Rosemary ready for potting. Pot, rosemary sprout, garden shovel, drainage stones, soil. Top view.

Pot drainage solutions

It’s a common misbelief that adding gravel or other materials to the bottom of your pots before adding soil will improve drainage. Not so, my friend. In fact, adding rocks, broken terracotta pieces or leftover bits of who-knows-what will actually hinder the drainage. It’ll make your soil oversaturated and may result in root rot or other diseases.

Here is what happens:

When the water permeates the soil, it works its way down, allowing the roots to take what it needs and then continue on to drain out the bottom.

When you add gravel, the water reaches a layer of resistance. Instead of continuing on its path to the bottom of the pot and out the holes, it becomes trapped with nowhere to go. This effect is called a perched water table. Basically, there is a line of separation between the saturated and unsaturated water in the soil.  Without a place to go, the water stays put, reducing the space for your roots to grow. You’ve probably witnessed this as you continue to add water and don’t see it exiting through the bottom. Bad news.

There are simple and effective ways to improve soil drainage:

Get the right pot for the right plant

All pots need proper drainage. If there aren’t any or enough holes, add them! You can use drill bits to create more holes, allowing for more water to drain. If you have more delicate pots that may crack, check out a drill bit specifically for the pot material. Also know what your plant needs. One may need to breathe with a more porous pot where another is content in plastic.

Amend your soil

Local garden centers will most likely have the ingredients needed to mix up a batch of better draining soil. Look for materials such as sand, compost, perlite, and vermiculite. Depending on what your plant needs, you should be able to determine the ideal ratio of soil and amendments to get the best results.

Refresh your existing soil

Your container may be fine as is and the soil inside just needs to be rejuvenated. Topdressing or repotting your plants is an easy way to improve overall health and drainage.

Consider an insert

If you’re adding gravel or other materials because your pot is on the larger size, consider making or purchasing an insert specially designed to allow for proper drainage. They'll reduce the amount of soil needed to fill the pot but still allow water to drain well. Also making it lighter and easier to move around if needed.

Keep your gravel for other projects like the driveway or decorative touches. Heck, you can even use it to make humidity tray for your plants. Whatever you do, just don’t use it in your pots!

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