How to Plant in a Pot Without Drainage Holes

Posted on Jul 22, 2015 in Garden, Nursery | 134 Comments

Some pots have drainage; others do not. It’s a pretty straightforward distinction, and yet that little hole at the bottom of your pot means a world of difference in terms of potting, plant care and maintenance.

We field a lot of questions about how to plant in pots without drainage holes. Some people say not to do it at all, arguing that drainage holes are crucial to plant health. Is it possible to keep your plant in a pot without drainage holes? Our answer is yes, but with caution.

How To Plant in Pots Without Drainage Holes

What is the purpose of a drainage hole? All plants need water to survive. And yet, over-watering is the most common (and perhaps most efficient) way to kill an indoor plant. Drainage holes allow excess water to seep out of pots after watering, ensuring that water does not pool at the base of a pot, helping to protect sensitive roots from rot, fungus and bacteria.

Here are a few things to remember about keeping plants in pots without drainage.

Rules for Planting: Pots Without Drainage Holes

A little bit of water goes a long way

Every drop of water you add to the pot is going to stay in there. Whereas we normally recommend fully saturating a plant, allowing excess water to seep out the bottom, when watering a plant in a pot without drainage, you want to ensure that you water sparingly and slowly, so the water gets evenly distributed through the soil without pooling at the bottom.

Create a drainage layer

A drainage layer is created by adding a medium such as pebbles, stones or pumace to the bottom of a pot before adding soil. Soil particles are very small and tightly packed together, which means that water moves through them quite slowly. On the otherhand, the larger medium used to create a drainage layer have, comparatively a lot more space between them, which allows water to pass through quickly.

Adding a drainage layer allows excess water to get out of the soil more quickly and away from roots before they can be damaged. Though the water is still in the pot, a drainage layer can provide a barrier between too much water and your plant.

How to plant in Pots Without Drainage Holes

Use activated charcoal

We find the best medium for a drainage layer is a product called activated charcoal (we sell it in our shop, and will happily ship you some if you’re not local). Activated charcoal has been heated at high temperatures, which increases its naturally absorptive properties. This means that a layer of activated charcoal at the bottom of your pot is actually able to remove some of that excess water, which makes your plant very happy in the case of over-watering.
Plus, another issue that arises from over-watering is fungal and bacterial disease. Activated charcoal has natural microbial properties, and can help deter those harmful bugs. An added bonus!

Think you over-watered? Tip it over.

Yep – Hold the soil back with your hand, and gently tip your pot to the side (or even invert it, if possible) to allow the excess water to spill out. You can replace any lost soil later.

Don’t get rained on

If you don’t have a drainage hole in your pot, you probably shouldn’t use it for an outdoor plant, unless the plant will be sheltered from rain. You need to micromanage the amount of water going into your pot; if it get’s drenched in a downpour, all could be lost.

Use the right size

More soil means more moisture for longer. We never recommend moving a plant up to a larger pot more than 1 or 2 inches in diameter. This is especially true with no drainage holes, since, without root mass filling your pot, all that soil will stay soggy for even longer, leading to inadvertent over-watering.

If all else fails, repot

You have to listen to your plant. Depending on your space, and your own over-or-under-watering tendencies, your plant may thrive or be miserable in a pot without drainage. If the plant isn’t doing well, gently remove it from the pot and take a look at the roots. Black or brown, mushy roots are a sign of over-watering. Try clipping off any damaged-looking roots, and re-potting the plant in a pot with drainage holes, keeping it just moist until it shows signs of recovery.

Pro-tip: Make it a cachepot

If you’re feeling a bit intimidated about the extra work associated with potting a plant in a pot without drainage, here’s a trick. Find a plastic pot (with drainage holes) that’s just slightly smaller than your planter. Pot your plant into the plastic pot, and then set this inside the planter – if done correctly, the plastic should be hidden, and it will appear as though your plant is potted directly into the planter! You can then take it out to water, and take advantage of the drainage holes in the plastic pot.

Have any advice to share about potting plants with or without drainage holes? Share with us in the comments. Happy planting!

134 Comments

  1. Colonial House of Flowers
    August 3, 2015

    this is exactly what we were looking for!! perfect article. sharing it with our staff, now. 🙂

    Reply
    • Jesse
      August 3, 2015

      So glad you found it helpful! Enjoy!

      Reply
  2. Brittany
    October 14, 2015

    I have been reading that new studies are saying the pebble technique does not work as well as we’d like to think. Have you actually had success using that method?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      October 14, 2015

      Hey Brittany,

      Thanks for your question! Personally, I’ve had success with the pebble method, especially with plants that don’t mind extra moistures (like a begonia or fittonia), or with those that barely need watering at all (like cacti and succulents). In the nursery, we generally recommend using activated charcoal rather than pebbles, as it has natural antimicrobial properties and the ability to soak up some excess water. However, no matter what’s in the bottom of a pot without drainage, if too much water goes into the pot, the plant will be susceptible to root rot. The most important thing is establishing and sticking to an appropriate care regimen, and remembering that with no drainage, the water that goes into the pot stays in the pot.

      Hope this helps!
      Jesse

      Reply
      • Brittany
        October 15, 2015

        Thank you so much for your reply Jesse! This helps tremendously! 🙂

        Reply
    • Richard Barber
      October 21, 2016

      Hi. Yes, a study done in England at Sparsholt Horticultural College found out some info on this, although it is coming at it from a slightly different angle. Often people add pebbles to the bottom of all pots to “improve drainage”. Sparsholt’s study found, however, that drainage is improved when the pebbles – or whatever you’re using to improve drainage – are distributed throughout the medium, ie mixed in with the soil.

