Do Pothos Need Drainage: The Dangers of No Drainage Holes & Simple Solutions

Picture this: You’ve just brought home a stunning pothos plant (Devil’s Ivy or Epipremnum aureum) that will elevate any space it’s placed in. But wait, you’re in a quandary – do you need to pot it in a container with drainage holes or not? 

It’s a puzzle that’s plagued many new plant parents, and the opinions are as varied as the colors of the rainbow. But fear not. We’ve scoured the depths of horticultural knowledge to uncover the truth.

We’re going to explore and answer the age-old question – does pothos really need drainage? With our expert insights, you’ll have all the necessary information to ensure your new plant thrives in its new home.

Let’s Get Right to it… Do Pothos Need Drainage Holes?

Do pothos plants need drainage? Absolutely. Pothos plants require well-draining soil to prevent excess moisture retention, which can lead to root rot. To ensure proper drainage, it’s crucial to choose the right soil mix and pot with drainage holes at the bottom.

Pothos are tropical plants that crave moist soil but not overly wet. Unfortunately, excess water can only escape with drainage holes, leaving the soil perpetually waterlogged. When watering your pothos plant, wait until the top inch of soil is dry to the touch before watering thoroughly, allowing any excess water to drain out. With proper drainage, your pothos will thrive and grow beautiful leaves and vines.

Don’t be tempted to play a risky game of letting the soil become too dried out between watering – your plant deserves better!

So, why not give your pothos the best possible care and provide it with proper drainage? Even if you have a decorative pot without drainage holes, you can still drill them yourself or place the plant in a plastic pot with drainage.

Still not convinced? Improper drainage can lead to many issues, such as root rot and also stunted growth. 

3 Common Problems Caused by Drainage Issues

Everyone loves Golden pothos because they are low-maintenance plants. But, there are a variety of issues that indoor plants can develop from improper drainage holes (pothos included).

The three primary ones are root rot, salt buildup, and overwatering.

First: Root Rot

healthy pothos roots
Healthy pothos roots.

Root rot can wreak havoc on your beloved pothos plant, which is why proper drainage is crucial. This insidious fungal infection begins by attacking the roots, which are the lifeblood of your plant.

Poor drainage will lower the oxygen in the root system. And to thrive, plant roots require oxygen, which is why proper drainage is vital. 

When there isn’t enough drainage, the roots may start to decay, preventing them from absorbing water and nutrients from the soil. As a result, the plant’s growth can be stunted, and its leaves and stems may become unhealthy. 

If you detect a funky odor emanating from the soil, it’s a sign that root rot has taken hold. Unfortunately, this insidious disease can quickly spread throughout the entire plant, leaving it in ruins.

However, all is not lost if you act quickly. The first step is to repot the plant, but not just any repotting will do. Next, remove all the old soil and use sterile pruning shears or a knife to cut away any mushy or decaying roots.

Once you’ve done this, you can give your pothos a fresh start by placing it in a pot with well-draining soil. With a little TLC, your pothos plant can fully recover and thrive again.

If the roots are in bad shape and you think your pothos is dying, with no hope for recovery, then one last trick is to propagation.

TLDR Summary: Ensure your plants have sufficient drainage to avoid root rot and promote healthy growth.

Overwatered

pothos leaves turning yellow and with leaf spot

Keeping soil moisture levels optimal is essential, but it’s important not to water too much. When you give your pothos excess water without drainage, they can get waterlogged.

If this occurs, the air can’t get to the roots of your cherished houseplant, and it won’t be able to absorb nutrients correctly. You can suffocate your plant as a result! 

Aside from too much water, a few other additional factors can lead to overwatering. Including temperature, soil drainage, and humidity levels are some things you should be aware of.

For instance, the soil will dry out and the water evaporates more quickly in the summer, you will need to water your plant much more frequently. Similarly, the air becomes drier in the winter, so you should consider the humidity and watering less.

An overwatered pothos usually manifests by its natural heart-shaped green leaves turning yellow and overall wilting of the plant. To avoid overwatering, water your pothos properly and use a well-draining potting mix. 

If you allow your plant to stay overwatered, it may lead to mold and fungus growth. So, make sure there are drainage holes on the bottom of your pot.

Salt Buildup

Imagine your indoor pothos plants as a luxurious oasis, where each leaf and stem bask in the perfect balance of moisture and nutrients. But beware, a lurking danger could threaten your plant’s serenity: salinity.’

Yes, the level of salt in the soil can wreak havoc on your precious plants by hindering nitrogen uptake. And we all know what that means – stunted growth and an unhappy plant. 

That’s why ensuring drainage, preventing salt buildup, and keeping your indoor oasis flourishing is crucial. Don’t let salinity sabotage your plant paradise!

4 Tips for Avoiding Pothos Drainage Problems

holding a rare pothos plant variety

1.) Drainage Holes Are a Must

Drainage holes, dear plant parents, are absolutely crucial! They are the guardians of proper drainage, allowing excess moisture to escape and your plants to thrive.

