Do Indoor Plants Need Drainage?

group of plastic and terracotta plant pots with drain holes

If you are new to growing plants in your home, you may have noticed that some houseplant pots and planters have a small hole in the bottom center. These pots have what is referred to as a drainage hole. They may seem odd and misplaced, but these drainage holes often provide an essential purpose. 

Drainage holes provide a necessary function in preventing the overwatering of indoor plants. Without a drainage hole, water may begin to settle at the bottom of the houseplant pot and drown the plant’s root system. 

Drainage holes help the root system of a houseplant stay properly hydrated with a lower risk of root rot. In the remainder of this article, we’ll discuss the function of drainage holes in planter pots and why indoor plants need drainage to prevent root rot. 

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Do Houseplant Pots Need Drainage Holes?

Most plants need an adequate amount of sunlight and water to thrive. However, it can be difficult to gauge the exact amount of water needed to sustain your plants. Every time a plant takes in excess water that the soil cannot retain, the remaining water tends to pool at the bottom of the planter. 

Drainage holes give this excess water a place to go. If the water remains pooled at the bottom of the planter, it prevents the roots from absorbing the proper amount of air. Wet soil acts as a blocker that can smother the roots of your plant. In turn, a shortage of air can overhydrate the plant’s root system, causing root rot. 

Whether you keep your plants indoors year round, or move your houseplants outside for the summer months, the pot’s drainage holes will help provide indoor plants with adequate drainage and reduce the likelihood of overwatering.

Dangers of Root Rot to Houseplants

In simple terms, root rot is a type of infectious and often chronic disease that affects a plant’s roots. The rot that occurs begins with an organism like a fungus that invades or disrupts the root system. 

The first signs of root rot may be the wilting or yellowing of leaves. If you notice that your plant is changing color or becoming flimsy, check the roots! If water is pooling in the bottom of the planter, immediately remove the plant, and allow the roots to air dry. 

If you suspect the plant has undergone the beginning stages of root rot, you will need to replace the soil and rid the plant of any possible fungal contamination. Fungi are persistent and can live a long time in soil. They tend to gravitate towards moisture, so allow the plant to thoroughly dry before replanting in new soil. 

Shop our favorite indoor plant pots with drainage holes

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How To Provide Drainage for Indoor Plants

The best way to prevent root rot and to allow your plants to flourish is natural drainage. The drainage hole of a pot gives the excess water a natural place to go so that the soil avoids becoming too moist. 

A small hole in the bottom of a pot allows gravity to take over. The soil will absorb the necessary amount of moisture and repel the excess water. That water then slowly gravitates toward the hole to give the roots room to breathe. 

If you have your heart set on a planter without a defined drainage hole, there are a few solutions to echo the effect. You may also consider drilling a small hole in your favorite pot to allow drainage, but you could take advantage of these other techniques: 

Saucers

Whereas outdoor plants may simply drain onto paths or soil, this may not be an option for an indoor plant. Often, drain-friendly pots will come with some type of saucer to contain any mess that may come from excess drainage. 

However, you may want to avoid pots with built-in saucers that have no way of being detached. This gives you no way of dumping any excess moisture and causes the water to build back up into the pot. 

These saucers may come as either internal or external inserts:

  • An internal saucer would be placed just below the soil with space for the water to build below. This method would require daily unpotting and repotting to drain excess water. 
  • External saucers are placed below the plant pot to catch water as it escapes the planter. This planter would require a drainage hole. However, the setup is much easier to maintain.  

For the easy-to-maintain external saucers, we recommend something like this set from TRUEDAYS. The ridges in this saucer allow the water to drain below instead of pooling into the bottom of the planter. 

Pot Liners 

These can be used to protect decorative pots that may not naturally be designed for planting. This concept is often used for larger plants with a heavy need for drainage material. The liners would line the bottom of the soil to take in excess moisture. However, although they absorb the extra moisture, they should be changed often to prevent root rot. 

