Drainage Holes on Sides of Plant Pots: Are They Worth It?


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We have explained in detail how placing drainage holes on the sides of a plant pot can affect your plant health and growth. 

Placing holes on the sides of a plant pot improves both water drainage and aeration in plants. The number of holes should be between 4 to 8, at 1” diameter closer to the bottom of the pot with a saucer. With smaller holes, there is less loss of soil and ensures the soil remains well-drained.

There are some things to consider when placing holes on the side of pots such as too much drainage and loss of soil which we will explain further in this article.

This article explains the benefits of placing drainage holes on the side of pots and how to do it to ensure your plants grow even healthier. 

Should You Place Holes on The Side of a Plant Pot?

The factors that play a crucial role in a plant’s life are water, nutrients, air, and sunlight. Water and air are both significant factors for plants’ survival strategies and normal growth patterns. 

Below, we have explained in detail how holes on the pot sides help in improving drainage and aeration so that you can better understand the functions of these holes. 

Improve Drainage

Placing holes on the sides of a plant pot can help improve the drainage system of your plant pot. 

For a plant proper growth, soil moisture, and proper watering are essential. However, some plants can even die from overwatering. 

Especially those plants which are placed in pots without drainage holes are much more at risk of overwatering problems and death. 

Some of the root problems that can cause plant death include root rot and stem rot. 

Sometimes, the only drainage hole at the bottom of the pot isn’t enough to ensure good drainage. Some plants are more prone to over-watering problems. 

Placing some extra drainage holes on the sides of your pot will make certain that the excess water never rises up and floods the plant stem or soil mixture.

Improve Aeration

Photosynthesis and respiration are the most crucial processes that are being carried out in plants. Both processes depend on the oxygen supply to plants. 

So, if the plant does not get enough oxygen, photosynthesis, and respiration cannot take place

If you drill holes in the sides of the pot, more air will be able to pass through these holes and reach the roots of your plants. Good aeration will also improve plant nutrients and water uptake.

A lack of aeration can dramatically affect plant roots’ growth. The roots of your plants will not grow normally and the plant will show shunted growth.  

It can also affect shoot fresh weight and leaf elongation (size).  Your plant may grow smaller leaves and shoots as well. 

Furthermore, just like other living things, respiration takes place in all the living cells of plants, including in the roots. 

Respiration can only be carried out in the presence of oxygen to convert stored sugar into energy that can be used by the cells of the plant. 

Without any access for the air to enter the plant pot and store oxygen around the roots, the cells in the plants will starve for energy and die.

Placing holes on the sides of a plant pot can give free access to the air to easily enter into the pot and reach the roots and deliver tons of oxygen. 

What Are The Downsides of Placing Holes on The Side of a Plant Pot?

Every picture has a bright side and a dark side. Similarly, placing holes on the side of a plant pot has some downsides as well. 

Too Much Drainage: (less water retention)

If you have placed several holes on the sides of your plant pot, your plant will suffer from too much drainage and water loss. Too drainage means:

  • The water will not reach roots and roots will not be able to grow properly. 
  • The roots cannot get nutrients from the soil for plants.

You’ll notice the water dripping from the holes at the sides of the pot, even before it reaches the roots at the bottom.

Over time, you might notice some leaves turning yellow due to a lack of nitrogen from the soil. Your potting soil at the bottom may start drying and eventually become too tight or dried up. 

Too much drainage can also cause some branches or stems to die back and decolonize the soil as the roots could not absorb enough water before the water quickly drained out of the pot completely. 

See our detailed article on how long should soil stay wet after watering.

Why Do Plant Pots Need Holes and What Size is Ideal?

Drainage holes are a way for water to go through the soil and essentially escape through the bottom. Drainage holes help your soil dry out faster. 

They will prevent root rot from happening which is really important for your plant’s health. 

Root rot is the number one problem that many beginner succulent growers have. If there are no drainage holes in your planters they will become overwatered and it can create a problem for your plant roots. 

Not every plant likes to sit in water all the time. 

The exchange of Oxygen and carbon dioxide is only possible in the presence of drainage holes because the air pockets get closed by excess water if there are no holes. 

How Can You Create Drainage Holes On Your Own?

Drainage holes can be created by using a drill, hammer, or a large nail. But the question is what should be the size of the holes for good drainage. 

Usually, a hole having a diameter of 1 inch is good enough to start. How many holes should be present in one pot mainly depends on the size of the container you are using. 

If the pot size is bigger it will definitely need more drainage holes.

Larger pots can produce larger plants but at a cost. See why in our article explaining why.

Basically, 5 holes per square foot are enough. If you are concerned about the soil loss from the drainage holes then you can solve this issue by adding a layer of newspaper in the bottom of the pot. 

In addition to the newspaper, laying down a layer of gravel at the bottom of your plant pot can help stop the flow of soil through larger holes.

Remember, too many drainage holes, can be a bad thing because there will be too much drainage out of the pot.

You can drill three to four to eight, 1-inch holes on the side of your plant pots. 

However, if water doesn’t penetrate well from the sides, you can add a few holes. Ideally, placing three holes is enough for adequate drainage. 

Minimize The Mess From Side Holes With a Saucer:

To minimize the water or wastage mess from side holes, try using a saucer. 

Plant saucers are usually used with plant pots or containers to “catch” and hold excess water which has drained out from the plant after it has been watered. 

See our article on removing excess water from a plant saucer.

With holes on the sides of plant pots, a sufficient amount of water soaks into the soil while the rest runs out from the holes. 

Using saucers on such plant pots can prevent a messy situation whenever the plant is watered.

Every time you water your plants, the extra water drains through the extra holes on the sides into the saucer. 

The saucer will keep the water from creating a mess on the floor. You can also simply remove the water from the saucer. 

By removing the extra water from the saucer, you can maintain the standards of cleanliness of your house. If there is no plant saucer, water can split onto your floor making the carpets dirty.

In addition to minimizing the water mess, saucers can also prevent the ants from harming your plants by creating a water barrier between sneaking pests and your plants. 

Insects can dramatically damage your plant leaves and soil mixture. Plant leaves are a good source of food for bugs, spider mites, and other insects.

JayLea

JayLea has a passion for plants and has been gardening since 2015. He has valuable knowledge about gardening and houseplant care and can answer everyday practical questions that every plant owner has.

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