      Having said that, the gist of this article on this website isn’t negated as we’re talking about a slightly different issue, ie how to get by with pots without drainage holes.

      I hope that helps and I didn’t muddy up the issue too much.

      Thanks!

      Richard

      Reply
      • Crystal
        August 2, 2017

        Yes that’s how I’ve been doing it and it works just fine.I’m growing succullents in shallow pots with no holes and putting cinders in the soil really helps!!!

        Reply
  3. Sophie
    November 29, 2015

    Hi, thank you for the post…I found it very helpful!! I was wondering if you could tell me the name of the plant in the first photo of this post – the long purple-ish one on the left. I love it!! Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Jesse
      December 3, 2015

      Hey Sophie,

      Glad you enjoyed the post! That plant is a tradescantia species. A number of common varieties go by the name “Wandering Jew”. You can find them at most nurseries. Hope this help!

      Jesse – Pistils Nursery

      Reply
  4. Jon
    December 8, 2015

    Thanks for the article, I’m looking forward to giving this a shot. Any advice about using this technique with vegetables?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      December 9, 2015

      Hey Jon!

      You’re very welcome. Vegetables and indoor plants differ quite a bit in their needs for space and water. If you are going to grow veggies in containers, I’d recommend using one with drainage to be safe.

      Hope this helps,
      Jesse – Pistils Nursery

      Reply
  5. Scott
    December 15, 2015

    The University of Illinois Extension says pebbles in the bottom doesn’t work. I think they called it “shelving,” and said that the water would remain in the soil until complete saturation.

    http://m.extension.illinois.edu/containergardening/choosing_drainage.cfm

    Reply
  6. Scott
    December 15, 2015

    Oh, and apparently the University of Washington Extension too:

    http://homeguides.sfgate.com/plant-pot-holes-41917.html

    Reply
    • Jesse
      December 18, 2015

      Hey Scott,

      Thanks for providing these resources. We definitely agree that planting with drainage is preferrable to pots without it. However, we have had success with the methods described above, especially when activated charcoal is used rather than pebbles, and when watering is done with utmost caution.

      Thanks again!
      Jesse – Pistils Nursery

      Reply
  7. Nadine
    January 12, 2016

    Hi there, fantastic article.
    Is there any situation where you would use activated charcoal in the bottom and then stones/pebbles before adding your medium. I am planning to pot succulents in containers without drainage holes and was considering using sphagnum moss instead of soil. Would it be beneficial to use both the charcoal and the stones in this scenario or is it overkill?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      January 13, 2016

      Hey Nadine,

      Thanks for getting in touch! Succulents grow in rocky soil naturally, so I think that adding a layer of pebbles above the charcoal certainly couldn’t hurt. We don’t have any experience planting sphagnum moss, however. I would imagine that it would retain a lot of moisture. Since succulents are especially prone to over watering, I’d suggest using the moss decoratively on top of the soil, and using a well-draining succulent or cactus soil with plenty of pumice as your primary potting medium.

      Hope this helps!
      Jesse – Pistils Nursery

      Reply
  8. cindy
    January 17, 2016

    Hi,
    Thank you for this article. I have had some luck w the pebble method but am going to try the charcoal method. What is the plant on the lower shelf on the left? It looks great!

    Reply
    • Jesse
      January 18, 2016

      Thanks, Cindy! The plant on the lower left is a Rhipsalis species (there are many – unfortunately I’m unsure of the exact cultivar here).

      Happy planting,
      Jesse – Pistils Nursery

      Reply
  9. Marie
    January 21, 2016

    Thanks, this is exactly what I needed to read. My plants are all dying because of my poor choice of pots!

    Reply
    • Jesse
      January 21, 2016

      So glad you’re finding the blog useful! Best of luck with your plants – hope this helps!
      Jesse

      Reply
  10. Jenny
    January 23, 2016

    I’m trying to find ways to help someone who has huge (10 gallon to 40 gallon) ceramic planters with no holes for drainage —- just a tiny lip at the bottom that doesn’t seem to help drain. Planters are outdoors, so get lots of Florida rain. Plants are all drowning, or not doing well. Owner doesn’t like to maintain plants. Most of the planters are too heavy to even move, much less alter. Am wondering if there is any type of PVC drainage thing that can possibly be inserted into the planter — possibly hooked up to tubing? Any ideas????

    Reply
    • Jesse
      January 25, 2016

      Hey Jenny,

      Hmm – That’s a tricky situation. I’m not aware of any retro-fit options for pots without drainage built in. Many people will drill holes into their pots using a drill bit that is safe for clay, but of course this would require emptying the planters and risk breaking the planters depending on their strength. Short of this, what you could do is not actually plant directly into the planters, but rather into a slightly smaller plastic pot that does have drainage. You could set this inside the larger planter on top of a riser (a few bricks?) so that there is a gap below for excess water to accumulate. This might provide a temporary solution!

      Thanks and hope this helps,
      Jesse

      Reply
      • Daisy
        April 15, 2016

        Thanks for the info on the planters without holes…I’ve been attempting to find a way to use two 3-gal crocks that do not have holes. Would like to have holes drilled in them but am afraid of cracking. In the past did go the route of using a plastic insert which would need tipping to drain off the water and these are too heavy to continue in this manner. Have finally given up on that and this season plan on turning upside down, using as a riser, setting in place with plain side facing out and placing the plastic filled pot on top…making sure it is very full with trailing plants so as not to look skimpy and appearing to be one unit.

        Reply
        • Jesse
          April 18, 2016

          Hey Daisy,

          That sounds like a good solution! There is definitely risk involved in drilling, and so if these pots have sentimental value, it’s certainly better to avoid breaking them. Thanks for the kind words about the post.

