Drainage For Potted Plants: The Ultimate Guide

Several plants in terracotta pots placed on the steps of stairs

New gardeners would often purchase a potted plant, and sometimes the plant would die, and people would say ‘’I just don’t have a green thumb’’. I, too, was like this at first, and after almost five years of gardening full-time, I can guarantee you: we all have green thumbs!

However, potted plants are incredibly misunderstood at times. They aren’t complicated, they simply need to have three things: good drainage, great soil, and water.

Outdoor plants? Indoor plants? It does not matter. You need to understand how to properly drain your pots in any situation.

Here’s everything you need to know about drainage for potted plants and how to offer your plant the best life it could have:

Importance of assuring a good planter drainage

There are many different types of pots to satisfy every gardener’s needs. From the materials to the shapes and sizes, there’s always a pot for you to choose from.

Yet, choosing the right pot can be a challenge in itself. You must focus not only on the pot’s style but also on the drainage system the pot has.

Drainage for potted plants is crucial especially if you are growing indoors and want to maximize your harvest.

But why is the drainage for potted plants important? Having the right drainage will allow your plants to keep their roots dry but it’ll also allow them to drain any excess water you may have fed them.

Whenever we feed our plants water excessively, all this water will welcome fungal diseases or attract pests that could harm the plants.

Think of the pot as an extension of your plant; this way, you’ll create a healthy environment for your plant to thrive.

What to use for drainage in pots

If you are like me and love thrifting for ideas and spending as little money as possible, then consider recycling the materials you’ll use to help you drain the excess water away from the pots.

Coffee filters are relatively inexpensive, and they are great for filtering water. I have also used shredded paper to help drain the water inside a pot; although, I’d only use this if the plant is only ornamental and not edible.

This is because the shredded paper I used had ink all over it, which is something we don’t want to consume.

Pot liners are also a great material to add inside the pot, especially if you use pots that are not meant to have drainage holes for potted plants.

These liners tend to absorb the moisture that comes into the pot; yet, they will often need to be replaced each week, more or less. If you don’t, your plants could ultimately get root rot.

Try to find a reusable pot liner. You will need to wash it after each use, but you’ll save so much money compared to a plastic pot liner.

Best container for plants


Our Pick

A great option for anyone looking for thicker and sturdier saucers that can hold heavy pots. This package of 6 will help you with multiple plants.

The manufacturer addresses potential transportation damage and has customer service that is available to help quickly.

A good, solid choice for anyone looking for a set of plastic plant saucers.

Pots with saucers are great as they offer a drain solution for gardeners. A saucer is similar to a plate or bowl and goes to the bottom of the pot.

However, make sure you choose a saucer that can be easily detached. Some saucers are built-in; thus, you may not be able to control the soil’s moisture or how well water is draining.

Built-in saucers also retain water, which is precisely the opposite of what you want or your plants need!

Clay pots

Our Pick

A great option for anyone looking for small clay pots for a variety of different plants, like herbs, succulents, small cactus, flowers and more.

Top-quality clay and come with saucers.

Durable product, crack resistant and lightweight.

This is a good choice for anyone looking for small clay planters that promote healthy plant growth.

Personally speaking, I love clay pots! Not only do they look beautiful in any garden (or indoors), but as their name suggests, they are also made of a very natural and earthy material: clay.

Precisely because of their material, I think clay pots can retain and release moisture as necessary. Thus, even though they will drain water, they will also keep the soil moist as long as possible.

Clay pots are relatively more expensive than other containers, but they are worth the price, especially if you would like to avoid plastic as much as possible.

Plastic pots

Our Pick

This is a great set for indoor and outdoor small to medium-sized home/office plants.

15 durable plastic pots with a multi-hole design for proper drainage.

4 colors are available, allowing you to decorate your windowsill, desktop, shelf, balcony, living room, kitchen, garden, office, etc.

This type of pot is not only affordable but is also very versatile, especially when it comes to drainage holes and sizes.

