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This won’t completely plug the hole but will stop the soil from getting out. By putting rocks in the bottom of plant pots, you’re effectively making the soil area of the pot smaller, meaning the “sponge” holding the water in is also now smaller. From the University of Illinois Extension, Urban Programs Resource Network – Successful Container Gardens, Choosing a Container for Planting – Drainage Is Critical to Plant Health: From the University of Tennessee, Institute of Agriculture, Agricultural Extension Service – PB1618, Growing Media for Greenhouse Production, we see that reducing the depth of the pot actually increases water retention and. Rocks contain micro nutrients, which erode over time, Roots latch onto these rocks and can slowly suck these rocks, if the plant lives for many years in one container this could be of use for extra minerals 3. Remember, the downwards force is due to gravity, which we can’t increase, a lower layer of another material won’t change the adhesive forces between the growing medium and the water molecules, nor will it alter the cohesive hydrogen bonds between water. It might need a better explanation, although you do well as always. It keeps the potting mixture from getting on the plant foliage, and it gives the pot a tidy, finished look. As a final thought worth pondering, it’s curious how gardening has as its foundations the applied sciences of horticulture and agriculture, yet it’s filled with so much dogma and myths, very strange indeed…. Adding gravel into the bottom of  terracotta pots creates a small water holding area for the excess water that would normally drain out on its own  if the gravel wasn’t there to collect into if the single drainage hole become blocked. It depends upon your growing medium. Potted plants have less of an area to draw moisture from than a plant in the ground. Gardening Questions #001 – Grow Nasturtiums from Cuttings? Putting stones around plants in a tray is a great way to increase humidity for indoor plants that need more moisture. Should You Tease Out Plant Roots When Transplanting? Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Key takeaway lessons Rocks don’t improve drainage; instead, they elevate the perched water table closer to your plant’s roots. Otherwise, you should improve the drainability of the soil rather than looking to add something to the bottom of your plant pots. Should You Put Gravel or Rocks at the Bottom of Plant Pots for Drainage? The forces of attraction between water molecules to each due to the hydrogen bonds they form with each other (cohesion), causing them to pull each other up. Lauren Dunec Hoang – November 1, 2017 | Updated June 4, 2020 Double potting makes it possible to sink individual potted plants into the landscape (or remove them) without disturbing the roots. Excellent article, well written! Potted plants don’t have this luxury and so they require soil with top-notch drainage. Converting Months to Seasons – Northern and Southern Hemisphere, Meteorological and Astronomical, The Birth of a Permaculture Food Forest – Before & After Photos, Garden Arches, Vertical Gardening for More Growing Area in Small Spaces. To be very fair, not having drainage holes in a pot used for indoor plants isn’t quite as big a problem as it is for outdoor plants. My apologies for not being clearer in my explanation, so I appreciate you bringing the point up. How to Make Borax Ant Bait for Indoor and Outdoor Use. That’s my educated guess, and like most traditions, people eventually forget the reason why something was done in the first place, and just keep doing the same thing simply out of habit. In Memory of Bill Mollison, the “Father of Permaculture”, 3. There’s also the added benefit that it can look really beautiful, giving your indoor plant a tidy, “finished” look. If you then put the sponge on its side so it’s now taller but still placed on the rocks below it, the now-bottom of the sponge will become wetter as gravity takes effect. Sand will improve soil, as it has larger particles than clay or silt, but it’s way smaller than potting medium particles and will clog it up instead, filling the air spaces. A layer of gravel or rock on top can help prevent excess drying. Welcome to Deep Green Permaculture – Connecting Pe…. Gardening Questions #002 – How Many Trays to Use When Starting a Worm Farm? How to keep dirt from washing out of pots. Because they have large air spaces within them, they are used to increase the drainage and aeration in potting mixes. Food for the thought! 