          All the best,
          Jesse

          Reply
  11. Wena
    February 2, 2016

    Thank you for sharing this article. This will help me a lot for my next gardening project – succulents for indoor decor.

    Reply
    • Jesse
      February 3, 2016

      Awesome! So glad you found us. Feel free to reach out with questions as you get going on your succulent project.

      Jesse – Pistils Nursery

      Reply
  12. Jo
    February 3, 2016

    Any thoughts on where to find plastic containers to use for a cachepot? I like to leave mine in the containers they are purchased in and then house them in pretty pots because then they are easy to reorganize in pots or pot up as necessary. I just have a hard time finding the plastic containers! No one seems to see the ones similar to the containers plants typically come in from a shop or nursery.

    Any thoughts?

    ps. Love this journal! I found it a few days ago and can’t stop passing it along. So many amazing, helpful tips. Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Jesse
      February 5, 2016

      Hey Jo,

      Thanks for the kind words about the journal! So glad you’re finding it useful. If you have any ideas for content you’d like to see up here, don’t hesitate to let us know!

      Regarding the plastic pots, I’d honestly go to your local nursery and ask to pick through their recycling bin – hah! We go through a ton of them here, as we’re often potting plants up for folks and then just recycle the original containers. I would bet that if you found a nursery that also sells a lot of pottery, you’ll find the discarded plastic pots, too!

      Hope this helps,
      Jesse – Pistils Nursery

      Reply
  13. Maddie
    February 29, 2016

    Hi there! I was curious if a fig tree would make it in a coffee mug without holes for the first few weeks. They obviously grow to be a lot bigger but as of now it’s still very small. This is my first plant and I can already tell it will be challenging to keep it alive!!

    Thank you:)

    Reply
    • Jesse
      February 29, 2016

      Hey Maddie,

      If it’s tiny enough to fit in the coffee cup, it will probably survive as long as it’s just a few weeks. However, this guy really wants to be outdoors with plenty of room to spread its roots, whether in a planter or the ground. If it’s the choice between a coffee mug and a plastic pot with as a temporary home, I’d suggest keeping it in the plastic pot because the drainage is important for this one.

      Best of luck!
      Jesse – Pistils Nursery

      Reply
  14. nancy
    March 6, 2016

    Drilling holes in glass, ceramic or clay pots is very easy. Buy a 1/4″ or smaller core diamond drill bit (about 20$ Cnd). Turn pot upside down on a piece of wood. Mark a spot in the center with a marker. Wet the area…small puddle of water is good as it prevents the drill bit from over heating and cracking your pot. Using your drill fitted with the diamond bit on low setting (not too fast or powerful and NOT on hammer drill mode)….activate the drill and bring it down on an angle to make a small notch in the pot. This helps secure the bit on the pot preventing it from sliding. Gradually straighten the drill while drilling until the drill is going straight down on the pot. IMPORTANT FOR SUCCESS: Let the diamond bit do the work….don’t push hard on the drill. It is a slow process. And add water as needed….you do not want the area to be dry ever. I have done many pots this way and never cracked a single one not even on my very 1st try. For metal or hard plastic pots use a regular drill bit…no water required.

    Reply
    • Jesse
      March 7, 2016

      Thank you for this very detailed and excellent advice about drilling holes in planters! We greatly appreciate the input and agree that having drainage is always the first choice for houseplant success.

      All the best,
      Jesse – Pistils Nursery

      Reply
    • Susie
      May 15, 2016

      Thanks so much for this detailed post! I have a very large expensive pot and I was searching for this info. Thanks for sharing you’re knowledge.

      Reply
      • Jesse
        May 16, 2016

        You’re very welcome! So glad you found it useful.

        Reply
  15. Chelsie
    March 11, 2016

    Loves this helpful article! Can you please elaborate on the types of house plants that would tolerate not having a drainage hole?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      March 22, 2016

      Hey Chelsie,

      Most tropicals that are comfortable being moist, such as fittonia, Syngonium and some ferns, will thrive in these containers. That said, you can technically plant any plant in a pot without drainage, but you just need to exercise extreme caution when watering. Cacti and succulents will only require a tiny amount in this scenario.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  16. Christina Ferguson
    March 15, 2016

    About how much activated charcoal would you recommend? Would you recommend using both pumice and activated charcoal? Thank you.

    Reply
    • Jesse
      March 22, 2016

      We generally recommend about a half inch layer at the bottom of the pot. An additional layer of pumice can be helpful in creating better drainage, especially when planting things like succulents and cacti which are sensitive to moisture.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  17. Vinh
    March 18, 2016

    Thanks fot this cool article, it’s really helpful

    Reply
    • Jesse
      March 22, 2016

      You’re welcome! Glad you found it useful.
      – Jesse

      Reply
  18. Sarah
    March 25, 2016

    Very helpful! Thank you!

    Reply
  19. Tim
    March 27, 2016

    So I have just purchased 6 large outdoor pots.
    They do not have drainage holes.
    The only flowers I put in them are annuals.(I like to change up each year)
    The pots hold a lot of soil.
    2×2 ft diameter pots.
    Do I or do I not make drainage holes?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      March 28, 2016

      Hey Tim,

      It’s a tough call. Personally, I’d put in drainage holes if your plants are going to be outside, unless you stick to bog plants that love being wet all the time. If they can get rained into, you really have no control about how much water gets in which could kill your plants.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  20. Sarah Anderson
    April 1, 2016

    I didn’t know that you could kill a plant due to over watering. That makes sense as to what the drainage holes in plant pots are for now. Maybe I should learn proper watering for my plants so I am able to switch to pots without drain holes.

