It happens to everyone.

You were excited to begin growing plants in pots. But now they are having some drainage problems.

You water them on time and try to give the required watering. But it does not seem to be working.

For some plants, the water drains too fast. But for others, it just seems to stay there for ages.

How can you fix this problem? How can you improve drainage in these pots?

In this post, I’ll show you 8 tips to make sure you fix your drainage problems and keep them away for the future. I’ll show you how to improve the drainage before you plant in pots and after you have planted.

So let’s begin.

Improve drainage before planting in the potting soil

1. Use the right container with drainage holes

You can get containers made from plastic, terracotta, ceramic, wood, metal, and concrete. If you want to improve drainage, you could use porous terracotta pots.

The pores in the material will leach out the moisture. The problem is that these pots can get dry faster, which means you may need to water more often.

If you want good drainage in your potted plants, you should have drainage holes in the container. You can use some without drainage holes but only for indoor plants, and you need to be very careful.

My suggestion is to always use a container with drainage holes for growing any plants. If you want to prevent water from falling on the floor, you can use a tray. And clear the tray after every watering.

I would also suggest using deep containers that are 1-2 sizes larger than the plant. This will help the potting soil keep the moisture longer even if it drains out the excess. 

If the containers are short, you’ll need to water often because the soil will turn dry much quicker. You risk overwatering the soil if you have to keep watering the plants often.

2. Prepare the container with the right materials

Before you can add potting soil to the container, you need to prepare a bed that helps with draining excess moisture.

It’s best to put a layer of hard material on the bottom of the pot. This could be broken pieces of terracotta or bricks.

The next layer should be organic matter such as dried leaves, coco coir, straw, hay, or dried grass clippings.

These layers will help absorb the moisture percolating from the bottom of the potting soil and drain it out from the holes at the bottom.

coco coir
Coco coir products like coco coir bricks and pots

3. Use good potting soil with the right texture

The best time to improve drainage of the potting soil is before you start planting. This allows you to use the right soil from the start.

You may either get a ready-to-use potting soil that contains the right mix or prepare the potting soil yourself. In both cases, make sure the potting soil is made for container use.

This means it should contain the right materials, so the potting soil gets the right texture. It should retain sufficient moisture but drain out the excess.

The materials that help the potting soil get this texture include perlite, vermiculite, peat moss, coco peat, and compost. So check the potting soil bag to see if it includes these and in what ratio.

You can create your own potting soil using a mix of garden soil, perlite, vermiculite, coco peat, and compost.

Materials like peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite can absorb water and help improve the drainage of your soil. You can buy a potting mix that’s specifically made for use in containers or you can add these materials yourself. – John Valentino, Owner, John & Bob’s

Make sure the garden soil is loamy and does not contain too much clay or sand. Those should be in equal amounts in the soil.

Mix 2 parts of the garden soil with 1 part perlite, 1 part vermiculite, 1 part coco peat, and 1 part compost.

The garden soil helps the potting mix get the right rigidity so the plant can get a good foundation in the soil.

The perlite is a material that has low water-retention properties. It helps drain out the excess moisture from the soil. It also helps the potting soil remain lightweight.

Vermiculite is a material that has good water absorption. This helps the potting mix retain sufficient moisture for the plant roots.

Coco peat is a fibrous material conducive to the potting soil to absorb moisture and keep it for a long time.

Compost will help provide nutrients to the potting mix. It also introduces beneficial organisms into the soil to enrich it further. 

Improve drainage after planting in the potting soil

It may be that you have already planted some plants in the potting soil and are facing problems with the drainage. There are ways that you should be able to improve this drainage.

4. Add compost to the potting soil

compost packet
Packet of compost I used for my plants

The best way to improve drainage in any soil is to add more organic matter to it. Compost is the best form of such matter that will help improve the texture and introduce beneficial organisms.

The beneficial organisms will improve the texture over time and help add beneficial nutrients to the soil.

You will need to add the compost into the potting soil as much as possible. You can use a trowel and dig 1-2 inches inside the soil to mix in the compost. Make sure to avoid disturbing the plant’s roots.

Trowel that was available at the HortiPro Exhibition

You can keep adding a layer of compost every 2-3 weeks to improve the soil texture. It will gradually improve and have better drainage after a few weeks.

5. Add amendments to the potting soil

You can improve the drainage of the potting soil by adding amendments such as perlite, vermiculite, or coco peat. But you need first to find out what is wrong with it.

If the potting soil drains too fast, it could mean that the soil has turned hydrophobic or contains too much sand.

