Oooh, I love this pot, its perfect for my new Staghorn Fern! But wait, it has no drainage holes. Will my sexy new plant suffer if I plant it directly into this pot without drainage? As gardeners, we’ve all faced this question at some point on our gardening journey. Many of the beautiful, unique pots that are available today come without drainage holes. We have to stop and think if we want to risk planting our precious plant in a container where it may suffer, no matter how perfect the pot is!

There are many theories and much debate about this dilemma. Some experts don’t recommend containers without drainage. Many suggest adding a couple inches of pebbles at the base of the container to act as a drainage layer. Others say the pebble layer is a myth. They argue that it is difficult for water to effectively pass through mediums of different sizes. They further argue that a pebble layer reduces the space for roots to grow and put them in danger of root rot as they sit where the soil stays saturated above the pebbles. I say do it with mindfulness. 

When planting directly into containers without drainage, it is critical to get the watering right. Knowing your plant’s watering requirements before deciding on a pot is helpful. If you can choose a pot with drainage, I recommend doing so. For all other times when you find the perfect pot that goes sooo well with your décor but it has no drainage, here are some best practices for watering that have served me well over the years.

Cachepots: Use a cachepot. The word is French and pronounced cash-po, it literally means an overpot, and allows you to have the best of both worlds. You simply drop the plastic drainage pot holding your plant into the size-matched cachepot and voila!  Your plant has the drainage it needs, and you have some beautiful new eye candy! I use moss, pebbles, pinecones, acorns or something organic to hide insert and give the planter a polished look.

Finger Check: Fingers are free and are good at discerning wetness, so they are a good choice unless your plant has spikes or thorns. I insert my finger up to the first knuckle, if the top 2 – 4 inches or so is dry, its time to water. I find this works best for small to medium-sized containers. Keep in mind that some plants prefer to completely dry out before watering.

Water Meter Check:  Water meters are fairly inexpensive and get right to the root of the matter (couldn’t resist:) They measure the moisture at the root of your plant and give you a reading between 1(dry) and 10(wet). They come with easy to follow instructions and guides.

Weight Check: If the container is small enough to lift safely, I prefer this method. It forces me to be mindful and present when I’m watering. I take a mental note of the feel/weight of the pot when it is dry and also after it is freshly watered. I rely on the feel to let me know when its time to water again. This is the best way to check kokedamas for watering. 

Turgor Pressure and Visual Check:  I combined these two because they sort of go hand in hand. Turgor pressure is the force within the cell that pushes the plasma membrane against the cell wall. This makes leaves appear plump, turgid and happy looking. Drooping, puckering or lifeless looking leaves can indicate pest, disease or drought, and will need immediate attention. If you notice any of these symptoms and your leaves don’t readily bounce back when you play with them, turgor pressure is low, and your plant likely needs water if it is otherwise healthy. 

Water Quality: I like to hydrate my plants with water that I leave sitting for a couple of days. This water is always room temperature and most of the chlorine dissipates after 24 hours. After I water, I simply refill my cans and have them waiting for the next time I water. I also use water from my dehumidifier which has no added chemicals and is also room temperature. 

Measured Pour: If you are new to indoor gardening or find that you are a bit heavy-handed with watering, I recommend using a container with measurements on the side or a large syringe to water. This way you can measure exactly how much water you are giving your plants. After a while, you will automatically give the correct amount of water without having to measure. It’s a becoming one with nature thing:).

Disclaimer: I do not use a pebble layer in my pots. For me, they make pots heavier and also create unnecessary added costs. I, however, find a pebble layer to be very necessary in terrariums for both functionality and esthetics. But…that’s another topic….

Happy Gardening!

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