    Reply
    • Jesse
      April 6, 2016

      Yes, sadly over-watering is the most common cause of houseplant failure. Always err on the side of less – they can recover much more readily from drought than from root rot!

      All the best,
      Jesse – Pistils Nursery

      Reply
  21. Mar
    April 15, 2016

    I have barrels full of dried hickory nuts shells in my yard. They are dried and quartered and look to be a good size for drainage material. What about using them for drainage in the bottom of my planted containers for drainage????? They will eventually break down. Unlike packing peanuts, they are not white and if the pot must eventually be emptied white peanuts will not be flying around everywhere.

    What to to think?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      April 15, 2016

      Sounds like a great organic alternative! The only caveat is that using materials from outside can sometimes invite pests, fungus and other bacteria into your pots. If they truly are dried out I think that will reduce your risk slightly, but it is a possibility.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  22. Robyn
    April 15, 2016

    hi there!

    I found a great macrame hanging planter made of clay. i bought a succulent, string of pearls to put in it, but then discovered the pot does not have a drain hole. would you recommend using the charcoal method? or perhaps just sticking to the little plastic pot it came in? it just doesn’t look very nice, as the clay pot is a shallow little pot and the standard plastic pot it came in is the typical 4 inch size (too high). Also it occurred to me that most hanging planters would not have drain holes for obvious reasons. Advice would be so appreciated. I really want my little planter and pot to do well 🙂

    Reply
    • Jesse
      April 15, 2016

      With string of pearls, I’d keep it in the plastic pot. This plant is VERY sensitive to over watering, and I think that even with the charcoal, a pot without drainage will stay too wet to keep this plant happy. Water infrequently, and give it plenty of nice light!

      Best of luck,
      Jesse

      Reply
  23. Traci
    April 28, 2016

    Hi Jesse! I would love some advice please…for my daughter’s upcoming birthday party, we will be making fairy gardens with her friends for them to take home–I bought plastic containers without drainage holes to minimize the mess. What is the best way to do the fairy gardens in order to keep the containers fairly light, and ensure that the plants survive? Also, I was thinking of having the girls plant pansies, but if you think a different small flower/plant would do better, I would appreciate your expertise! Thank you. 🙂

    Reply
    • Jesse
      May 3, 2016

      Hey Traci,

      I’d just make sure to have a drainage layer of pebbles or charcoal at the bottom of each container so that they are safe from over-watering. Pansies are a good option, but as an annual, they probably will just last for one season. You could use a succulent or other indoor tropical if you want the girls to be able to care for the plants year round indoors!

      Hope this helps and happy gardening,
      Jesse

      Enjoy the

      Reply
  24. Karim
    May 11, 2016

    Hi!
    I’ve loved succulents since I was a child and always wanted to plant as much of them as I can get my hands on. I haven’t bee. Able to do so, since i don’t have my own place yet.
    But recently, my dad gave me a small one as a gift to put on my work desk and it looks great!!!
    I remembered I have a star shaped crystal container (I love stars!) and figured I could pant a few more, also for my desk. Being made of glass, of course, the container has not drainage. I’m literally in the process of planting them and I don’t have activate charcoal – is it really necessary?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      May 16, 2016

      Hey Karim,

      You’ll want to put something at the bottom of the vessel; a layer of pebbles will do if you don’t have charcoal available. Just be extra careful when watering.

      Best of luck with your project!
      Jesse

      Reply
  25. Marcela Gallo
    May 19, 2016

    Hi Jesse,

    This is an incredibly helpful article! Thanks for sharing.
    I have a question you might know the answer to.
    I’ve built several Succulent (open) Terrariums and most of them seem to be doing fine. They are in different types of glass containers. I left one in an office for a friend, and they don’t water it too often. My friend started noticing black spots on the lower levels, where the sand is. This is not the “pretty” mold, all white and fuzzy. But rather it’s the black spots on the walls of the container. Now that I read your article, it could be because it’s a taller Terrarium with lots of soil and layers underneath. I’m pretty sure it had charcoal though.

    Anyway, I’d hate to have this happen to the rest of my Terrariums. Do you know any solutions for this? I’ve heard Hydrogen Peroxide can be good for this kind of problem (?). Thank you in advance for your advice!

    Kind regards,
    Marcela

    Reply
    • Jesse
      May 23, 2016

      Thanks for the kind words, Marcela!

      Hmm. Mold can be tough. Hydrogen peroxide might work. Neem oil is also a natural killer of mold and adding some to your water might help as well. Personally, I’d carefully pull the plants out and recreate the terrarium with fresh materials to be safe. It might be a pain, but it’s probably the best option for your plants! As far as your other terrariums go, if you haven’t seen the problem yet, just be sure that the terrariums are drying out adequately between waterings. When allowed to dry out, the mold will have a much harder time growing.

      Hope this helps!
      Jesse

      Reply
  26. Navneet
    May 22, 2016

    Hi
    I am from India and I love planting succulents. I am planning to use a vintage ceramic tea set to plant some succulents indoor. Since I don’t want to drill holes in the cups, can u advise me on how frequently should I water my succulents (like once a week or once a fortnight)?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      May 23, 2016

      Hey Navneet, great to hear from you! I’d say depending on how hot and sunny it is where you’ll place your succulents, you should plan to water them about every 2 weeks. Just keep in mind that all the water will stay in your pots, so you don’t want it to be too much. If the plants pucker slightly, it means they’re thirsty and you can increase your watering slightly.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  27. Ren
    May 31, 2016