Without these little portals, your plant risks drowning in a soggy grave of waterlogged soil, robbed of the essential nutrients it needs to flourish.

Beware of the seductive trap of decorative pots without drainage holes! 

Though they may be aesthetically pleasing, their lack of drainage holes can spell disaster for your beloved greenery. 

But fret not! If you simply must have that perfect decorative pot, you can create those much-needed holes yourself with a little effort and a trusty drill. 

Note: If you drill holes into a decorative pot you’ll need a tray or saucer under the pot to catch any dripping water, etc.

You can also keep your plant in its plastic grow pot (with sufficient drainage) and place it inside a decorative pot. This method is called cachepot.

2.) Well-draining Potting Soil

Creating the perfect environment for your pothos is all about finding the right balance, and choosing the correct soil is the foundation of that balance.

To keep your pothos thriving, you’ll need to ensure it’s planted in soil that drains well, preventing excess moisture retention that can lead to root rot.

Selecting the ideal soil mix and ensuring holes in the bottom of the pot are both critical to achieving this balance. You can either opt for a pre-made aroid mix from your local plant nursery or mix your own.

Crafting your perfect pothos soil mix can involve a combination of perlite, universal soil mix, vermiculite, and peat moss. Alternatively, potting soil formulated for succulents, cacti, or philodendrons can also work. 

Either way, finding the right soil will help your pothos grow and flourish.

3.) Pot Type & Material

repotting a pothos houseplant

When choosing a pothos pot for your beloved plants, there are two distinct options: porous and non-porous materials. The choice you make ultimately depends on your watering habits.

If you tend to give your plants a little too much TLC, then porous pots are the way to go. Crafted with small holes that allow air and water to pass through, they prevent excess moisture retention and keep your plants happy and healthy. Terracotta, concrete, and clay pots are popular examples of this type of pot.

But if you tend to forget about your greenery occasionally, non-porous pots are your best bet. Made of materials that don’t allow air or moisture to flow through, which helps prevent underwatering and keep your plants thriving. 

From stone to glazed ceramic, metal to fiberglass, plenty of options are available.

However, it’s important to note that non-porous pots may deteriorate over time, so you may need to repot more frequently. But if you’re after a beautiful and durable pot, these ornamental options are perfect for you! 

4.) Water Properly

watering a pothos plant

Refrain from relying on a set watering schedule for your pothos. Following a defined schedule can actually harm your plant by overwatering it.

Take the pothos plant, for example. While a general rule of watering every 5 to 7 days may work, it’s best to check the soil moisture before you water. Pothos prefers moist soil, so if the soil dries out completely, your plant will show signs of distress, with drooping leaves that become crispy. 

Don’t worry; your plant will let you know when it’s thirsty by curling its leaves. But don’t go overboard – the pothos plant has a delicate root system that can easily be overwhelmed by excess water. 

Overwatering leads to suffocated roots and fungal infections that kill the roots.

What’s the best way to water a pothos to prevent this? It’s simple – establish your own routine! Then, closely monitor your plant and check the soil moisture regularly. 

Wait until the top 1-2″ of soil is dry before watering again. Then, use the trusty finger test or a wooden stick to check the soil moisture level- if there’s soil left on the stick, wait a bit longer before watering.

During the growing season (spring and summer), water your pothos once weekly if it has the right conditions. This can typically be around an inch of water, but the best method is to water slowly until you see water coming out of the drainage holes.

As winter approaches and the plant hibernates, use less water to suit its slower growth rate.

FAQ About Drainage for Pothos Plants

Can I use a pot without holes if I use a drainage layer of pebbles?

No, this is a myth, and is not recommended. According to soil scientists, when water meets a layer of stones or pebbles at the bottom of your plant’s pot for a drainage layer, physical science causes the water to accumulate in the soil, saturating it and adversely affecting the root zone. 

And as we discussed above, we know that overwatered pothos plants don’t thrive. So, take a tip from the University of Washington¹ and others who have found that water doesn’t freely trickle down through layers of potting soil. 

Instead, it builds up in the finer layer above, saturating it like a sponge, before it finally drains away. 

So, instead, use well-draining, high-quality potting soil and forget about using stones or pebbles. Your plants will thank you!

How do I use a hanging basket and provide proper drainage?

Most hanging planters have a drainage tray built-in. As all the same rules still apply. If there are no holes, you can use the cachepot method and place a pot with drainage holes inside the hanging basket and cover it with decorative moss, etc., to disguise it.

How do you water pothos without drainage?

You shouldn’t. Pothos should always have drainage holes. If your pot doesn’t, use the methods outlined in this article. If for some reason your pot cannot have drainage we suggest using a different plant cultivar such as snake plants. Which require less water.

Following these guidelines lets you keep your pothos plant healthy and happy! Avoiding growing nasty bacteria and dealing with plant diseases. 

Plus, you no longer have to ask the question- do pothos need drainage holes?

References

1: Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D. (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://s3.wp.wsu.edu/uploads/sites/403/2015/03/container-drainage.pdf

Website | + posts

Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.