How to ensure good drainage in potted plants?


placing clay balls into a clay pot

Good drainage is critical in the survival of potted plants. During watering, these openings ensure that water flows through to the bottom and the excess water drains. Once the water flows down, it leaves room for air which is also essential for root development.

When you have these holes in your container, the plant uses them to benefit the root system. The toots can grow adequately and when without feeling pressured. For this reason, it ensures a strong and healthy root system. They, therefore, make a huge difference in the maintenance of the plant.

Most plants require well-drained soils, with only a few thriving in water-logged soils. The aspect of drainage comes naturally with plants growing on the ground as water can sip through. If your plants required well-drained soils, you need to ensure that the pot you are growing had an effective drainage system. This can be done by creating holes in the bottom of the container.

Indeed poor drainage is the reason why most potted plants are unhealthy or die. This is because water is retained in the soil affecting the ability of the roots to breathe. Plants require respiration: a process that involves the consumption of carbon dioxide and release of oxygen throughout the day, and vice versa at night.

The roots of a plant require to respirate just like the rest of the plant. This air is critical for the plant’s metabolic cellular processes. During the day, plants use carbon dioxide, water, and energy from the sun to manufacture glucose through a process known as photosynthesis. This glucose is necessary as it provides energy for the plant’s growth and development.

The roots drown in the water when the soils are saturated and can’t take up the air as expected. For this reason, they start rotting and die, and so does the plant.

Poor potted plant drainage results in the buildup of salts, damaging the plant roots. In this case, you will almost certainly notice white residue on the soil surface. Whenever this occurs, take action and establish an effective drainage system before the plant dies.

How to improve potted plant drainage

Choice of container to ensure good drainage in potted plants

When growing potted plants, the choice of the container is just as important as the soil type you use. There are certain qualities of the container you need to keep in mind. These include:

The shape of the container

The most commonly used containers for potted plants are circular, square, rectangular, and square-shaped.

If you use a small and shallow container, the plant roots will not get as much air as required. This will be the case regardless of the type of soil you use and how well you try to mix it. This is because there is little room for air for the plant roots.

If you choose a larger container for the same plant, the plant will thrive even with the same amount of soil. This is because the roots have more access to enough air. Also, the drainage system is more favorable for the development of plant roots.

Another reason why you need a larger container for your plants is because it is more stable and doesn’t trip easily from blowing wind or when knocked over. This applies more to plants you place on the balcony or along with the terrace garden.

The material of the container to ensure good drainage in potted plants

There are different types and designs of potted plant containers. The container you use adds to the beauty of the plant. This section will look at the different materials and their ability to drain potted plants. These include plastics, wood, ceramics or terracotta, and glass.

Plastic

Plastics are commonly used due to their availability and low cost. Moreover, these materials are easily molded into different desired shapes. Unfortunately, they don’t make a good choice for planting plants indoors and outdoors.

This is because they are not breathable and don’t drain potted plants. And for this reason, growing a plant in a plastic container despite the type of soil used and the inclusion of breathing holes, the plant roots will not thrive as they should. Moreover, plastic doesn’t allow water to evaporate since it lacks perforations.

Terracotta or ceramics

These materials are some of the best for growing plants. This is because they are both breathable. If you use the material for your plants, the roots will be taking in enough air even with limited circulation. Additionally, the material can drain potted plants.

Metal

Metal is another commonly used material for potted plant containers. Despite being a preferred choice for many, this material is not the best. Like plastics, it doesn’t allow the plant roots to breathe.

Wood

Wood is the best material for planting plants. It has many benefits that make it a favorable choice for your plants. It is breathable and ensures a cool environment for the plant’s roots, even under the sun’s intense heat. Moreover, the material facilitates moisture retention and also helps drain potted plants.

Glass

This is also another excellent material choice for your potted plants. It is elegant and often shaped in a way that allows air to flow in. In fact, the only thing you need to worry about this material is breaking.

Size of container to ensure good drainage in potted plants

The size of the container is crucial when planting potted plants. As you grow your potted plant, consider the size of the plant when mature.