    Basically spent 4 hours yesterday trying to find a solution for drainage in a large 2 ft tall planter (instead of spending that time planting the new plants we bought :(). I must also note that the planters we have are resin and could have easily drilled holes at the bottom of them, however I’m not a fan of the murky yellow water that eventually drains out once it works its way to the bottom – especially onto our floor and next to our patio rug. SO. After much frustration searching I finally came across a product by Bloem called Ups-A-Daisy which is basically an insert that can go into large planters to solve problems like mine. It has pre-drilled holes for drainage, and comes in different diameters (10″ – 18″), and two shapes (square or circular). I ordered 2 square ones and am excited to get them so we can get to planting. I also think I lucked out that my planters have a “lift”/pillar of sorts on the inside/very bottom so that it can hold the insert in place without worry it will eventually collapse down by the weight of the soil. I probably sound like an advertisement, but honestly figured this might be a great solution and alternative to a lot of the suggestions that I read on the internet yesterday, such as rocks, packing peanuts, etc. all of which seem to not be as effective.

    Reply
    • Jesse
      June 3, 2016

      Looks like an awesome product! Thanks for sharing! Best of luck in your planting project.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  28. Shea
    June 12, 2016

    Thanks for the great article! I have a beautiful black metal hanging pot I just purchased and planted creeping Jenny in a few weeks ago. I put a healthy layer of clay pellets at the bottom before planting…and they seem to be ok so far but they aren’t thriving. Also,I had it outside to begin just in case it didnt work,but now I want to bring it inside to enjoy it. My other creeping Jennies are doing great but they are all in pots with drainage. Can I save her?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      July 7, 2016

      Hey Shea,

      Sorry for the delayed response! If the plant has severe root rot, it might not recover. That said, I’d recommend repotting it into a pot with drainage, and seeing how it reacts.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  29. Food Meets Art: An Herbal Ikea DIY – jersey farm to city table
    June 16, 2016

    […] Read up and get some inspiration here and find exactly what you need here.  IKEA has a pretty hefty shipping cost so even though it can be a daunting trip, I opt for saving money… or maybe not because you’re bound to walk out with more than you expected to buy.  When considering where to install your garden, I recommend choosing a wall that gets plenty of sun light.  Also read up on how to pot your plants so they get proper drainage here. […]

    Reply
  30. Sherry
    June 20, 2016

    I live in a 100 year old house. I have a six foot window box that is part of the structure and covered by a layer of stucco. Over time the inside wooden and tin structure has collapsed leaving a 20 inch deep upside down V shaped area that over time has filled with dirt. This does have a drain, however it now also leaks into the wall of the house. To solve this I thought to seal it with a pond liner, (unfortunately covering the current drain) and fill the bottom with an activated charcoal/pumice layer, covered with sphagnum moss and fill it with amended garden soil. I live in Minnesota and need to be concerned by Winter freezing. Do you think this plan would work? Do you have any other possible solutions?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      July 7, 2016

      Hey Sherry,

      Sorry for the delayed response! Unfortunately I don’t have any experience in the situation you’ve described and am not sure what the best solution for you would be. I can imagine that as long as you planted hardy plants in the bed, they would survive the freezing even with the pond liner. Just look up your plant hardiness zone and look for species that are rated at your level or below.

      Hope this helps!
      Jesse

      Jesse

      Reply
  31. DIY Your Own Container Gardens – Poly-World Blog
    June 22, 2016

    […] if your containers don’t have drainage holes (like ours above) you’ll want to add a drainage layer before adding your soil and […]

    Reply
  32. Cindy
    June 23, 2016

    I need to know exactly what is activated charcoal? Is it the stuff used in fish tanks or is it actually charcoal used in a grill. I planted a plant in a clear jar, put the kind of charcoal used in fish tanks, and pebbled on the bottom and still ended up with mold. This charcoal was powdery not chunky. What should I use?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      July 7, 2016

      Hey Cindy,

      Activated charcoal is a form of carbon processed to have small, low-volume pores that increase the surface area available for absorption. I do believe that this is commonly used in fish tanks, but not for a grill. The type that we use is not powdery, though – it’s more like little chips, about .25-.5″ in size. If you search “horticultural charcoal,” you should find it!

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  33. Santiago
    June 23, 2016

    Hi, I would like to know if mini geraniums or babys tear plants can grow w this method…also herbal plants like mint or basil…thank you

    Reply
    • Jesse
      July 7, 2016

      Hey Santiago,

      I’d recommend drainage for the herbs. The other two might work – I haven’t tried these myself, so can’t say for sure how they’ll react. Just be careful not to overwater.

      Thanks!
      Jesse

      Reply
  34. kori
    June 30, 2016

    i am in the process of planting two cati and surrounding them with succuklents in a 3 to 4 inch deep glass bowl for patio table outside , i understand to do a layer of gravel or rock but i bought regular potting soil , will this matter ?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      July 7, 2016

      Hey Kori,

      I’d recommend mixing pumice into your regular potting soil to increase it’s ability to drain. Your cacti and succulents will thank you!

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  35. kori
    June 30, 2016

    the glass bowl is also non draining and is about 12 inches round , i love the look of them and have not took them out of what they were purchased in yet , but am in love with this glass round bowl smaller at base bottom and gets bigger to the 12 inch’s round as it is a deep bowl

    Reply
  36. kori
    June 30, 2016

    if i plant all the way to top rim of glass bowl it is way deeper than the 4 inch … could be almost 6 inch to 8 if planted to tip top of bowl

    Reply
  37. Jaime
    July 9, 2016

    Hi, kind of unrealated question, but can you please tell me the name of the plant in the first picture with dangling purple and green leaves?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      July 11, 2016

      No problem! It’s a tradescantia. There are many different species available – all lovely, some commonly known as “wandering Jew”.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
      • jaime
        July 21, 2016

        thank you thank you!!!! i love it!

