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Do Succulents Need Drainage?

Updated: Feb 5

To drain or not to drain is a question on every succulent newbie’s mind. Frustratingly, lots of pots out there are made without a drainage hole which can be incredibly annoying as succulents prefer pots that are able to let all that excess water out. Or do they? Below I will explain why succulents are better off in ‘holey’ pots and how to grow them in pots with no drainage holes. I will also demonstrate a way of making a hole in a pot where there is none.

Do succulents need drainage?

Strictly speaking succulents are better off in pots with a drainage hole and planted in a well-draining succulent potting mix. Many will, however, survive and can even thrive in pots with no drainage, but it is not recommended.

Without a shadow of a doubt succulents will grow better when they are in pots that have drainage. They will need less maintenance and you won’t have to worry about rain, overwatering or underwatering (yes, that’s right, a succulent can be underwatered).

Although, many of the species of succulents we have in our backyards cannot be found in the wild as they are human made hybrids, their wild cousins mostly live in dry areas where they experience periods of drought followed by a drenching of rain.

To keep garden succulents looking well at all times, I would recommend watering regularly and letting the potting mix dry out between waterings. In pots without drainage, this is quite hard to achieve as water can accumulate at the bottom. While the top of the potting mix may look dry it is very hard to see what is beneath.

Succulents are mostly found in dry arid areas (with a few exceptions) and prefer to not be wet all the time. Having said that almost all our nursery succulents (300+ species) grow outdoors in the elements and while our climate is usually on the drier side, it can also tip it down for days, even weeks. Most succulents, if good succulent potting mix is used along with a pot with drainage holes, will easily survive lots of rain and overwatering.

Is it possible to grow succulents in pots without drainage?

Succulents will grow in pots without drainage. In some instances, succulents will even be happy in pots without holes. It all comes down to extra care, particular succulent species and size of roots.

The main downside is that succulents in pots without drainage will need a bit of extra care. Watering can’t just be done willy-nilly. It has to be measured and will depend on the size of the pot, size of the plant and type of plant. Succulents shouldn't sit in water but at the same time they will need some moisture delivered directly to their roots to nourish them. Also, the majority (but not all) of succulents should be exposed to sun. If they are in too much shade, they can suffer even if you're watering right.

Some succulents are more susceptible to rotting than others. These should not be planted in pots without drainage holes. It would be almost impossible to list all of the touchy succulents that just do not appreciated any kind of wet feet but these are some that we grow- Echeveria Romeo, Cotyledon Tomentosa, Echeveria Lauii, Graptoveria Amethorum, many other hybrid Echeveria & some cacti.

Echeveria Romeo pink succulent
Echeveria Romeo is a very sensitive succulents that can easily die without having drainage

Then there are succulents that will survive a pot without drainage even if its filled to the brim with water. I have a few pots with no holes myself and when it rains heavily, I just tip the excess water out.

Succulents that are rootbound will fair better and even like when they have water sitting at the bottom of the pot because the roots quickly absorb any available water as they don’t have much space. The key is to let the the pot dry out between waterings and not let the water sit in the pot for more than a few days.

How do you water succulents without drainage?

Water should be applied right on top of the potting mix, around the root area. Do not wet the foliage. The potting mix should be allowed to dry out between waterings. You may need to stick a finger in the potting mix to find out just how dry it is.

It usually works well if roughly a quarter to a third of the volume of the pot is used as a measure. So to make this as easy as possible divide the pot into four and mark the first quarter.

Where the first line from the bottom is marked, that is how much water should be used. For most pots, this would translate to about third of a cup. The measurement doesn’t have to be super precise, can be done by eye and adjusted based on how the potting mix feels.

In summer water will evaporate a lot quicker so the volume may need to be upped a little. If the potting mix feels soggy the pot can be tipped on its side (hold the potting mix with one hand, tip the pot with the other) so the water can run out. Ideally there should never be so much water that the pot will need to be tipped, but it is a solution if you think there’s water sitting in the pot.

In winter, you may not need to water at all as many succulents go dormant and stop growing.

Indoors, extra care has to be taken as water evaporates slower. It is a good idea to ensure that only shade-tolerant succulents are grown indoors, in plenty of light. Sun loving succulents are very likely to die indoors, drainage or no drainage.

Is it better to mist or water succulents in pots without drainage?

Never ever is it a good idea to mist succulents instead of watering. Most succulents hate when their foliage is wet and can develop a multitude of issues. Misting will also not provide roots with enough water. The best way to water a succulent is to drench when the potting mix is completely dry.

To clarify drenching should be done in pots with holes, watering sparingly, as described above, in pots with no drainage holes.

Although there are succulents found in jungles and tropical climates (rhipsalis etc.) the vast majority can start developing ugly marks, fungus and even rot if they are sprayed often.

Spraying or misting succulents is unlikely to distribute water to the roots and so they can dry out to the point of death as lots of succulents do not absorb water through their leaves.

How to make a hole in a pot with no drainage?

A hole can be made in any pot using a drill and a thin drill bit. I’d advise to start with a small drill bit and go slow, so the pot does not crack. A masonry drill bit should be used.

If you start with the thinnest drill-bit and work your way up, the pot should not crack. Cracking usually happens if the drill-bit is too big and is pushed too hard. Patience is key and any pressure applied should be quite light.

To conclude drainage is quite important to succulent plants but if looked after carefully, they can happily live in pots where there are no drainage holes.

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