If the container is small, it will restrict the drainage and limit the room for the growth of roots. As a result, the plant will show stunted growth and low productivity.

Smaller containers cause the soils to dry more quickly. As a result, you will have to water the plant more frequently, and if you forget to water, the plant might wilt.

Always choose the container size that matches the size of the plant. If the container is too large, you might be tempted to overwater the plant. And if the drainage is not so good, the plant roots might rot, causing the plant to die.

The recommended size for fast-growing plants is four inches in diameter. For those that grow slowly, it is recommended that you plant them in two-inch diameter containers.

Using Containers Without A Hole to ensure good drainage in potted plants

It would help if you always grew your plants in a container with proper drainage. If the container you are using doesn’t have a drainage hole, try and drill one. Some containers are hard to drill, and in such cases, you can use them in a double potting technique.

The double potting technique is used in decoration, and it applies if the container without holes is big. In this practice, you grow the plant in a smaller container with proper drainage then place it in the larger container without holes. As you do so, ensure that the enormous container is big and deep enough.

When watering the plants, do so away from the larger container and put them back once completely drained. This is a very creative way of potting plants, and it allows you to use any material of choice.

Choice of soil to ensure good drainage in potted plants

red gardening tools

The soil you choose should be appropriate for the plant. Most plants require well-drained soils to flourish. If you use too much clay soil, the plant will retain too much water, which might harm the roots. Even with proper drainage, the soil is likely to block the available drainage causing low levels of air.

How to create properly drained soils for your plants:

Adding compost to your soil before planting will help create a balance in the soil. This is because compost act like a sponge absorbing and releasing the excess water. This is a good property that helps keep the plant just moist even when you apply excess water. If you are using a mixture of clay and compost, the compost creates a balance in the soil’s drainage ability.

Improving the texture of the soil to enhance potted plant’s drainage

If your soil is compact, there are other ways you can enhance the permeability of your soil. You can improve the texture by adding certain components such as aggregates and perlite. Once added to the soil, these materials improve the soil, allowing air to infiltrate through the roots.

The best soils for panting should be loose and fluffy, which should be your goal when blending the soil. Poorly drained soil can be either too permeable like sand or too waterlogged like clay, and the effects on plants include: draining of important nutrients, root suffocation, and sunbaked soils.

Other elements you can add to improve the permeability of the soils include sand, perlite, expanded clay aggregates, compost, and vermiculite.

The use of rocks to drain potted plants

Rocks are not appropriate for improving the drainage of the soil. This is a common practice, more so for potted plants without a drainage system. People who use this technique place the rocks at the bottom of the container, hoping it will act as a water reservoir for the plant roots.

Even when the container has drain holes, placing stones at the bottom will not help much improve the soil’s permeability to water and air.

If you place rocks at the bottom, the roots will go down to the rocks either way, and the water might cause them to rot. As the roots go down, there are no nutrients in the stones. As a result, this technique might affect the health of your plant.

Prevention of root rot in potted plants

As we saw above, root rot occurs due to poor drainage and over-watering of plants. And if the problem is not addressed in good time, the roots die, causing the plant to dry up.

Here are some ways you can prevent root rot in potted plants:

  • Use of containers with proper drainage, and always resist the temptation to pots without drainage holes. If you must use one, only use it for decoration by applying the double potting strategy, we saw above.
  • Avoid overwatering plants by maintaining a watering schedule. The best practice is to water plants when the soil dries up, and water moisten the soil without making it soggy. You can always touch the soil to see the moisture content before watering. In some cases, the topsoil may appear dry while the under layers are moist. You need to scratch the surface and feel the soil texture to see if the plant really needs water.
  • Provide proper aeration by mixing soils as we saw above.
  • You can use mulch also in addition to compost to make the soil more aerated.

Conclusion on how to ensure good drainage in potted plants

Good drainage is critical for the growth and development of healthy plants. This aspect becomes more applicable with potted plants, which require artificial drainage systems. The benefits of good drainage are hard to ignore if you plan on planting potted plants. All in all, the article has covered helpful practices for gardeners which you might want to apply for your potted plants.

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter, and professional gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 46. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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