        Reply
  38. Michele MacKellar
    July 16, 2016

    I am going to plant my fern In a plastic pot.
    I have drilled a hole, do I need to put a rock in it so the soil doesn’t clot up the hole?
    Or can I just leave the fern in the plastic container it came In and just set in the pot?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      July 18, 2016

      Hey Michele,

      You should be fine without the rocks at the bottom of the pot, but adding them can definitely improve drainage if you’re concerned about the soil staying too soggy. The choice is yours! We usually don’t put rocks at the bottom of pots with drainage holes.

      Hope this helps,
      Jesse

      Reply
  39. Annie S.
    July 20, 2016

    Thank you for this article! I have a very old concrete birdbath I would love to plant in that has no holes and is very crumbly so I do not want to cause it to break.
    You mentioned you have activated charcoal you could ship me?
    Thanks,
    Annie

    Reply
    • Jesse
      July 27, 2016

      Hey Annie,

      Send me an email at shop@pistilsnursery.com and let me know approximately how much charcoal you’d like, as well as your zip code, and I’ll put together a quote for you!

      All the best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  40. abby
    July 29, 2016

    hi – i’m looking for activated charcoal for my plant pots and not seeing it in your shop – could you point me to some? thanks!

    Reply
  41. Emma
    August 5, 2016

    Hi,
    This is really helpful as I have been growing a cutting off a succulent for a while but just waiting for the perfect pot. I found it but it is a teapot and I looked up ways to put holes in. I used a masonry bit like most sites suggested but it didn’t even make a dint as I think the ceramic is just too hard. I might just try potting as you’ve suggested but I wondered if you know of any other way I could maybe get a hole in my teapot?

    Thanks,
    Emma

    Reply
    • Jesse
      August 9, 2016

      Hey Emma,

      Hmm… If the masonry bit didn’t make a dent, I’m not sure I have any other ideas for you to try. You could take it to your local hardware store and consult with someone there about what kind of bit might work for the material?

      Best of luck,
      Jesse

      Reply
  42. Grey
    August 10, 2016

    It’s extremely hot and humid in NYC. My planter is covered in drops of water on the outside. I have not watered my yucca plant in two weeks (it’s doing well). Is the water from the humidity or from the soil inside being wet (even if it looks dry on top and to touch)? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Jesse
      August 15, 2016

      Hmm. Is the planter a porous clay like terracotta? If so, my guess is that the water is coming from the soil. If it’s a glazed pot, it’s probably from the humidity.

      Hope this helps!
      Jesse

      Reply
  43. Sarah
    August 19, 2016

    This was so helpful! I don’t have a green thumb and find that it’s a race to see who can kill a plant first–me or my cats… But I am a pretty decent ceramicists and have been wanting to make some planters and hanging pots for quite awhile now. However, the fact that I didn’t know if a hole at the bottom was necessary or not had made me put it off. I finally decided to look into it and came across this article–I’m off to the studio now, and although I have a lot of other things that are high on my priority list, perhaps I’ll try making a planter at some point today! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Jesse
      August 19, 2016

      Awesome! Happy crafting 🙂

      Reply
  44. Bobbie
    August 20, 2016

    Thanks for this article. I’ve read countless articles on how dangerous it is to use pots without drainage holes, but there are so many pots like this and I always feel limited to a small percentage of the available pots (which is already a pretty small selection where I live). But I’m still curious… what would be a situation where a pot without drainage holes would be preferable in the first place? Specifically, what types of plants were they originally designed for? For me, I think it might be easier to find out which plants “fit” with those pots, rather than trying to adapt them for plants that prefer adequate drainage. I’m sure there wouldn’t be so many on the market if there weren’t also plants they were intended for—I just haven’t yet been able to find the answer to which ones they are. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      August 26, 2016

      Hey Bobbie,

      I’m not sure there would be any plant that would prefer not to have drainage, though some, like fittonia and some ferns, like constant moisture and so tend to fare well without them. There’s always a risk of root rot in a pot without drainage. These tips are for situations like, where you mentioned, you just really love a pot and want to use it with your plant. On the flipside, I consider succulents and cacti decent candidates for no drainage, because, since they don’t want much water to begin with, you can let the pot pretty much dry out between waterings.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  45. Shemaiah
    August 25, 2016

    Hello there!
    I recently became interested in plants and I planted a Haworthia fasciata, it’s a little succulent green zebra plant, in a pot. In this one I didn’t put any pebbles in the pot but it did have drainage holes, the soil is good so it doesn’t get clogged up on the holes. I used to water it often, beginners mistakes, and it started smelling, so I let it dry out. I think it’s growing okay now, I only water it when it’s dry about half a finger deep. (about 3 inches of sand in a pot of about two inches in diameter)
    I planted another one, of the same type, in another clay pot, without drainage holes it’s just starting out, so I can’t say much about it.
    At the bottom, I put some pebbles and some regular charcoal(like the one I would use for braii), will this help? Do you have particular tips for growing succulents without drainage holes?
    If it helps, the new pot is (approximately ) 2 inches high and 6 inches in diameter.

    Reply
    • Jesse
      August 26, 2016

      Hey Shemaiah,

      I’m not sure if the regular charcoal will have quite the same effect as the activated kind. But, with the pebbles and charcoal, you should be okay! Just take care when you water it, because succulents don’t like to stay too wet for too long. Without drainage, all the water is going to stay in the pot, and will take longer to dry out. Water in small increments.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  46. Sophie
    September 3, 2016

    Hi Jesse,

    Great article, I was just wondering what the plant in the first photo in the top right corner is?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      September 19, 2016

      Thanks Sophie! It’s a Euphorbia Trigona.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  47. Erika
    September 13, 2016

    How much charcoal?? This is great, thank you!!!

