Growing Houseplants in Pots without Drainage Holes

In general, we recommend against placing houseplants in pots without drainage whenever possible. You can still use a beautiful decorative pot even if it doesn’t have drainage holes. You can simply use a second interior pot that does have drainage holes. Some type of catchment will make sure you can water your plants generously without making a mess.

That said, there are plenty of examples and effective strategies for growing houseplants in pots without drainage holes. Maybe you already have the perfect size pot and the perfect size plant. Maybe you’re starting with miniature plants and pots that are impractical to layer with two different pots. Maybe you’ve heard that the need for pots with good drainage is overblown. Whatever the reason, here are our tips and advice for growing houseplants in pots without drainage.

Best Watering Practices

First, you need to know exactly what type of houseplant you have and how much soil moisture the plant likes. You need to provide enough moisture to unlock nutrients in the soil without creating standing water that leads to root rot or excess moisture that leads to mold. Even though overwatering is a constant danger, you still need to get the soil wet in every area of the pot. In fact, it’s even more important to water all sides of the pot to saturate the soil with the least amount of water. Using glass jars or other glass containers will allow you to see exactly how much water the soil is taking on and whether the soil is drying out. Using a soil moisture meter is another essential tool to get the water just right.

Pot Size and Gravel

It’s also easier to go without drainage holes for miniature pots and houseplants. Large pots with considerable potting mix take a lot longer to dry out, especially without drainage. With miniature pots, the soil is so close to the surface and the plant needs so little water to begin with, you have a better chance of success. The idea that adding gravel to the bottom of the pot is all you need for drainage is a major houseplant myth and one of the most common mistakes people make with houseplants. It also goes hand-in-hand with overwatering. One thing we do recommend is lining the bottom of the pot with activated charcoal that will help keep the water clean and free of rot.

Growing Houseplants in Water

For many types of plants, this is the easiest way to grow houseplants without drainage holes. For philodendrons, lucky bamboo, and pothos plants especially, this is a great solution. Simply put a cutting of the plant, just below a leaf node, in a glass jar with clean water and plant fertilizer. Make sure the leaves are out of the water and the node is in the water. New roots should form. So long as you keep replacing the water and adding fertilizer, these houseplants should grow and do quite well. When growing houseplants in water, it doesn’t have to be a glass jar. In fact, especially when placed in sunny spots, glass containers can encourage algae growth that threatens the plant. Learn more about propagating and growing houseplants in water.


Why isn’t My Houseplant Flowering?

Some houseplants produce flowers more easily than others, and some do not produce flowers at all. Houseplants may not flower for a few different reasons. They may be getting too much water—or not enough. They may be getting too much light—or not enough. Thus, if you want to know why isn’t your houseplant flowering, you need to look at the type of houseplant, its recent growth, and your plant care practices.

Many types of houseplants only produce flowers when they are strong and healthy from the right growing conditions. Other houseplants also need light and temperature cues to trigger their natural growth and flowering cycle. Some plants need reduced light exposure (photoperiodism) and/or slightly colder temperatures (vernalization) that mimic winter and prepare the plant to flower during the ensuing spring and summer. Some houseplants, like the Christmas cactus, use a combination of photoperiodism and vernalization to trigger a new bloom cycle.

Some houseplants are also more likely to produce flowers when stressed in some way. It’s believed the plant starts working overtime to produce flowers that can create the next generation of plants. Before trying this approach, we generally recommend making sure a houseplant has ideal growing conditions and plenty of healthy foliage but still won’t flower. We also recommend learning more about why specific types of houseplants may not be flowering.

Why Different Types of Houseplants Do and Do Not Flower

Peace Lily

The most common complaint against peace lilies is that they have beautiful, white flowers in the store that are never seen again when you take the plant home. The peace lily can be forced to show its spathe and spadix blossom, but only under ideal growing conditions. This includes plenty of indirect light in a north- or east-facing window or with filtered light. The peace lily likes plenty of water compared to most houseplants, though it is quick to bounce back. Plus, its large, droopy leaves make it easy to tell when it needs water. So long as it’s not too drafty, being a few degrees colder in the winter can help mimic its natural growing conditions and help produce flowers. Finally, it’s best to fertilize or amend the soil in the early spring to promote new growth and flowers in the late spring and summer. Some of the success also depends on the individual grower and source. Some peace lily cultivars flower more easily than others.

Anthuriums and angel wing begonias are other good examples of popular houseplants that need ideal growing conditions in order to produce flowers.


In contrast to peace lilies which are forced to bloom by the growers and then may struggle to do so at home, cacti are often sold without flowers in bloom. That’s because many types of cactus do not flower until they are fully mature plants. For some species, this can mean a few years. For others, it can mean a few decades. The solution to getting a cactus to flower may simply be time and patience. That said, the cactus is also a houseplant that is much more likely to flower when given optimal growing conditions. With two main types of cactus, it’s important to know what your plant likes best. A desert cactus is more likely to thrive and bloom with plenty of sun and less frequent watering. A forest cactus is more likely to benefit from moderate watering and not too much direct sun.


