Drainage holes are openings in the bottom of a pot that help drain excess water from the soil. Good drainage allows air to flow through the soil and to the roots. Without this airflow, the roots will suffocate and rot.
So what about that cute decorative pot you just bought that doesn’t have drainage holes? Although most houseplants require drainage holes, a select few can survive in a closed pot.
Plants that don’t need drainage holes include Spider Plants, Chinese Evergreen, Snake Plants, and most Succulents.
Let’s take a closer look at which plants can survive and thrive in this potted environment and why!
Do All Plants Need Drainage Holes?
The truth is that most plants can and do benefit from drainage holes. But two types of plants can handle a lack of drainage. They are:
- tropical plants
Tropical plants come from rainy, humid environments and thrive in wet soil. Because of this, they can usually handle poor drainage better than other types of plants. Keep in mind that there is a wide range of tropical plants, and not all of them will have the same drainage requirements.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are succulents, which are native to dry, arid environments. Since they don’t require a lot of water, they don’t need as much drainage.
Indoor Plants That Don’t Need Drainage Holes
If you’re using a pot without holes, you need to choose a plant that can handle the lack of drainage. We recommend starting with these plants because they’re easy to maintain and aren’t fussy about their drainage.
Spider Plants are a unique tropical species of the Asparagaceae family. A common feature of plants in this family is that they grow tubers rather than conventional roots. Tubers absorb and store water, which helps the Spider Plant survive the winter.
Since these tubers are so good at absorbing water, Spider Plants are more tolerant of wet soil with less drainage. But with nowhere for the water to drain, your Spider Plant will be susceptible to chemical buildup.
Substances in tap water like salt and chlorine are the main culprits that cause a chemical buildup. To avoid this, water your Spider Plant with bottled distilled water.
You may recognize this plant from its characteristic feather-shaped leaves! Chinese Evergreen is a tropical shrub native to the Philippines, which grows in the shade and loves wet environments.
Because of its love for wet soil, Chinese Evergreen can tolerate a pot without drainage holes. Just ensure that the soil is watered evenly and stays moist but not soggy. Let the soil dry out in between waterings to prevent root rot.
Snake Plants are native to the deserts of West Africa and can survive prolonged periods of drought. They usually only need to be watered every two weeks. That’s because, despite its leafy foliage, the Snake Plant is technically a succulent!
Like a Chinese Evergreen, you must ensure you don’t overwater your Snake Plant. If you stick to the two-week watering rule, this gives the soil plenty of time to dry out.
Succulents don’t like to sit in water, as their roots are very delicate. To keep your succulents happy, you need to ensure the soil is dry and well-draining.
You can buy special succulent soil from gritty, sandy materials like gravel, pine bark, and perlite. You should water the soil enough to moisten it, but not enough that water will pool at the bottom.
Plants That Need Drainage
We’ve looked at some of the most common plants that don’t require drainage holes. Now let’s highlight some plants that absolutely will not survive without good drainage. These tend to be moisture and humidity-loving plants that like their soil constantly wet.
Ferns such as the Boston Fern, Button Fern, and Maidenhair Fern naturally grow in shady, moist environments. They like high humidity and need constantly wet soil that doesn’t dry out.
Ferns need a well-draining pot, so the soil stays wet but never soggy. It’s a good idea to elevate the pot on a bed of rocks to keep the soil from sitting in water.
Calatheas have a reputation as a “diva plant” due to their strict watering requirements. Their native environment is the jungle of South America, so their roots are designed to handle frequent heavy rainfalls.
Like ferns, these plants flourish with a steady flow of fresh water. But this flow can be tricky to get right. If the soil is too dry or too wet, Calathea leaves tend to droop quite dramatically—hence their diva title!
To avoid this, always plant Calatheas in well-draining pots to keep the soil constantly wet without running into rot issues.
Why Do Some Plant Pots Not Have Holes?
Often, decorative pots won’t have built-in drainage holes. Think of planters on stands or those giant ceramic floor pots! The benefit of these types of “closed pots” is that they offer a clean look and protect floors from water damage.
If you’re concerned about drainage, you can always use your decorative pot to hide other pots with drainage. Just buy one size bigger than you need!
Another option is to drill drainage holes in the bottom and add a saucer. If you don’t want to go that route, you can try simply adding more drainage material to your pot.
Can You Use Rocks Instead of Drainage Holes?
Although it’s standard advice, putting rocks at the bottom of your pot does not improve soil drainage. When water runs through the soil and hits the rock layer, it simply moves aside and creates a saturated zone.
This means that the wettest soil actually moves further up the pot, closer to where the roots are. This saturated zone prevents air from getting to your roots, causing them to suffocate and rot.
What Can I Put in the Bottom of my Indoor Planter for Drainage?
Instead of placing rocks or marbles in the bottom of your pot, a better solution is to use a well-draining soil mix.
The components of your soil mix will depend on your plant’s watering needs. Tropical plants generally prefer moist soil and benefit from a soil mix that retains water but also has good aeration for drainage. Many tropical soil mixes use peat moss to help absorb water and perlite to create space for air in the soil.
Succulents, on the other hand, need soil that doesn’t retain water. They prefer soil mediums like coarse sand, perlite, and gravel, which drain water quickly.
Well-draining soil will ensure water flows evenly through the soil without the dreaded saturated zone.
Do Terracotta Pots Need Drainage Holes?
Terracotta pots are made from baked clay, a naturally porous material, which means that air and water flow through the walls and bottom of terracotta pots. This is great for your plant’s roots, as it provides drainage! The clay absorbs moisture so well that terracotta potted plants must be watered more often.
Most terracotta pots you find in stores also come with a drainage hole. But you may come across a decorative terracotta pot without one.
Like any other decorative pot, you can still use it for your plants. Just ensure that you use a well-draining soil mix! Also, be careful you don’t overwater your plant to avoid excess moisture from pooling at the bottom.
If you’re wondering if it’s ok to use that new decorative closed pot for your plant, the answer is yes! Plants that don’t need drainage holes include Spider Plants, Chinese Evergreen, Snake Plants, and most Succulents.
Some plants do better than others in pots without drainage holes. Many tropical plants like Spider Plants and Chinese Evergreen can handle reduced drainage because they prefer wetter soil. Snake Plants and other Succulents can also do closed pots since they require very little water in the first place.
Make sure you use a well-draining soil mix if you do choose to house your plant in a pot without drainage holes. And avoid using closed pots for plants that need constantly wet soil, like Ferns and Calatheas.