How to Increase Drainage for your Houseplants

Last Updated: August 1, 2022

Waterlogged soil and root rot can be one of the biggest problems for plant parents because it can very quickly cause serious and sometimes irreversible problems for your plants. One of the best ways to avoid the soil becoming waterlogged is to make sure there is good drainage in the pot and soil. This means that even if you do accidentally overwater your plant, the drainage will mean that excess water is able to escape from the pot, rather than leading to waterlogged soil and root rot. 

Below we will go over some of the easiest ways to increase drainage in your potted plants. Although some require a little bit of investment, it’s a lot cheaper than buying new plants that for sure!

Adding perlite is a great way to increase drainage

We strongly recommend that every plant parent has a bag of perlite that they can add to the potting mix for plants that prefer drier soil or have delicate roots. Perlite aids both drainage and aeration in the soil so a great addition to the soil. 

Perlite is a volcanic rock that is natural and pH neutral so works really well for use in potting mix. It’s white in colour and super lightweight and porous. The reason why it’s so good at both drainage and aeration of the soil is that it helps loosen up the potting mix, takes in water and prevents the soil from becoming too compact. 

It’s worth checking on the packaging of your potting mix whether or not it already contains perlite. Most potting mixes that say they are well-draining or are succulent/cacti mixes should contain perlite already which will go a long way to keeping the roots free of root rot.

Terracotta pots are great for increasing drainage

This requires a little bit more monetary investment as terracotta pots are definitely more expensive than plastic ones, but their benefits are incredible. The reason that terracotta pots are great for drainage is that they are permeable and excess water can slowly escape out of the sides of the pot. This is great for any accidentally overwaterers as not all of the moisture will be trapped in the soil. It also means that if the drainage holes (more on that later) are blocked by something, water can still escape out of the side. 

Houseplants are often sold in plastic pots but don’t think that this means they are the best thing for your houseplants. Plant shops and nurseries use them as they are cheaper to buy, a lot lighter to transport and are pretty unbreakable. However, plastic pots retain all of the water so aren’t suitable for succulents and cacti which require really dry soil. 

There is one big disadvantage to terracotta pots though that is important to note. They don’t do so well if you are growing your plants outside in cooler temperatures. It can lead them to break and crack so it’s best to only use terracotta pots on plants grown indoors or those grown outdoors only in summer.

Drainage holes are essential to aid drainage

If you are struggling to understand why your pot keeps getting waterlogged and the roots on your houseplants are always rotting, then the first thing we would do is double check the pot you are using has holes at the bottom, these are called drainage holes. Whilst ceramic and concrete pots might look great, many of them don’t have drainage holes which means there is nowhere for any excess water to escape to. 

When your pot has drainage holes in, you of course need something to capture any excess water that flows out the pot (if you are top watering). Using either planters or saucers will allow you to remove any excess water about 15-30 minutes after watering. This allows the soil to take in just as much water as it needs and goes a long way to preventing waterlogged soil and root rot. 

Another thing that you need to check every now and again is that the drainage holes are not being blocked by anything that might be preventing any excess water from flowing out of the pot. Clumps of soil or debris can linger at the bottom of the pot. The best thing to do is poke the drainage holes every now and again to loosen up the soil at the bottom of the pot. It’s also a good idea to lift up your plant every now and again as it can help you spot if a large number of roots are popping out of the drainage holes. This would suggest that your plant needs to be repotted into a slightly larger container. 

Those are the top 3 methods to help aid and increase drainage in the pots of your houseplants. Drainage can sometimes be a bit of a forgotten element when it comes to plant care as a lot of focus is on how much/ how often you need to water and not on what happens with the moisture in the soil. Alongside perlite, there are some other things you can add to the potting mix such as coarse sand but we tend to recommend perlite as it is easily available and also has the benefit of loosening the soil in a way in which it can aerate well on top of aiding drainage. 

If the problem has already progressed to the point at which the roots have begun to rot and it has impacted the health of your plant then you might find out guide to root rot useful. We cover how to diagnose the issue as well as treat it as quickly and effectively as possible. 

We also recommend looking through our Plant Index to find the specific needs of your houseplants so you know how much to water your plants but also how much drainage they need. Some plants such as cacti and most succulent types need really dry soil whereas others can deal with plastic pots and their lack of drainage pretty well as they thrive in soggy soil.

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