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Covering Drainage Holes in Pots – How to Keep Soil from Washing out of Pots

Covering drainage holes in pots is a necessary evil. Without something to cover the hole in the bottom of your planter, the soil will eventually wash out of the pot through the hole in the planter and the plant will settle.

This also means that your furniture will take a beating. Planters without drainage holes covered can cause a huge mess for your furniture if the soil leaks out of the bottom hole.

It is necessary for pots to have proper drainage to maintain the health of your potted plants. Planters without drainage holes can cause all sorts of problems due to excess moisture.

What problems does this cause and how do you keep the soil from washing out of the drainage hole? Read on to find out.

Hands in gloves adding rocks to a planter with an African violet.

Problems with pots that have no drainage hole

I can hear you all saying – “just buy pots with no drainage holes!” While this will keep the soil in the pot, is a decorative idea and easy on your furniture, it is not the best idea for your plants.

There are several problems that come from planting in pots with no drainage holes.

Risk of overwatering

Plants in pots without a drainage hole are susceptible to root rot. If a plant is saturated with water that does not drain, it will be harmful to the plant. Signs of root rot are yellow leaves, mushy stems (and roots) and slow growth.

Soil that is too wet invites all sorts of moisture related problems since it doesn’t allow enough air to reach the roots.

Plant in a white pot with yellowing leaves.

Salt build up on the planter and soil

Without proper drainage, salts from plant fertilizers will build up over time in both the soil and on the pot. This causes unsightly pots and plants that can suffer from root damage caused by a build up of chemicals.

Already have this problem with your pots? Find out how to clean terracotta pots to get rid of the stains.

Suffocating the roots of plants

With no way to drain the water, a plant’s roots cannot get oxygen and will suffer.

One of the most common questions that I get from readers of my blog is “how often should I water my plants?” Without drainage holes in pots, over watering is even more of a problem.

Loss of soil

If the soil keeps washing out the drainage hole, the plant will settle lower in the pot.

When this happens, there is a smaller area for the roots to grow in. This means that you’ll end up needing to repot sooner and add fresh soil.

Tired of losing the soil out of the bottom of your plant pots? Head to the Gardening Cook to get some creative ideas for covering drainage holes in pots. 🌻👩‍🌾🌼 Click To Tweet

Tips for covering drainage holes in pots

Fortunately for you, there are a few ways to make sure that the soil stays in the pot and not on your table. One of these quick and easy solutions may work for you.

Would you like a copy of this printable to keep in your garden journal. You can print it out in your web browser or in the card at the bottom of the post.

Printable chart with ideas for covering drainage holes in pots.

 

Cover the drainage hole with liners

This technique requires thinking ahead at planting time. Before you add the soil to your pot, add something that will allow the water to drain out the hole, but keep the soil in the pot. 

Here are some of my favorite ways to do this.

Use a filter to cover the drainage hole

Cut a small mesh screen to fit into the bottom of your pot. Plastic mesh works best – metal mesh can rust. Old plastic fly screens can also be used.

Large pebbles that are irregular shape will cover the hole but not block the water from getting out. It used to be suggested to have a layer of pebbles in the bottom of pots with no holes for drainage.

This is no longer considered ideal. It is now thought that adding gravel in the bottom of a pot increases the water saturation level that leads to root rot. A single large pebble is better.

Another way to cover the hole is to use a piece of  a broken terra cotta pot. This will have a curved shape that will keep in the soil but allow the water to drain well.

Folded coffee filters or even pieces of newspaper will work, although they will eventually break down and need replacing. Landscape fabric liners do the same job on coffee filters or newspapers but will last longer since they won’t break down like paper does.

Packing peanuts do a good job of allowing drainage and keeping the soil in. They also make a pot lighter and you won’t need as much soil. Styrofoam cut to the shape of the bottom of the pot also works well. It allows the water to drain out but keeps the soil intact.

Coco fiber or sphagnum moss makes a great pot liner, particularly for hanging baskets. They do a good job of keeping the soil in and also keeping it moist. This type of liner works well with hanging baskets.

