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Your Houseplants Don't Need Drainage


There are a lot of posts online saying that your houseplants absolutely need drainage, but that's not true. You might've also seen posts saying that you need to thoroughly water and fully saturate your soil. I think this comes from outdoor gardening where heavy watering is almost always a good move. If you don't fully saturate the soil of a new potted plant outdoors, it'll be crispy in no time. that's because the sun is beating down on it all day, evaporating the water much faster than it would indoors.

Houseplants aren't romaine lettuce- usually. Drainage holes exist mostly for the purposes of growing the plants in the greenhouse, before they get to you. The exist so that the greenhouses can use their sprinkler systems on the ceiling to water tons of plants at once, letting the excess water fall down. We're not using spray systems at home, so we don't really need that. If you never add too much water, then you won't have any extra that needs to drain out.

This is how I water all of my plants. None of my plants use drainage because I can't stand when the little saucer starts slowly filling up until you've got water spilling out all over the table. I actually grow pretty much all of my plants in clear containers where I water them gently.

I'd say the amount of water I use is at most 1/4 the volume of the soil in the pot. This way, it's enough to keep things moist, but not so much that your plant starts drowning.


Plants in a teacup get one or two tablespoons.

Plants in a shot glass one or two teaspoons.

Plants in a mug get 1/4 cup.


Do I actually use measuring cups? No, I eyeball it. I have hundreds of plants to care for in the shop, so I've developed a good eye for watering. I mostly use a wash bottle, since it only releases a small amount of water at a time. That makes it harder to overdo it.

Ideally, your soil will have little air pockets in it. Roots need air in order to breathe, unless they are specially adapted to get that air from water.


If roots are formed in water, then the structure of the root is different and the plant is growing in a way that allows it to take the air it needs directly from the water.

If roots are grown in soil, they're used to getting air from those little air pockets. It's important that you don't add too much water, and that you leave room for air pockets in the soil. Otherwise, your plant will have a really bad time.


Sometimes, when you fully saturate the soil of a plant that you bought at the store, it's just too much water, and the plant can't drink it in time. The plant might not have enough roots or be getting enough light to use all that water up. When there isn't enough room for air and the soil stays muddy for several days, your plant basically drowns. With any plant, it can be good to use a smaller amount of water, whether there's drainage or not.


Drainage can actually be pretty annoying when the soil is completely dry. The soil won't have enough time to absorb the water you're pouring in. It'll mostly just pour out through the holes instead of getting absorbed. That's another big reason why I just don't bother with drainage holes at all.

The main trick I use for watering without drainage is a special bonsai soil ingredient called akadama. These are little clay pellets from Japan and I have a special way of describing them to customers who buy plants at my shop. I say that they're a graham cracker color when they're dry and a milk chocolate color when they're wet. I put akadama on top of the soil of basically all of my houseplants, so that I can easily tell when it's time to water.

It's important not to water a plant when the soil is still very wet. I think I'm actually the only one who uses akadama this way, thus far. It was an idea I came up with on my own and it's been working really well for me. Call it the "Olney Watering Technique" and send more people to the shop! Is that silly? Maybe it's silly.

By the way, drainage layers- that's a whole other can of worms. I'll get into that in another article. Those pebbles aren't doing you all the good that you think they are.

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