If you have the option to choose, always get a pot with good drainage or drill one yourself. However, if you are growing succulents indoors and want to use pots without drainage holes and not worry about water coming out the bottom of the pot, there are a few tricks that can help you minimize the risk of killing your plants.
For succulents to stay healthy, their roots need air. Overwatering causes a number of diseases, and without taking steps to prevent wet roots, your plants may succumb.
Scab is a disease caused by excess water. Symptoms include corky brown scabs appearing on the stems of the succulent. Some cacti are especially susceptible to scab. Decrease watering and increase light to fight scab.
Stem and root rot can kill overwatered succulents. Various soil fungi multiply in the presence of excess water. The plant wilt and a brown or black ring appear at the stem's base, above the soil. If only the roots show disease, cut away rotted roots with a sharp knife and repot the plant in sterile soil. Wipe the blade between cuts with a cloth soaked in rubbing alcohol to help prevent spreading the fungi.
Photo by Home Made Interest
A few tricks help minimize the risk of diseases from wet soil. The main trick is to water the plant normally, but after a few minutes, tip the planter sideways and drain out excess water.
Double potting helps overcome the problem of no drainage holes in a planter. Grow the succulent in a pot liner or smaller container that can sit inside the larger, non-draining container. Make at least four holes in the liner or small container if it does not have them. Layer the bottom of the larger, outer planter with gravel.
After watering the plant, wait a few minutes for excess water to drip out of the smaller container. Lift the plant in the liner from the larger container and dump the excess water. After draining, place the liner or small planter back inside the larger one.
If the container does not have drain holes, you will need to be more careful with watering. Water the container only enough to wet the top inch (2.5 cm) of soil. Allow the soil to dry completely before watering again. It should only need watering once every two weeks.
Succulents require soil that is loose and drains well. A cactus or succulent soil from the garden center work, or you can mix your own. When preparing the soil for a container, use a mixture that contains equal portions of sand and garden soil. If your budget allows, a better soil mixture is equal parts loam, sand, and perlite.
Test the soil's quality by moistening a handful of the mixture and trying to squeeze it into a ball. If it is the proper consistency for succulents, the soil will not become compacted but will fall apart.
Cacti only require fertilizer once or twice each year, during spring and summer, while other succulents should be fertilized three to four times during the summer. Choose a houseplant fertilizer such as 3-7-7 that has more phosphorus than nitrogen.
Dilute the mixture to one-half the standard concentration recommended on the product label, so mix 5 to 10 drops in 1 quart of water instead of 10 to 20 drops. Check the instructions as rates vary by brand. Soak the top 0.5 inches (1.2 cm) of soil around the plants completely. Use the fertilizer solution in place of regular watering.
Succulents need the right amount of light to keep them healthy. Outdoors, place them in full sun or part shade. Indoors, placing the planter near a sunny window should provide enough light, but a cool white fluorescent tube is a good substitute if direct sunlight is lacking. Place the tube 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) above the plant for 14 to 16 hours each day. Use a timer to help automate the process.
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There are some amazing planters and pots for succulents that don’t have drainage holes. Find out how to properly water your succulents in one of them!
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Figuring out how often to water your succulents can be tricky. But, it’s usually even harder in pots without a drainage hole.
Succulents need their roots to dry out quickly.
They don’t like to sit in water for more than a day or two and will begin to rot if they stay wet for much longer.
This is why I highly recommend using pots with a drainage hole when you are first starting out with succulents.
However, if you’re growing succulents indoors, it’s likely you want a pot without a drainage hole so you can keep your succulents on the counter and not worry about water coming out the bottom of the pot.
To help you master the art of watering succulents, start by downloading my free cheat sheet to see what it looks like when your succulents need more or less water. Click here to grab that that, it’ll be super helpful.
Let me tell you a few simple ways to make watering succulents in pots without a drainage hole easier.
Using a well draining soil is extremely important for pots without drainage because it allows for more airflow. Even though the water still has nowhere to flow out, it’s easier for the water to evaporate if the soil has large particles (1/4″ or 6mm is ideal).
I generally use the gritty mix from Bonsai Jack, however, I also frequently use pumice in glass containers. The pumice tends to look a little cleaner in the glass.
Adding larger materials to the bottom is a way that people frequently “add drainage” to a pot. However, this actually causes problems for succulents because it causes water to pool at the bottom of the pot. Then, the soil at the top of the pot traps the water in making it harder for the water to evaporate.
Watch how I water my succulents (including non-draining pots) in the video below:
One of the biggest problems with a non-draining pot is knowing how much water you’ve poured in. Glass containers are helpful because you can see the water level as you’re pouring the water on.