Recycle microwavable trays for drainage hole covers in pots
Idea for covering drainage holes in pots, made from strainers in microwaveable meal containers.

If your pot is quite large, the trays from microwaveable frozen meal containers will work well.

This neat trick makes use of something we often just throw away – microwaveable frozen meal containers. The curved sides on the strainers in these containers makes them ideal for covering drainage holes in pots while still keeping soil in.

The trays that steam veggies quickly are a great size for many larger pots.  Just push one snugly into the bottom of the pot to cover the drainage hole and you have a great way to keep the soil in. 

The width of the container also means that you will save money on soil too, since you won’t need as much in the pot!

Idea Shared from Garden Gate Magazine.

Use a pot with a saucer to keep the soil in

Plant saucers are made in many sizes and can be coordinated to the color of the planter. 

Air plant in a striped pot with a saucer.

Saucers protect furniture from the water that drains out and also help to keep the soil from washing out.

Try to choose a saucer that is detachable. There are many planters which come with a permanently attached saucer. These may not allow for adequate drainage since they fit snugly with little space to hold excess water.

A note on saucers: Never let a plant sit in a saucer filled with water. Plants will keep taking moisture back up through the hole and cause excess moisture to build up in the soil.

When you water the plant, let it drain completely and then discard the excess water.

Make a display to keep your soil from washing out

This idea is similar to the saucer suggestion above, but takes it to a new level. It works well with succulents which come in small pots.

Use an oversized saucer and use it to display several tiny pots. Succulents pots often don’t have much soil in them and the holes are usually small.

Placing them in an oversized saucer helps to keep the soil in the small pots and turns the whole thing into a pretty succulent display.

Large saucer displayed with succulent plants.

Double the pot

Many nurseries sell plants in plain plastic containers which are not in the least bit decorative.

You can add a touch of decor and also keep the soil in the original pot while letting it still drain by double potting. Just slip the plastic planter into a decorative outer pot. Water will drain from the plastic pot and the soil will stay in it.

The photo below shows a planter box with several plastic pots in it. You can also use the same idea by choosing a single outer pot that is just slightly larger than the plastic pot that your plant came in.

Wooden box planted with four plants in plastic pots.

Note: Be sure that the inner pot never stands in water. Treat it like you would a saucer. Water the plant, allow it to drain and then pour out the excess from the outer pot.

Choosing a pot with several small drainage holes

Some pots are made with several small  drainage holes instead of just one larger hole. This does a good job of keeping the soil in the pot while still allowing water to drain. I don’t actually recommend this idea because it makes drainage of the water slower.

You’ll still need a saucer for this idea  in you use the pot indoors. 

What about buying drainage hole plugs?

There are special plugs that you can get which will plug the hole. This does a great job of keeping the soil in the pot, but also turns it into a planter without a drainage hole.

This can lead to the problems noted above. If you do this be sure to have some sort of material at the top that is deep enough to allow the water to drain into it and not have the plant get waterlogged.

Pin these ideas for covering drainage holes in pots

Would you like a reminder of this post for keeping the soil from washing out of your pots? Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.

Hands in gloves holding a pot with African violet and words reading covering drainage holes in pots.

Admin note: this post for covering drainage holes in pots first appeared on the blog in April of 2013. I have updated the post with more ideas for keeping soil in pots, all new images, a printable for your garden journal and a video for you to enjoy.

The links below are affiliate links. I earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you if you purchase through an affiliate link.

Yield: 1 Printable

Printable for Drainage Hole Cover Ideas

Terra cotta pot upside down with drainage hole showing.

Keep this ideas for covering drainage holes in pots handy by printing out this printable with a list of creative hole covers.

Active Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Difficulty easy
Estimated Cost $1

Materials

  • Photo paper or heavy card stock

Tools

  • Deskjet printer

Instructions

  1. Load your computer printer with photo paper or heavy cardstock.
  2. Print the image below.
  3. Keep the printable in your garden journal so that you have it handy later.

Notes

This image prints to about 3/4 size sheet of paper. If your printer has the settings, choose full page to get the largest size of image possible.Printable chart with drainage hole cover ideas.

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