soil in around the plant. It’s usually going to be a well-draining houseplant or succulent soil to facilitate water flow, and also because I don’t recommend using this method for any plant that is too finicky.
There you have it, a planter with drainage. Since there’s only a small reservoir for water to go, you have to be extra careful not to overwater these plants. Keep that in mind.
Okay but, other websites say it’s bad to add rocks to the bottom of planters…
I mean…it’s not the best solution. I’m not going to lie. It’s always best to plant in pots with drainage holes, and not having drainage holes means that you definitely run the risk of overwatering if you’re not careful. But I have several plants that have lived very happily for years in pots and planters that don’t have any drainage holes.
I have seen a ton of websites and blogs recently crapping all over adding rocks or perlite to the bottom of planters. But I gotta say, I think people get a bit too bent out of shape about it. Here are a few of my plants that are living very happily in planters and pots without drainage holes!
What plants do well without drainage?
I mentioned earlier that I wouldn’t use the rock/perlite drainage method on just any plant. It’s usually best for plants with low water needs—and honestly plants that are overall pretty low maintenance. Here are a few plants that do well without drainage for those reasons:
- Succulents (I also have a post all about how to plant succulents in pots without drainage, but it’s basically the same method I outlined in this post)
- Snake plants
- Chinese evergreen
- Spider plant
- ZZ plant
- Dumb cane
I have some of these plants currently planted in pots without drainage holes. I also have a fiddle leaf fig, a few hoyas, a heart-leaf philodendron, scindapsus pictus exotica, and a euphorbia trigona. Some of those it’s probably better to have drainage for, but they are doing so well in their current pots that I don’t want to disturb them until they really need repotted!