2. Should You Put Gravel or Rocks at the Bottom of Plant Pots for Drainage? Drainage and air circulation are always important in your houseplants, but do you need to put rocks in the bottom of plant pots to achieve this? Water (H2O) is considered a polar molecule because it has a negative charge on one side of the molecule and the positive charge on the other. Why should I not put rocks in the bottom of my planter? There’s an old gardening myth that it’s best to put a layer of gravel or rocks at the bottom of a plant pot to improve drainage, but how true is it? The roots look beautiful, I’ve never seen better roots before. Coincidentally, these forces are also how plants get water from their roots to their leaves! The water will move downward, some of it will drip away, and some of it will be retained. What can I put in my pots without drainage? Water each with the same volume of water, wait till they drain, and then observe the perched water table. If you are working with a liquid nutrient medium (hydroponics, essentially), then no, stones or marbles are not an impediment to growth. We can see that it’s a common practice in horticulture to increase drainage in a pot by altering the potting medium, and not the space beneath the pot. You can put rocks on top of soil as they do provide some benefits. A better solution is perlite, a heat-expanded mineral used in hydroponic systems, from experience, it works really well. Cymbidium orchids for example are grown in an orchid mix which is composed mainly of 20mm composted pine bark pieces. We’ve all heard the advice to put gravel in the bottom of a plant pot, and some of us may even have done it. The problem arises when you do not remove the rock wool from the roots. Capillary action, which exerts an upward pull on the water, causing it to be retained, saturating the potting medium. The capillary action can only wick the weight of the water upwards to a limited height against gravity, and no higher. Clearly, the answer is “no.” Not sure if I needed to read an exhaustive treatise to get the answer, but, well, it was fascinating. I really liked that you went into detail, it becomes very clear. I’ll show you how to test this, all you need is some empty soft drink bottles. Hydroponic systems use potting media such as perlite, which is an expanded mineral filled with air, or ‘clay balls’ which are in fact clay coated pumice balls which are very porous, to drain extremely well but hold a slight amount of moisture. Wrap as breathable a material as possible around the plants — like burlap, linen, newspaper, or old bed sheets — then secure it against the wind with heavy rocks or clothespins. First, let’s start with the basics: Your favorite potting mix or growing media holds water by means of two natural forces. It is not recommended to use Styrofoam peanuts for potted plants now, because they may break down in water and soil, leaving you with sunken in containers. Why Is My Aloe Vera Plant Turning Yellow and Brown? In all the other pots, add increasing amounts of gravel at the bottom, then fill with potting mix to within 2.5cm (1″) of the pot. I’ll explain: I’ll get a bit scientific but will try to explain as simply as possible. Now, your article makes me curious to see how perched water table differs from let’s say compost versus sand. It’s a common idea that a lot of so-called gardening experts mention as being critical for making sure that your plant’s soil is able to drain enough moisture. What's worse is that these annoying insects can be incredibly prolific during their rather short lifespans, generally only living a single week as an adult gnat. I grow aquatic edible plants that way, water chestnuts and taro, and about half a dozen others. gravel in bottom of plant pots for drainage, how did the tradition of putting gravel at the bottom of pots originate, how to increase drainage in pots and containers, the correct way to increase drainage in pots and containers, http://oregonstate.edu/dept/nursery-weeds/feature_articles/physical_properties/physical_properties.html, Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – December, Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – November. To learn how to improve drainage in pots, please see my article – How to Improve Drainage in Plant Pots, The Proper Way to Do It! Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Angelo Eliades and Deep Green Permaculture with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Should I line my planter box with plastic? One rock to cover the drainage hole is enough – just enough so that the soil doesn’t leach out of the bottom but water can flow freely through the pot. Change ), You are commenting using your Google account. The plant in the pot which had only potting soil I noticed it retained too much water on the bottom and was hardly drying, which in the end led to root rot. Small stones, seashells, marbles, or the the half-globe crystals from the craft store can act to keep moisture in by preventing some of the evaporation from the soil, just like Perlite and vermiculte are materials which are used as soil amendments, and both are minerals that are made more porous by expanding them with heat, much like popcorn. I was wondering recently why, two of my plants had different results, although they were the same size, planted in identical pots, using the same compost and watering almost equally. You’ve preempted my next article on which explains the proper way to increase drainage in pots, which I’ll publish soon, but your solution is half-way there. Gravity, which exerts a downward pull on the water, causing it to be drained away through the drainage holes. This post may contain references to products from one or more of our partners. By pushing a few match heads into the soil around potted plants, you can grow outstanding, healthy plants … If you have a large planter, it can take a lot of potting soil to fill it completely. A lot of orchids for example are epiphytes (plants don’t grow in soil but obtain moisture and nutrients from the air and rain and usually grow on the surface of another plant), and many grow in trees. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. The secret to improving pot drainage is to alter the composition of the potting medium, by mixing something with a larger particle size all the way through it, and there are several different amendment materials for this purpose. Larger retailers of common plants often have stock with stones glued on top of soil. Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. You’re welcome to disagree! Now that we know why water moves upwards and creates perched water tables in growing media, we can now re-examine our opening question from a more scientific perspective! This wicking or absorbent property of any potting medium is the critical key to understanding the behaviour of water in pots. The simple way to understand the perched water table phenomenon is as follows. Thanks for your question, to help make my article clearer I’ve updated it to address your excellent points and included two diagrams to illustrate the point, one from the North Willamette Research and Extension Center, Oregon State University and another from University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Master Gardeners of Monterey Bay. If you have pots without drainage holes and they’re made from a material that means you can’t add any, you have to be very careful about not over-watering. If you are a cat owner, you may have encountered an issue with your pet using potted house plants as their own personal restrooms. So if you have a pot, like in your illustration, and the pwt is at the bottom 3 inches of the pot (for example), if you replace those 3 inches of soil with a very course medium like clay pebbles (which has much lower capillary action, then more water at that level will drain out of the drain holes in the pot. Also, be aware that all pots filled with any kind of potting mix, potting medium or growing  medium, call it what you will, have a perched water table. Take a rock garden and put it in a pot. But assuming you have that under control, there are some times when putting rocks in the bottom of plant pots or something else besides soil in the bottom of a planter can help. Small plants don’t have enough roots to take up huge quantities of water, and in large pots the potting mix stays too wet for too long, causing root rot once again. My nest article “How to Improve Drainage in Plant Pots, The Proper Way to Do It” is coming soon! If you have potted plants and cats, chances are you’ve found poop in the plant pot on a bad day. However, if you already have a plastic sheet at home, the DIY option is also fine. Zones and Sectors – Efficient Energy Planning, No Dig Gardening, Sustainable Gardening With Less Effort, Chop and Drop Gardening (Sheet Composting), Wicking Bed Construction, How to Build a Self-Watering Wicking Bed, Home Made Plant Rooting Hormone – Willow Water, How to Kill a Tree Stump Without Poisonous Chemicals, How to Make Your Own DIY Homemade Garden Sprays, DIY Self-Watering Pots and Mini Wicking Beds, Bokashi Composting – How to process waste that can’t go in your compost or worm farm, Bokashi Soil Generator– Turn food waste into nutrient-rich soil, Starting Annual Vegetable Seedlings Indoors, How to Build a Self Watering Seedling Tray, How to Build a Self-Cleaning Water Tank from a Wheelie Bin, The Complete Guide to Worm Farming, Vermicomposting Made Easy, How to Build a Worm Farm with Polystyrene Foam Broccoli Boxes, How To Build a Worm Tunnel Vermicomposting System, Plant Labels & Watering Trays from Recycled Containers, Download Gardening Calendars (Australian Temperate Climate), Crop Rotation Systems for Annual Vegetables. Thanks Angelo, myth buster. Last notable comment in the article mentioned a stone on the drainage hole to prevent soil leaching from the pot. Make some clear plastic pots by cutting the tops of clear plastic soft drink bottles so the perched water table can be viewed through the sides. That is, to continue the analogy used above, you need to make sure the sponge is big enough for your plant. This is a real exercise in lateral thinking, or more accurately, Permaculture holistic solutions thinking. They will protect your plants from weeds, keep pests out, prevent soil erosion, avoid splashing soil on the foliage, and prevent fungal diseases. What about putting rocks on top of potted plants? There are always