Drainage – A Component For Potted Plant Success


Walking into a restaurant the recently, I noticed a large planter full of water. The soil looked very “heavy” and not capable of draining the water away from the roots for the next week or two.

Does the plant owner wonder why the plants don’t do well in this planter or soil?

Just as there are many components that make up machinery – soil has unique components and properties.

In order to develop a healthy root system, both indoor and outdoor plants require good drainage. If you have either indoor or outdoor container plants, be on the look out for salt buildup on the soil surface or pot.

What is Salt Build Up?

Whitish-colored deposits that form are composed of salts built up from hard water and fertilizer. This is usually an indication of insufficient drainage, and not enough flow of water through the pot and soil.

To avoid salt buildup, water your plants each time until liquid runs out of the bottom of the pot. This is also one reason many people burn their plants and lawns with fertilizer – they leave behind salts that burn roots.

Make sure that the drainage holes on the bottom of each plant container are open to allow excess water to flow out of the pot.

Unfortunately, some plant containers such as terrariums, plastic pots provided with bulb forcing kits or decorative gift plant containers do not have drainage holes.

Most plants living indoors are “double potted”. Potted plants with drainage holes are placed in a decorative pot without a drainage hole.

Small containers and Styrofoam are often placed in larger decorative containers for improved appearance or to make it easier to remove the inner pot for plant care. Make sure to check the level of the water in the bottom of the larger container regularly.

If the plant’s root system is submerged in water for long periods, root injury will occur if the condition is allowed to continue. Excess water should be poured out of the larger container periodically – sub-irrigation is a different story.

Another method is the use of sub-irrigation containers. Many interiorscapers use subirrigation because of the reservoir that it has and the ability to “program” when the plant needs watering again.

Remember watering a plant is important – but draining the water off is just as important.