    Reply
  48. Erika
    September 13, 2016

    How much charcoal? Thank you for these great tips!

    Reply
    • Jesse
      September 19, 2016

      I’d shoot for about 1/3-1/2″ at the base of the pot!
      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  49. Liz
    September 17, 2016

    Nice article. Another great idea I’ds to buy a terra coat pot or just the tray and smash it up. Line the bottom with the broken shards. Also, if you pot has large holes, you can use this method.

    Reply
    • Jesse
      September 19, 2016

      Hey Liz – thanks for sharing this idea! Sounds like a good one.
      Jesse

      Reply
  50. Nikki
    September 23, 2016

    Hello I’ve had my house plant for ten years. It is a regular floagae plant??? It is still in the same non draining pot it I received it in. It just got sick this year. It is yellow and leaves are droopy. 🙁 I don’t want to loose my plant. I moved and I think it doesn’t like it. Also I think my dad watered it too much. Im just trying to figure it out. Should I replant it in a new potter? I love the pot its in. I’m going to get some organic soil to mix in the pot. Would that help. Please help save my plant.

    Reply
    • Jesse
      October 20, 2016

      Hey Nikki,

      If the pot has no drainage, it was most likely over-watered. I’d try repotting in a new container with drainage holes to hopefully allow it to recover. Clip away any roots that look brown or black.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  51. Clara
    October 20, 2016

    Hi, really nice article. I’m writing from Mozambique. I have a balcony that already had built in flower beds without drainage. So it’s I. Possible to turn them over to remove the excess water. Since we have lots of rain in summer I wonder if isn’t better if I put there marginal plants like, papyrus alternifolius and iris pseudacorus, do you think it will work? Or is best to put cacti and succulents?
    So that there is air I was thinking of putting some vertical tubes from the gravel layer to the surface. May be the air will circulate better and I could see if there was to much water…

    Reply
  52. Lorna
    October 21, 2016

    I am wonder if anyone could give me advice – I have a pot that I would like to plant some coleus plants that I have been rooting – I will keep this for indoors over the winter. the pot seems to have a layered bottom – a plastic layer with small holes anwd then the bottom layer underneath but no holes in this. Is it ok to go plant in this without having any drainage from the very bottom?
    I am new to taking care of house plants so not sure of the right way to go.

    Reply
  53. Kay Hawkins
    October 22, 2016

    Thanks so much, Jesse, for your tips about putting only activated charcoal in the bottom of pots without drain holes. I plan to try it when I repot my plants. How deep should the charcoal be? Should it be in pellets or the smaller pieces used for filters? I’ve had great success my first year raising and propagating mini succulents using glass containers and clay pots with the holes plugged. Using a mixture of organic potting soil (sieved to remove large pieces of bark), tiny pebbles, and Perlite, I put an inch or two of rinsed pea pebbles on the bottom, add a thin layer of (aquarium filter) activated charcoal, untreated weed-stop cloth (to prevent the roots growing into the pebbles) and place the potting mixture on top. The plants have thrived outside all summer with judicial watering but yesterday I moved them (all 286 pots!) into the house with T5 grow lights for the winter Watering them this summer was not a problem in hot-hot Alabama (smaller pots had to be lightly watered daily.) However, I’m concerned about the correct amount of water to use with them in the house. Should I go to a weekly schedule for the larger pots (1 quart) and maybe every other day for the tiny pots (1/8 cup) and use half as much water or what? What would you recommend? (Indoor temp will be around 68-70 all winter.) With so much invested, I would be heartbroken if I lost my plants this winter. Thank you so much for your advice about using pots without drain holes. It’s difficult to find good advice for this method. Think of all the water that could be saved if more people were using it!

    Reply
    • Jesse
      January 4, 2017

      Hey Kay,

      Sorry for the delayed response! I hope things are going well. Your set-up is so specific that I’m not sure I can offer any precise advise to you. Generally I’d just say that erring on the side of less water is your safest bet, especially during winter.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  54. Kiran
    November 11, 2016

    Hi,
    I bought some hydrostones from the garden section of our supermarket.. can I use this at the bottom of the pot instead of charcoal? I’m trying to repot my succulents into a good looking , unfortunately hole-less pot.
    Do you recommended I keep the plastic pot inside the second pot??

    Reply
    • Jesse
      January 4, 2017

      Hey Kiran,

      I don’t have any experience with hydrostones and so I can’t say for sure whether these will serve the same function as charcoal. Sorry not to be of further assistance!

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  55. Patty
    November 19, 2016

    I like the idea of the charcoal. How many inches or what percentage of the soil should be charcoal? I was given a cute little container that looks like a pair of rubber rain boots pressed together. It is some sort of ceramic and has NO DRAIN HOLES. Because of it’s odd shape, finding a plastic pot to fit in the odd shaper oval opening is impossible so I thought I would try the charcoal before drilling it. Question is HOW MUCH CHARCOAL/

    Reply
    • Jesse
      January 4, 2017

      Hey Patty,

      You’ll want about 1/2″ of charcoal at the base of the pot, depending on size. You can scale this up a bit for larger pots.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  56. Joy
    December 14, 2016

    Hi,

    Great article. I was wondering what the plant on the top left is.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Jesse
      December 22, 2016

      It’s a tradescantia species! “Wandering Jew” is the nickname given to many members of this genus.

      Reply
  57. Fatema
    December 20, 2016

    Hi, very helpful post. Question, what type of plant is on the top shelf, far left?
    Thank You

    Reply
    • Jesse
      December 22, 2016

      It’s a tradescantia species! “Wandering Jew” is the nickname given to many members of this genus.