When looking for a liner best suited for your plants, always choose something breathable over plastic. Plastic has no breathable qualities, and that traps the water in the bottom of the liner. A fabric liner will not need to be changed as often as a plastic option. 

Some liners are also washable and reusable. This fabric option by Hydrofarm is breathable to help with thorough drainage. 

Double Potting

Double potting refers to placing a smaller pot inside of a larger pot, often for aesthetics. The inside pot is usually something plastic and flimsy that wouldn’t necessarily need to withstand outside elements. 

After the plant is potted in the smaller pot, you would then place it in a larger pot with a liner. This liner can act as the only source of drainage, but it should be checked regularly to prevent standing water. 

This method allows you to use decorative pots that have no defined drainage. To prevent standing water, simply lift out the smaller pot, and if water has pooled, allow the pots to drain and dry. 

if you’re worried about the aesthetics of what double potting looks like here’s my fiddle leaf fig.

small fiddle leaf fig in plastic pot inside larger white ceramic pot
Here you can see a small fiddle leaf fig planted in a plastic grower’s pot and placed inside of a white ceramic pot – from up close you can see the inside pot.
small fiddle leaf fig in white ceramic pot
From a distance you can barely see the plastic pot inside of the white ceramic pot. The further away from the pot I am, the less I can see the inside pot.

How To Plant In A Pot Without Drainage Holes

If you have found the perfect pot for your plant and home decor but it doesn’t have drainage holes there are a few things you can do:

Drill your own drainage holes in the pot: Using the proper tools based on what material your pot is made out of, you can create your own drain holes. Follow the steps in this video for an easy DIY project to make your own drainage holes – without breaking your pot.

Drill Drainage Holes in Pots WITHOUT Breaking Them! (Foolproof Method)

Create a drainage layer: Add stones or pebbles to the bottom of the pot to create what is known as a drainage layer. Some people will argue that this method doesn’t actually work. They claim the soil will continue to retain the water rather than allowing it to drain through into the stones but I’ve used this method a few times and have had success. Yes, the water remains in the put but the stones act as a barrier between the excess water and the soil so that the roots are not sitting in water.

Activated charcoal is another great option to place a thin layer in the bottom of your pot as a drainage layer. Activated charcoal is non-toxic, rids the soil of impurities, repels insects and fights against mold and odors.

Water sparingly: If your pot does not have drainage holes, use less water. Instead of providing a good soak, water slowly and ensure that the full top layer is covered evenly. Then allow the water time to soak through to the bottom of the pot. This method comes with the risk of underwatering. Use a moisture meter a few hours following your watering time to know for sure if your plant got enough water or needs more.

Drainage Holes in Indoor Plant Pots vs. Outdoor Plant Pots

Indoor and outdoor plants can both give your home a sense of character. Modern plants often come already planted in pots that do little more than provide aesthetic. Without a proper drainage system, store-bought plants may not make it more than a few months.

  • Outdoor plant pots often come with drainage holes because there is less fear of a mess. This is a great practice as rainwater may overwater your plants beyond your control. The drainage hole in outdoor plant pots helps it survive without the need to replant after each unexpected rain shower. 
  • Indoor plant pots can seem a little more complicated because they don’t always have drainage holes available for this purpose, and those who do not want to have water all over their counters or floors may prefer a planter without holes. 

However, unfortunately, leakage may be a very necessary part of indoor plant cultivating. As mentioned above, excess water needs somewhere to go that will not cause harm to your plants. To cultivate healthy houseplants, find a drainage system that works best for your lifestyle and protects the plants’ root systems. 

In Summary

Drainage holes for your indoor plant pots will make your life much easier. These drainage holes provide a natural exit for the excess water your plant could not absorb. 

Some solutions allow drainage for pots without these holes. However, many of them take a great deal of maintenance, effort, and time. There is little to no guesswork when using a planter that already comes with a drainage hole. 

So, save yourself some stress, and look for planters that have a drainage hole. Your plants will thank you!