If the water runs out as soon as you water it and does not seem to reach the plant roots, it means the potting soil is hydrophobic.

Adding worms to your potted plants is a great way to aerate the soil. They will tunnel through the soil, which will allow deeper water flow, which will help your plant grow deeper routes in the pot. Additionally, those worms will yield castings which is the organic by-product that is rich in nitrogen that will also help the plants grow. – Jeff Neal, The Critter Depot

If the water reaches the roots but seems to run out fast, it means there’s too much sand in the potting soil. You can mix in organic matter such as vermiculite and cocopeat, absorbing moisture and releasing it slowly.

If the water stays in the potting soil for a very long time, it means the potting soil contains a lot of clay. You can add perlite that will help drain out the water faster from the soil.

6. Improve the soil if it has turned hydrophobic

If you did not water the potting soil for too long, it could turn hydrophobic. The materials in the potting soil don’t absorb moisture, and the water runs out without reaching the roots.

The best way to revert the potting soil to absorb moisture is to soak the pot into a tub or sink for an hour. The potting soil will slowly start absorbing the moisture and regain its properties.

Keeping containers consistently watered to meet the specific plant’s needs will keep your soil moist and ensure better drainage. – Christi Kelly, Patio Garden Life

The other way to do this is to constantly keep a slow drip of water on the potting soil. The water will get absorbed over time, and the potting soil will regain its ability to retain moisture.

7. Remove stones from the bottom of the pot

If all else fails, you may need to re-pot the plant in fresh potting soil that has the right texture. But before you do that, you can remove any stones, pebbles, or gravel you added to the pot.

You will need to take out the plant and potting soil to remove the bottom layer of any such material you may have added.

According to the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension , one inch of rock layer under the soil in an 8 x 8-inch pot will give whatever plant goes in it 12% less room to grow for the roots.

These materials can act as a blockage and slow down the drainage of water from the potting soil. They also reduce the height of the container holding the soil, which tends to keep moisture at the lower layers of the potting soil longer.

8. Re-pot the plant in good potting soil

You can always take the potting soil and plant out and re-pot it with fresh or amended potting soil. I would suggest keeping this as the last option when you have tried some of the others.

This will work for small or medium plants that you can remove out of the pot with ease. It might not be that feasible for large plants.

Hold the plant near the base with one hand and lift the pot with the other hand. Tilt the pot so that the plant gently slides out of the pot.

You can remove some of the old potting soil from the root ball if there is no good drainage. Keep the plant aside and fill the pot with fresh potting soil that has good drainage.

You can buy a fresh potting mix or make your own using the method I mentioned above. Mix the soil, vermiculite, perlite, coco peat, and compost to get the right texture.

Dig a hole in the potting soil where you can put the plant. Place the root ball inside the hole and cover it up with the potting soil. Ensure all the roots are covered well.

Firm the soil a little near the base of the plant so that it gets good support. Now you can give the potting soil a good watering. Keep adding water till it drains out from the drainage holes at the bottom.

How to test the drainage of potted plants

Check the condition of the potting soil

If you’re having problems with the drainage of the potting soil, you can check the soil texture. It should be the right texture if you used a potting mix from a reputed garden center, nursery, or online brand.

It should not clump together when you hold it in your hand, but neither falls off like sand. It should hold together but crumble when you lightly touch it.

If you hold the potting soil firmly in your hand and it clumps, that means there is a lot of clay in it. If you hold the potting soil, but it falls off your hand, it has a lot of sand.

Too much clay will cause the potting soil to retain moisture longer. Too much sand will cause the potting soil to dry out quicker.

Check the flow of water from the drainage holes

If you find that the potting soil has the right texture but still has problems with drainage, you can check further by giving it good watering. Check how fast the water drains out from the holes at the bottom.

If the water is taking time to drain, then it is an indication of a blockage somewhere. Make sure the drainage holes are clear and not blocked. You could use a thin stick or nail to push into the holes to clear them off any debris.

If the water is flowing out very fast, it could be that the bottom portion of the potting soil does not have the required texture. This could be because the plant has become root-bound.

The ideal moisture level is between 40% and 70%, which allows some oxygen to stay in the soil. (

The roots encircle inside the pot because they don’t have enough growing space. This happens when the plant has outgrown the pot. You need to remove the plant from the pot and check for this problem.

If this is the case, you need to re-pot the plant in a larger pot. Make sure to untangle some of the affected roots gently. You may also need to peel an outer layer of the roots when the problem is severe.

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