      Reply
  58. Stefanie
    January 8, 2017

    Thanks for this great article! I was wondering if you would mind telling me the name of the viney plant in your second photo? I just received one as a gift and have no idea what it is!

    Reply
    • Jesse
      April 24, 2017

      That’s a Hoya obovata!

      Reply
  59. Lucas Harper
    January 13, 2017

    Thanks for the article…. I’m actually looking for information on if I will need to one day drain the pot of old water…. If drainage occurs through the activated charcoal and/or stones it will sit there forever I guess… Is that right? Will ti then need to be emptied one day?

    Thanks for the info!

    Reply
    • Jesse
      April 24, 2017

      Apologies for the delayed response. You’ll want to be sure to water sparingly so that there isn’t a ton of excess water accumulating. It should just be enough to saturate the soil, and then the plants will take care of drinking up the excess! If you happen to over-water, yes – do dump out the excess.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  60. Nat
    February 15, 2017

    Hi, I just got a little succulant for the first time and this article really helped, but I do not know how often to water it and how often to give it sun. If you could just tell me how to do both of those that would be great. Thanks again Nat

    Reply
    • Jesse
      April 24, 2017

      Apologies for the delayed response. How are things going? Lots of sun – as much as you can get – and water once every 2-3 weeks. But not too much!

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  61. Rebecca
    May 10, 2017

    I gave my daughter a gift certicate toward a large ceramic pot without drainage holes that she wants to buy. The supplier suggested same as you but also suggested a piece of burlap to keep the soil washing into the gravel/rocks or activated charcoal. For my smaller pots without drainage, I would just use a coffee filter for that purpose.
    Thanks for this page…I will send a link to my daughter.

    Reply
  62. Joanne Murray
    May 16, 2017

    Can you use dried broken up pieces of pine cones for drainage? I have a hanging pot.

    Reply
  63. seema
    May 18, 2017

    .thanku for the articles explains very well.just one query.???? can I use piece of a sand bricks for instead of using pebbles or charcoal .as that also absorbs the water too

    Reply
  64. Calvin
    May 18, 2017

    I’m trying to figure out the exact type of plant you have pictured above this article, hanging with purple/green leaves! I have one that’s grown from cuttings and I want to know how to best care for it!

    Thanks!

    Reply
  65. Francine
    May 19, 2017

    I didn’t read all the suggestions so somebody may have said this. Drill Holes. It’s how I taught a non-draining pot to drain. Stick a plate, ceramic or plastic under it. I began looking around and decided this was a great idea for other yard items! Have non-water proof plastic deck box, so I drilled holes in the bottom of that … no more water collecting there. My plastic potting table had several recessed areas that collected rain water … drilled ’em. Still have the drill in my hand and looking around!

    Reply
  66. Dan
    May 30, 2017

    Not really a solution to the drainage problem, but a monitoring option. Could I put a PVC tube into the pot so I can monitor the water level and only water when the water level has dropped to the bottom of the pot?

    Reply
  67. MARY
    May 31, 2017

    I was trying to find the link to print this very helpful article, but couldn’t. Will you send it to me? so I can print it for reference in my home?

    Reply
  68. Sherry H
    June 13, 2017

    O’ve been looking for days yo find out ehivh goes in the mo hole planter first, pebbles or charcoal. Even old house plsnts books i gound at thrift store don’t say. But you fid chsrcoal first than pebbles
    I’m using pebbles made for a fish tank
    Couldn’t find tiny pebbles anywhere else. Great onformation here. I must bookmark this.

    Reply
  69. Andrea
    July 21, 2017

    HI, I have a bird’s nest fern in my office that has been doing pretty well in the pot (with drainage) that it came in. The original pot is not very attractive though and I’ve been on the hunt for a new pot for awhile now. I finally found one that I love, but it does not have a drainage hole. Will this type of plant do well in a pot without drainage as long as it is watered sparingly?

    Reply
  70. Creative plant pots
    September 1, 2017

    Perfect article. This is great information. I learned a lot here.

    Reply
  71. Melanie
    September 3, 2017

    I have some small candle jars that have some wax in the bottom still. Would it be bad for me to plants succulents in the jars with the wax still in the bottom? I have dirt to put in on top of the wax. The wax would give some fun color to the bottom of the jar, but I’m not sure if the wax would mess with the drainage or pH of the soil or anything like that.

    Thanks

    Reply
  72. Brian marquez
    September 13, 2017

    Hi everyone another simple thing to do instead of spending too much money, that is if you have a lot of pots with no holes and are for outdoor use. Is simply making holes with a diamond tip drill bit and simply have drainage the natural way. YouTube videos on how to do it as well, simple not hard.

    Reply
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    September 21, 2017

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  74. Jill
    October 19, 2017

    This was so helpful. I never would have a lot of these suggestions. I will be planting them in seasonal or fancy mugs for our church bazaar. I want to be able to let the buyer know how to water their plant. So, thank you for a very informative article.

    Reply
  75. LAURA
    November 29, 2017

    I HAVE AN INDOOR HANGING POT, LINED WITH PLASTIC. MY PLANT IS STARTING TO DIE, AND I AM WONDERING IF IT IS BECAUSE I HAVE NO DRAINAGE HOLES FOR THE WATER TO RUN OUT OF – BUT WITH THAT BEING SAID HOW DO I PUT DRAINAGE HOLES IN AN INDOOR HANGING POT WITHOUT THE WATER RUNNING OUT AND MAKING A MESS ALL OVER THE FLOOR BENEATH?

    Reply

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