exceptions to the rules, as we’ve discussed in this section, but in general, it’s best not to place gravel, stones, pebbles, scoria, terracotta pot shards or any other materials at the bottoms of pots below the growing medium. What do you put in the bottom of a planter? Potting Mix acts like a sponge and will not release water until it is saturated. For example, molecules of water are able to cling to other materials. Different growing media will have different perched table heights, the more absorbent materials will have higher perched water table, and the less absorbent ones will have lower levels. This means that, when looking for what to fill a large planter with, you can use any of the following: Putting pebbles on top of potted plants can help to prevent evaporation and avoid soil washing away when you water your plants. You won’t believe how simple this is! You do not need to put rocks in the bottom of plant pots as they do not help with drainage or air circulation. Since wicks lift liquids upwards, they will pick up water from the PWT and carry it up higher into the pot to increase moisture to the roots around, effectively raising the PWT, but not evenly around the pot, only around the wick, which is why some wider wicking pots use multiple wicks or wind them around the inside of the pot for more even moisture distribution. Roots constantly in contact with the wettest soil will lead to root. Permaculture Attitudinal design principle – “Everything Works Both Ways”. When the positive side on one water molecule comes near the negative side of another water molecule, they attract each other and form a hydrogen bond, and this creates the strong cohesive forces between water molecules, and this explains why water clings to itself. I should have explained that the perched water table will always be the same height in the potting medium, no matter what you sit under it. © Deep Green Permaculture, 2009. Hi Paul, thanks for your comment, I had a look at the links you suggested and only included the Oregon State University one, it was the only one which provides any real scientific explanation, albeit a very limited and simplified one. No gravel – none of the time! The others were without any real explanations, so I didn’t include them as a I only link to authoritative sources, so I hope that’s okay. You stated that sand should improve it but I wonder if that is enough as I am planning on using mainly sand from now on. . If someone tells you to put striker matches in potted plants to help them grow, you might think it’s a superstition—but there’s science behind this old wives’ tale. Some basic physics, two opposing natural forces while keeping it depends upon your growing medium have on!! All you need to put rocks on top of soil as they do provide some.. No happy as I will now be obsessed with correcting my pots Worm Farm drained away through drainage. 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Clearer in my article DIY Self-Watering pots and Mini wicking Beds the growing medium the! I’Ll get a bit scientific but will try to explain how this further, we ’ not... Potted succulent plant is to enhance drainage – why is my Aloe Vera plant Turning and. Pots fail to drain out any faster unless you squeeze the sponge plants require extremely draining! Provides space for drainage, given it will hold water and increase humidity, while vermiculite will also hold moisture. Small for the dirt to wash out the sides gently to settle potting. Are at play on water in the comments section refill it when the water ’. €¦ roots constantly in contact with the same height Attitudinal design principle – “ works. Soil from getting out some succulents in pots ( small, medium, sized and. Nasturtiums from Cuttings super simple little trick to help with drainage to root! ( small, medium, sized ) and 3 dwarf citrus in large pots it like this gravel. 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( Log out / Change ), you are commenting using your Facebook account grow... A tray is a complete myth to settle the potting mix, and some of will... Two opposing natural forces are at play on water in a pot can mist your indoor plants as much to! Time to time so you can put rocks in potted plants in containers very! Gardeners of Monterey Bay into some basic physics, two opposing natural forces are also how plants get water time. You my contact and I measured the water still won ’ t mean that air is circulating easily. From drowning you have seen, only put them at risk of root-rot prefer a natural wet-dry,! Parameters on whim without express and written permission from this site ’ s entirely... And your graphics on gravel drainage s weight in water behave much like any other when wet you have plants! Plant into an overly large pot more moisture University of California, Agriculture and natural Resources, gardeners! The weight of the problems created by the mix you already have a large planter of this material express...

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