Do Potted Plants Need To Drain? (Drainage Explained)

  • By: Carl Adams
  • Time to read: 6 min.

When planting potted plants as a beginner you might be worried about the container and if it needs drainage holes. In most cases, this will come down to a few different things. You need to understand what type of container you have and what the moisture requirements of your plants are. Let’s take a closer look at potted plant drainage.

Do potted plants need to drain? Potted plants do need to drain. A potted plant that does not have drainage holes can lead to fungus, root rot, and bacteria which will begin to smell. Even plants that love water require drainage, however, you can keep the soil moist through soil mix and frequent watering.

You will find that very few plants like sitting in water, outside of some varieties of aquatic plants. Roots need a little bit of air and loose soil to move through. However, there are still some instances in which you can plant without drainage holes.

The Importance Of Drainage Holes

What happens if you don’t drain plants? If water is unable to drain from potted plants it will prevent aeration and deprive the roots of oxygen, which can lead to issues such as root rot, fungus, bacteria growth, and the buildup of excess salts from using fertilizers.

If you have a potted plant that you occasionally give fertilizer to, then the potting soil will slowly build up salts over time, because salt is a part of many fertilizers.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of drainage holes in potted plants.

Benefits Of Potted Plant Drainage Holes

Moisture Control

To control how much water is in the soil and how wet the soil is, it is important to have drainage holes so that you have no standing water in the container. Drainage holes allow the soil to remain moist without it being soaking wet with standing water, no matter how much water you use.


Drainage holes also allow for aeration in the potting mix and believe it or not, air and oxygen move through the soil. This exchange of oxygen is also beneficial for the roots of the plant and lets the soil remain less dense, making it easier for the roots to move through it.

Bacteria Prevention

Standing water in the container creates an environment that encourages the growth of harmful bacteria. This is anaerobic bacteria that does not need oxygen to grow and can be harmful to your plants leading to root rot and the yellowing of your plants leaves.

Fungus Prevention

In addition to bacteria, standing water in your potted plant can lead to the growth of fungus. When the water is constantly wet, or even moist without being able to begin to dry between waterings it can lead to harmful fungus in your potted plants. Which can lead to a variety of issues for your plants and be hard to get rid of without changing soil and repotting.

Cleanse The Soil

As mentioned earlier, whenever you use fertilizer on your potted plants it adds some salts to the soil. When you have drainage holes it allows those salts to be washed out the bottom of the container. This helps the soil remain balanced and avoids the buildup of anything that can be harmful to your plants.

Using Pots With No Drainage Holes

Can you have potted plants without drainage holes? You can have potted plants without drainage holes, but it’s not ideal. However, if you are willing to take a few extra steps when potting your plant and use a little bit of caution when watering your plant, then you should be able to get by without drainage holes.

You have to consider a lot of factors when trying to decide if your plant can survive without drainage holes. You have to consider how much and how often you will water it, the type of soil you are using, the size of the container, and if you plan on putting any material in the container to provide a drainage base within the container.

How To Plant In A Container Without Drainage Holes

1. Create a drainage layer.

Create a drainage layer in the bottom of your container with landscaping rocks. The thickness of the layer will depend on the size of the container, however, it should generally be one to two inches thick.

2. Add a thin layer of activated charcoal.

On top of the landscaping rock, add a thin layer of activated charcoal. This layer will separate the rock from your potting soil. Charcoal can help absorb excess water and it has properties that make it beneficial against bacteria or fungus that can form in some non-draining containers.

3. Fill the container 1/4 up with a potting mix.

A layer of a potting mix between the drainage base and the bottom of your plant will be beneficial in avoiding issues related to water sitting in the container. In addition, it will help keep your roots from growing directly into the landscaping rocks. The thickness of this layer will depend somewhat on the size of the container and the size of your plant.

4. Place the plant in the container.

Remove the plant from the container it is currently in, and place it down inside of its new container leaving space around the edges to add your potting mix of choice.

5. Finish filling the container with potting mix.

Fill the sides of the container with your potting mix of choice and level the potting mix off across the top of the container. You do not want the soil to be completely loose, it is okay to firm it slightly by pressing on it with hour hands.

6. Water conservatively.

Now that your plant is in its new container without drain holes you want to be careful when watering. When you begin watering your plant it is okay to dig into the soil and see what the moisture content looks like. Keep track of how much water you are adding to the container and then never use more than that amount going forward.

drainage holes for potted plants

Frequently Asked Questions

Should outdoor planters have drainage holes?

Outdoor planters should have drainage holes. Unlike indoor planters, you can not control how much water your outdoor planters will receive if they are located somewhere they can get rainwater. If you get a lot of rain and your planters have no drainage holes, it can be bad for your plants.

Do all plants need a drain hole?

Not all plants need a drain hole. It comes down to a few factors in determining if a plant needs to drain. The type of plant, the container it is in, where it is located and how often the plant will be getting water. If you are not able to cautiously manage how much water the plant receives, then it should have drain holes.

Are pots without holes bad?

Pots located outdoors without drainage holes can be bad. If your plant is located somewhere it can get water from rain, and the potted plant does not have drainage holes, then that is bad. You need to be able to control how much water your plant gets if it cannot drain.

Can plants go in pots without holes?

Plants can go in pots without drainage holes if watered with caution. If you are going to have plants in pots without drainage holes then you must be careful to never leave them in the rain and always keep track of how much and how often you water them.


In conclusion, the drainage requirements of your potted plants depend a lot on how you potted your plants and how cautious you are when watering them.

If you take the time to set up your containers with landscaping rocks and charcoal in the bottom of the container creating a space for excess water to drain while keeping a close watch on how much water you use, then it is likely you can get away without using drainage holes in your potted plants.

It all depends on how much time and effort you want to put into keeping and managing your potted plants.

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