Plastic pots are an excellent choice for beginner gardeners who are trying to grow their first couple of plants and do not want to invest a lot of money in this new hobby.

However, plastic pots tend to break easily.

Best drainage material for potted plants

Coffee filters

Coffee filters offer a great, affordable solution as a drainage material, especially if you are working with two pots instead of one.

Coffee filters will slowly drain water; thus, your plant’s soil could benefit from this slow release of water as it infiltrates all the soil.

Activated charcoal

I often make and use activated charcoal in my garden beds. I have tried using it in my potted plants, and I think the results have been great.

However, I only use the smallest pieces of activated charcoal I can find. Not only will this give back nutrients to the potted plant’s soil, but it can also serve as a drainage layer for the plants.

Avoid rocks at all costs

Aeration means that air can move through space. Gardeners used to think that putting rocks inside a pot would welcome aeration, and, as a result, water would have enough space to drain.

However, the opposite has been proven, and nowadays this practice is no longer recommended. Rocks, or even gravel, would create ‘pools’ of water inside the pot; thus, the opposite effect would occur.

If you add a thick layer of rocks inside a pot, you will eventually waterlog the pot when the water finally comes into it.

Think of a sink pipe, for example. If you place a rock at the end of the pipe, eventually the excess water will come traveling back up.

Drainage tips you need to know

Here are some of the best tricks I can offer you so you successfully grow your potted plants:

Choose the right pot

Ideally, you would focus on these three characteristics:

  • Is the pot bigger than the plant?
  • Does the pot have a ‘wide mouth’ so you can place another pot inside, if necessary?
  • Does the pot look resistant? This is especially crucial if you will be placing other pots inside. You need a sturdy pot that can withstand not only another container, but also the soil, plant, and water you will pour into.

Focus on the right potting mix

The potting mix is the soil you’ll use so your plants can grow happily and healthily. You need great potting soil to allow the plant’s roots to travel downwards and expand.

When plants grow in containers, they won’t have as much space available. Can you imagine if the plants have clay-like soil that won’t allow the roots to expand?

Yes, the plant will simply die.

A good potting soil mix will also allow good drainage and excellent airflow. These two points are crucial, not only because water needs to travel downward, but also because air needs to travel upward so the plant can ‘breathe’.

Water more frequently

Avoid overwatering the plants; instead, try to water more frequently for shorter periods. Make sure the soil isn’t waterlogged by placing a finger inside the soil. If it’s too moist, don’t water the plant.


Is it possible to use a pot without drainage holes?

It is possible to use a pot without drainage holes, as long as it’s not the main pot where you’ll place the plant.

For example, let’s say you have two pots:

– Pot A is a 32 oz pot without drainage holes.
– Then you have pot B, which is a 16 oz pot with drainage holes.

You could place pot B inside pot A; all the water that permeates pot B will go toward pot B. You will need to keep an eye on pot A, mainly because you must pour the water out every other day.

If you don’t empty pot A, water will simply accumulate, and eventually, your plant could suffer from root rot.

Why are pots sold without drainage holes?

Some pots are sold without drainage holes for three reasons. The first one is because retailers worry about the mess they could have in store if they begin watering all the plants.

If the pot doesn’t have drainage holes, then water will stay inside the pot, instead of overflowing to the floor.

Secondly, some stores sell pots without drainage holes so the buyer can make the holes themselves. I often buy pots without holes so I can choose the areas I’d like the holes to be. It’s just a personal preference!

Thirdly, some pots could accommodate a smaller pot inside. The concept is similar to stacking dolls, where you get one pot inside another pot.

This could help create different drainage layers, which is beneficial if you are dealing with clay-like soil, as it will allow the pots to retain moisture.


Now you know that proper drainage for potted plants is one of the most important things to keep in mind, next time you purchase a pot, see if it ticks all these characteristics:

  • Does the pot have drainage holes?
  • Is the pot bigger than the plant?
  • Would you be able to place another container inside or outside the pot if necessary?
  • Does the pot feel sturdy enough to hold the soil and plant?

If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions, then your pot is the one!

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