Most every kind of plant uses exposure to natural light to determine the season, calibrate its growth, and decide how to expend its energy. For some plants, like the kalanchoe, this photoperiodism is expressed in their ability or inability to flower. The kalanchoe plant typically has plenty of flowers with blooms that may last for months. If the plant isn’t producing new flowers, it could be poor growing conditions, but it’s just as likely that you’re not giving the plant long enough periods of darkness. These plants usually need around 12-14 hours of darkness to trigger a new bloom cycle. This includes most types of artificial light. Keep the plant in a room where you don’t spend late evenings or early morning with the light on, and you should be good to go.

African violets and poinsettas are also very popular houseplants that may require up to 8 and 14 hours, respectively, to stimulate new flowers.

The Best Houseplants for Flowering

Are you looking for a houseplant with plenty of colorful flowers? Along with the plants already mentioned, we recommend checking out different varieties of orchids, cyclamen, amaryllis, geraniums, flowering jasmine, flowering maple, and primroses.


Traveling with Houseplants: How to Turn a Plant into the Perfect Souvenir

Many people who love to cultivate houseplants eventually run into the problem of too many plants and too little space. Different times of year bring new successes and challenges in managing house and plant décor. During springtime, there are beautiful, healthy plants of endless variety in local shops. As summer rolls along, new growth can swell the total size of a houseplant, threatening to crowd out nearby plants. During the fall and winter, you’re more likely to be gifted new plants that you need to find space for.

One of the best times to propagate a houseplant is when an out-of-town friend or family member is visiting. You have plenty of chances to give houseplants to your local network of friends, family, and neighbors. If you’re the one traveling with houseplants, you can also do a houseplant trade with this type of family member or long-distance friendship. Especially if you’re trying to make room for new plants, then you can pack and bring some of your full-size houseplants as gifts. In return, you might bring home a cutting to start a new, smaller plant from your friend’s collection.

Best Travel Experiences and Souvenirs for 2020

Houseplants make for great gifts in general, but this year, it can make more sense than ever to turn your houseplants into free gifts and a free source of entertainment. With new distancing rules, there are fewer social events to attend. Houseplant propagation makes for a great at-home crafts project, whether it’s just for your inner circle or whether you want to set up a larger area to maintain distancing. Of course, you can also go to a local gardening shop and buy houseplants. Too many people shy away from these ideas because they think houseplants are too much trouble to travel with. In truth, it’s usually not that hard. By knowing a few tips and tricks, you can create a new houseplant and bring it home.

Tips and Tricks for Packing and Traveling with Houseplants

  • Some houseplant enthusiasts will tell you that the best way to travel with a houseplant is the bare-root approach in which you first knock and wash off the soil. With this approach, you want the roots to be dry. Once you get the houseplant to its destination and repot the plant, it’s time for a generous amount of water to promote new root growth.
  • Other people tell you this approach is unnecessary if you’re not already repotting the plant. You can simply cover the soil and wrap the pot easily enough to prevent the soil from making a mess of things. With this approach, you do want to water the houseplant before packing, but not all at once or to excess. Give the plant a little time to drain before packing. You don’t want to trap water-logged soil near the roots or make the packing material water-logged from runoff.
  • Looking for a souvenir on a road trip and found a plant that the landscape won’t miss? So long as you can get the plant out of the ground, you don’t need a lot of fancy packing materials or even a lot of pre-planning. Stop at a grocery store for a 2-liter of soda or a gallon of milk, and you have a ready-made container for transporting the plant back home.
  • Some plants and cut flowers should be planted in soil or growing medium as soon as possible, but for many houseplants like the jade, you should wait a couple days for the cutting to dry out and better prepare to grow new roots. Even if you run out of time for a crafts project, you can quickly create and pack a plant cutting which you can pot when you get back home. This is also a popular approach when flying with a houseplant.
  • You should try to keep up with best houseplant care practices in the week or so before travel. This includes trimming back and removing any dead growth from the pot. Here is a nifty guide we found for traveling with houseplants on short-distance vs. long-distance trips.

Pay Attention but Be Patient with New Houseplants

Know that houseplants frequently show signs of distress when being repotted or even just when being moved to a new location. Most times, the plant will quickly rebound after adjusting to its new environment.


Online Plant Delivery vs Local Gardening Stores

Those looking for houseplants often have two basic questions in mind: What type of houseplants should I get and where is the best place to get them? We can help you choose different types of houseplants, but we can also provide tips and guidance about where to find your houseplants. One choice you’ll need to make is whether to go out shopping for your plants at local gardening stores vs online plant delivery where you get the plants delivered directly to your home.