However, this isn’t the case with many non-draining planters.
You can do this a variety of ways. The simplest is to use a measuring cup, which you likely already have at home.
Another great option is this squeeze bottle from my favorite garden tools set. It has measurements on the side so you can see how much water is in the bottle.
My friends at Lula’s Garden send out an adorable pipette with each of their arrangements. I use four pipettes full of water on each succulent in my jewel garden. It’s easy to do and doesn’t make a mess!
Haworthia fasciata, Crassula perforata from Lula’s Garden
You can also use any sort of cup or even measuring spoons. The key is simply to pour on a designated amount of water. If you use your kitchen sink or a watering can, it’s hard to know how much water your succulent is getting and it’s easy to overflow the pot or give it too much water.
The trickiest part about watering succulents without drainage is knowing how much water it needs.
If you happen to pour on too much water, you can use a rag or paper towels to try and absorb some of it. If your pot is fairly small, you may be able to pour the excess water off.
Different soil types retain different amounts of water, so even after you decide on an amount of water to give your succulents, you’ll need to keep an eye out for symptoms of watering problems.
That said, I generally recommend pouring on water equal to half the volume of your planter. So, if your planter holds about a cup of soil, you’ll pour on 1/2 cup of water.
Be sure to download the Succulent Tracker app (iOS only right now) to help you keep track of when you watered your succulents, how much water you added, when you repotted them, and more. It’s been a lifesaver for my succulents!
Use this as a starting point and, again, adjust as needed based on what your plant tells you over the next few weeks. Both the amount of water you use and the frequency of watering will determine how healthy your succulent is.
Recommended tools for watering non-draining planters: measuring cup, squeeze bottle, pipette (from Lula’s Garden)
I get asked this question over and over and the answer is simple:
Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’, Haworthia fasciata from Lula’s Garden
Watering when the soil is dry (rather than on a set schedule) is especially important for non-draining pots because the water doesn’t dry out as quickly as it does in a pot with a drainage hole. This means your succulent has access to water longer and will likely survive with more time between watering.
That’s why using the Succulent Tracker app (iOS only right now) is so helpful. You can record the date you last watered (so you don’t have to remember) and it will calculate the average number of days between watering.
You won’t have to guess how long ago you watered last and can set reminders for when you anticipate you’ll need to water again.
Each succulent will have a slightly different schedule and there’s a number of factors that contribute to their need for water.
Check out this quick video to see 5 factors that determine how frequently your succulents need to be watered:
There are a variety of ways to tell when the soil is dry, but the best method is to check the weight of your pot. Start by pouring on your pre-determined amount of water.
Next, lift the pot with both hands (unless it’s super tiny). Move it up and down to get an idea of how much it weighs. Then over the next few days lift it from time to time. When the water has evaporated completely, you’ll find there is a noticeable difference in weight.
Jovibarba heuffelii ‘Passat’, Sedum seiboldii, Jovibarba hirta ‘Hedge hog’, Sempervivum viliosum
I recommend allowing it another 2-3 days of drying time before watering again unless you have a very thin leaved succulent like a Portulacaria afra.
If your pot is too heavy to lift, you can stick a skewer down into the soil. Let it sit in the soil for about 30 seconds or so and then pull it out. If it’s still wet, wait to water. If it’s dry you should be fine to water again, although I recommend giving it another couple of days just to be safe. This is the method recommended by Lula’s Garden and they include a skewer with their arrangements.
Another option is to use a water meter. I haven’t personally found these to be very helpful, but I know a few people who swear by them. If you’re having a hard time with your watering schedule this may be worth a try.
In an ideal world it would be easy for me to tell you to water once a week and all your plants will be perfectly healthy, but that just isn’t the case. It takes some experimenting to figure out what watering “schedule” is good for your plants.
Pay attention to the leaves of your succulents over time. If you start to notice your succulents are getting limp and withered or juicy and mushy, you’ll want to gradually change how you water. You can see more signs of watering problems here.
If your plants aren’t getting enough water (limp and withered) you’ll likely want to increase the amount of water you give them and maintain the same frequency. However, if you only water once a month it’s more likely that the frequency of watering is the issue.
Portulacaria afra variegata
The stem and leaves should be firm when watered properly. If they start to become a bit transparent and look extra juicy, or if the leaves fall off with a very slight bump, you’ve likely over watered. In this case, cut back on the frequency of watering.
If you’re only watering once a month because the soil stays wet for a long time, you’ll want to change the amount of water instead of the frequency as well as re-evaluate your soil.
Making gradual changes is very important. If you suddenly start watering every other day when you had only been watering every 2-3 weeks your succulent is going to quickly begin to rot.
