Do Cacti Need Drainage Holes?

One of the easiest tricks to caring for your plants is to learn more about the original habitat of your plant and to try and recreate similar circumstances. For example, cacti naturally grow in drought-prone areas, and they don’t need a lot of water. So when you grow them, you want to recreate similar conditions by using a pot with adequate drainage holes, so the soil doesn’t remain moist. Don’t forget to put a saucer underneath to catch the water that drains out!

Why drainage holes are important for cacti

Drainage holes are essential to allow excess water to escape the pot, thus preventing root rot and overwatering. With proper draining holes, your cactus has enough time to absorb all the water it needs to thrive and eliminate the rest. This also allows you to thoroughly drench your cactus in water.

In the natural habitat of cacti, it doesn’t rain very often, but when it does, it’s often really hard rain. So being able to drench your cactus mimics these natural circumstances very well, which in turn helps with root development. When you’re unable to do this, the overall root structure of your cacti will be weaker as the roots have to do less work to absorb the water.  

Cacti are prone to root rot which develops when the soil remains saturated. Over time the root rot will eventually kill the plant. Fortunately, this is pretty easy to avoid if you have good drainage holes. Not only will you be able to get rid of the excess water, but you can better manage your watering schedule by checking the drainage holes instead of the topsoil. For example, if you place your fingers in the drainage hole and it feels dry – then you can go ahead and water the plant. 

Drainage holes also allow oxygen to reach the roots, which is necessary for cacti to thrive. However, it’s not only the drainage holes but also appropriate soil with enough inorganic components that promote aeration and drainage.

Most of us will be using tap water for watering our plants. Tap water may contain plenty of unwanted minerals and salt that you deposit in your cactus’ soil every time you water it. The buildup of these salt and minerals may eventually harm your plant. But if you have proper drainage holes, you’ll be able to flush out the buildup of salt as the excess water drains out.

What happens if you grow a cactus in a pot without drainage holes

Growing cacti without drainage holes dramatically increase the chance of root rot and other fungal infections, as the soil may remain damp for days. The likelihood of developing root rot is even higher if you grow the plant indoors without the sun being able to dry out the ground.

If you don’t have drainage holes, you need to be very careful with watering your plant, so it’s never flooded. However, the effect of this over the long term is that your cactus will have weaker roots as the roots never have to do any work to grow deeper and stronger. Over time this will affect the entire plant as the root system is the most important part of a plant.

A well-developed root system will allow your plant to flourish but also enable it to withstand anything that can endanger its health. You can think of a plant’s root system like a human’s most vital organs.

Without draining holes, the roots will have almost no aeration. While a plant may still survive and grow, without a proper supply of oxygen, it’s unlikely to reach its full potential.

As we mentioned, draining holes are not only important to get rid of excess water but also of salt and minerals in tap water that accumulates in the soil. You can see these salt and minerals as foreign components that affect your plant’s health.

Growing a cactus without drainage holes

While growing cacti without drainage holes are never recommended, you might already have a cactus that’s doing quite well, and you don’t want to repot it. Or you might simply not have suitable pots on hand. Fortunately, it is absolutely possible to let your cactus grow pretty well if you take the proper precautions.

The most essential thing is to be very strict on how much you water your cactus. It’s critical that you water very sparingly and that you still check the soil every time before you do. Many factors could influence how quickly the soil dries, so don’t just blindly stick to a watering schedule.

If you are repotting your cactus, start with a layer of rocks so that if you give your cacti too much water, its roots wouldn’t be sitting directly in the damp soil. Also, add an extra layer of charcoal to the soil. The charcoal will promote the absorption of water and also help to kill off harmful pathogens that might be present in the ground. Always use a proper cactus soil mix to promote absorption.

Be very mindful of where you keep your cactus. Opt for a spot in your house that get’s sufficient bright light all day, as the sunlight will help to dry up the soil faster. Just remember that it’s filtered bright light. Placing the cactus in direct sun on a window sill can actually slowly kill off the plant or burn leaves.

Summing Up…

If you don’t have the right pot for cacti on hand, it might feel like a hassle finding a pot with drainage holes. But it’s worth the effort if you consider how easily you could lose your beloved cactus to root rot or other fungal infections when the cactus is already in poor health.

If you have a pot with proper drainage holes, you can freely water cacti and allow the plant to better reach its full potential. If you want to use beautiful pots, simply opt for a bigger size so you can place the pot with drainage holes inside of it.

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