On the flip side, if you were watering daily and then cut back to once a month your succulent is going to dry out too quickly and die.
You can use the Succulent Tracker app (iOS only right now) to help you manage your succulent watering schedule even better to help prevent over watering.
Knowing how to water succulents in pots without drainage takes some extra effort and will require you to pay a bit more attention to your succulents than if they were in a planter with a drainage hole. However, non-draining planters are a great option for using succulents in your home decor.
And remember, if you haven’t already, be sure to grab my free cheat sheet to see what it looks like when your succulents need more or less water. Click here to get the cheat sheet.
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You can grow succulents in creative DIY planters like teacups, glass jars, small wooden boxes, glass bowls, and more! The most important point to consider while growing them in such creative pots is watering, especially in the absence of drainage holes.
Note: Overwatering can cause stem and root rot. If you notice diseases in the root area, then cut off the rotted roots with a sterilized blade. It will prevent the spread of fungi.
While growing succulents in pots without drainage holes, water them only when the soil goes completely dry, you’ll be able to feel it after touching with the index finger. Once you find out the soil is dry, water carefully and thoroughly without disturbing the miniature succulents.
Tip: It is always better to under-water succulents than over-water
Commercial succulent mix or your regular houseplant soil should be fine. The growing medium shouldn’t be moisture retaining. You can prepare it yourself by taking equal parts of sand, peat moss or cocopeat, and perlite. If you like, add aged manure too.
As there is not going to be proper drainage while growing succulents in pots without holes at the bottom, avoid fertilizing often. Rarely around 2-3 times a year is more than enough.
While growing them indoors, keeping them near a sunny window is a good idea. However, do make sure that you are placing the plant away from the harsh, afternoon sunlight. Alternatively, you can also use grow light for 10-14 hours daily.
Whether you’re new to succulent planting or not, you know that the topic about drainage holes come up pretty often. Why are drainage holes important? They allow for excess water to seep out of the container to help prevent moisture from collecting at the base of the pot.
This is a big deal for succulents because they hold water in their tissues, leaves and stems. If they’re sitting in water too long, their roots are prone to root rot. Some people are sticklers for having drainage holes in all planters.
Others are not as concerned about holes. If you have a container you really want to use for planting succulents and cacti but you’re concerned about drainage issues, here are some things to consider.
Drilling a hole into the planter is definitely an option, and you don’t have to be handy with tools to be able to do so. There are lots of free video tutorials you can find on how to get started with drilling a hole in ceramic, glass, etc. For step-by-step instructions on how to drill a hole in ceramic pots or glass, please click on “How to Grow Succulents in Pots without Holes”.
What would it cost for you to drill a hole? Would it cost more to drill a hole or to purchase a pot with drainage? Most people already have a drill at home.
You probably only need to invest on some diamond drill bits which are not very costly. Even if you don’t have a drill and need to purchase one, you can think of it as a good investment when you consider the amount of usage you will get out of it.
You need to consider what you value more: the pot or the plant. If it’s a very pricey pot that you paid a lot of money for, or maybe it’s an antique, you may want to reconsider drilling a hole in it for risk of damaging it. Plus, once you’ve drilled a hole into something, there’s really no turning back, it’s permanent.
So consider what’s more important to you, the value of the container or the plants. Luckily, succulent plants are not very expensive and are easy to replace. They are also easy to grow and propagate, which is why we love them so much.
Can succulents survive in pots without drainage? So you’ve decided to go ahead and plant the succulents in a container without holes. Will they survive and for how long? Yes, succulents can definitely survive and even thrive in pots without holes. It all depends on how you care for the plants.
The biggest problem that people encounter is with watering. People tend to overwater their succulents, which can be detrimental to these plants. Once you learn how to water succulents in pots without drainage, they can grow in there for a long time.
Here’s proof that succulents can survive for a long time in containers without drainage. In this case, the container gave out way before the plants did. These plants have outlived their container. As you can see, the plants are still going strong. They were in this container for about two years or so. How did I get them to survive this long? Mostly from good watering techniques and using the proper potting medium.
I have tried patching this up in the past with hot glue. After about two years, I thought it’s time to repot these plants.
Use a Layer of Rocks
By adding a layer of rocks, pebbles, stones or pumice (or a combination of these) in the bottom of the pot, you can create a layer for drainage. This can help prevent root rot by allowing for excess water to drain out of the soil and into the rocks in the bottom. This helps prevent root rot by allowing the water to drain out of the soil faster and preventing the roots from sitting in wet soil for too long.
Consider the size of the pot. If your pot is small then you would mostly need pebbles and pumice, or smaller rocks. The larger the pot, you’ll need bigger and more rocks.
Aside from adding a drainage layer, you can also mix pebbles, rocks, pumice, or perlite into the cactus potting mix. Soil is usually very compact, and adding bigger particles into the soil creates more space between them, allowing for water to drain out quicker and preventing the roots from sitting in wet soil too long.
Use Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal helps absorb excess water. It also contains natural antimicrobial properties which can help prevent bacterial and fungal growth. You can add a layer of activated charcoal, about ½ inch in the bottom of the pot or over the rock layer.
Activated charcoal is optional but if you are looking for extra drainage and absorption, it’s a good option to have. If the pot you’re using is small, you may not be able to use activated charcoal. To find out where to purchase activated charcoal online, please click on my resource page.
Use the Right Pot Size
The larger the pot, the more soil you’ll need. More soil means more water is held in the soil. Look at the plants you are using and choose the pot size accordingly.
Small plants do not need large pots. If you are repotting, a good rule of thumb to remember is: no more than 1-2 inches bigger in diameter than the original pot. Succulents prefer a snug pot anyway, so they do not need a lot of extra room.
The key to the plants’ survival in pots without holes is in your watering techniques. Remember that excess water cannot drain out of the pot so go easy on watering. If you’re the type to overwater your plants, you really need to pay extra care in how you water plants without holes. Allow plants to dry out in between waterings and feel the soil for moisture.
Use a Syringe or Spray Bottle
It might be helpful to use a syringe, a spray bottle, or squeeze bottle to help control the amount of water you put into the containers. When using a spray bottle, make sure to spray the soil instead of the surface of the plant. You want the water to get to the roots where it is absorbed by the plant.
When and How Often to Water
When and how often to water depends greatly on the climate you live in, the growing season, and the size of your container. Plants tend to need more water during the dry and growing season. During the cooler months and inactive growing season, plants need less water. I usually pay attention to the plant to figure out when and how often to water. Generally speaking, I water about once every 7-10 days during the summer months and I cut down on watering to between 10-14 days or longer during the colder months.
I keep my plants outdoors all year long and they get plenty of sunlight. I also live in a very dry climate and it gets hot in the afternoon sun. If you live in a climate with high humidity, you do not need to water as much.
If you do not know where to start, water the plants lightly and increase watering as needed. It is better to under water than to over water until you figure out the plants’ watering needs.
Get Rid of Excess Water
If you accidentally poured too much water, you can empty out the excess water by carefully tipping the pot over while holding down the plants so they don’t fall out. You can also use a dry towel or paper towel to dab the excess water.
Move the Pot During Rain
If your plants are kept outdoors, make sure to move the pots without holes under the shade when there’s forecast of rain. If you forget to move the pots and they get rained on, pour out the excess water as soon as you can.
A good way to tell if your plants are in need of more water is when they start to shrivel. This usually happens with the leaves first. When you touch the plant and it feels soft and not plump, it is usually a sign that you are underwatering.
Let’s say you tried all of these but you notice that the plants are not doing well. No worries. Succulent plants are very forgiving plants. You can remove the plants and repot elsewhere. They often bounce right back when given the proper care that they need.
In this case, the plants are doing well but the pot isn’t. Here’s how I repotted these plants. I wanted them to multiply so I took stem cuttings and planted them in different pots. As always, I used a cactus potting mix combined with perlite for better drainage.
I separated them in two pots. I also added jade cuttings from my previous project here. Stem cuttings is my preferred method to propagate and multiply my succulent collection. I find it to be the easiest and with the highest success rate. Please click on “Easiest Way to Propagate Succulents: by Stem Cuttings” to read more.
For more on pots without drainage, please click on “How to Grow Succulents in Pots without Drainage.”
If you are looking for tools to measure the moisture in the soil and in the air, moisture meters and hygrometers may do the trick. Please click on my resource page for ideas.
You can prepare a bed of pebbles, tiny rocks, pumice, and stones at the base of the pot if it’s big. This will help in preventing root rot by draining the excess water into the rocks at the bottom. However, if you are using a smaller pot, then you don’t need to use the bottom layer.
Activated charcoal has natural antimicrobial qualities that prevent the spread of fungal and bacterial growth. Adding 1/2 inches of it at the base of the pot will do the trick. However, it is optional, but if you want extra absorption, then this idea is going to work perfectly.
Note: If the pot size is small and compact, then you might not use activated charcoal.
If you are using a large pot, then it will require more soil and water, so select the plants accordingly. Mini succulents do not require bigger planters. For repotting, use one size larger pot in diameter than the current one. Succulents favor a tight space therefore, no need to use unnecessary large containers.