Houseplant Selection vs. Inspection

Online, you can find practically any houseplant variety out there. They may not all be available from the same vendor, and they may not all be available at the same time of year. Yet, if you know the houseplant you want, a simple search will usually find online plant delivery for that type of plant. True, some plants travel better than others both in terms of physical damage and recovering from shipping stress.

At a local plant shop, you may not have an endless selection, but you can closely inspect each plant for health and visual appeal. If you’ve got a tricky spot in your home and an eye for design, for example, you may want to pick out a plant with specific foliage and growth pattern. With their featured displays and plant arrangements, local nurseries and gardening stores can help brainstorm and solve these types of home decorating challenges.

Like many e-commerce platforms, online plant delivery services find ways to offer new kinds of customer service and quality assurance. Beyond the convenience and cost comparison of online shopping, these online vendors are more likely to offer plant insurance or even free replacement plants. It’s easier to find reviews from verified customers and how their plants have performed.

Plants with Pots vs Containers

Some online plant delivery services also sell pots, but few vendors ship the plant and pot together in a condition that’s ready to place. Likewise, many gardening stores offer most of their plants in temporary plastic containers, but many places will also feature at least some plants that are already potted. Are you looking for ready-made houseplant decorations for your home? Some type of boutique plant shop is likely your best bet. Yes, you’ll pay a small premium for this type of arrangement, but if you like the look of houseplants and don’t have time for an indoor gardening project, it’s well worth it. A quick call or visit to the website is often enough to know what type of plants and pot arrangements you can expect to find.

Online Plant Delivery vs Local Gardening Stores: What’s Best for the Environment?

In general, shopping at local gardening stores is better for the environment, but it depends on the growing source and distribution network. It’s not so much the local delivery component that’s bad for the environment, but national distribution with houseplants getting routinely shipped across the country to make sure orders are fulfilled. Getting a plant delivered from a local nursery is better than driving a gas-guzzler all over town looking for a singularly perfect plant.

Many houseplant enthusiasts are concerned about the environment, and some gardening businesses are taking action to support these values. Greenery Unlimited, for example, announced last year that it would suspend nationwide delivery of their houseplants until the company could figure how to reduce the environmental impact of their delivery operations.

Shipping Stress on Houseplants

While shipping houseplants is likely to stress the plant, withered foliage should bounce back so long as the plant is from a reputable source with strong, healthy roots. Of course, it’s up to you to provide favorable growing conditions and good houseplant care. There is likely to be some stress no matter how you get houseplants. When it comes to exact light exposure and humidity level, no two places are exactly the same. If the plant is going from western to eastern sun exposure, there is likely to be signs of distress during the transition—even if the plant is well-suited to eastern light. At the same time, shipping a houseplant to an arid climate from a grower with greenhouses calibrated for tropical climates is going to be more vulnerable to pests and disease than houseplants from local growers.


Where to Buy Houseplants: Big Box Stores vs Local Nurseries vs Boutique Shops

The best places to buy houseplants use reliable growers and maintain diligent onsite plant care while also offering competitive prices. Unless you can get the truth out of an owner or employee, it may be impossible to know the quality and overall value of a houseplant you see in the store. That said, there are some notable differences in supply chains and business practices from big box stores, local nurseries, and boutique shops that can influence where you buy houseplants.

Buying Houseplants at Big Box Stores

Though snubbed by many plant enthusiasts, big box stores are still among the most common ways to find and buy houseplants. These stores are also the most affordable way to get plants on average. However, there are two big knocks against the plants at big box stores. First, the plants may be from large, national growers that use standardized greenhouse conditions, rather than grow conditions that reflect the local climate. Second, these plants may not receive the same level care and attention from the staff as the plants cultivated at smaller, local nurseries. Signs of distress when taking your plant home are more common from big box stores. Nevertheless, if you have a good setup at home and follow best care practices, many plants can adapt and reestablish themselves.

Buying Houseplants at Local Nurseries

Local plant nurseries tend to offer some of the best overall value for gardening and houseplants. Not all nurseries operate on the same scale, and that can make a big difference in what they offer. The tradeoff is price vs selection. By focusing on just a dozen popular and reliable plant varieties, nurseries can offer beautiful, healthy plants at a price that competes with the big box stores. However, indoor houseplant selection may be limited. As smaller, local growers diversify their selection while maintaining best cultivation practices, they usually need to increase their prices to turn a profit. The shopping experience is often an open greenhouse with long rows of tables for browsing. There may also be some plants fully outside and/or a modest indoor area for specialty plants.

Buying Houseplants at Boutique Gardening Shops

Boutique gardening stores are essentially high-end plant nurseries. You get the same high-quality results from local plant cultivation from gardening experts. You’ll usually find plenty of options for miniature plants in tiny plastic containers, but you’ll also find beautifully arranged and potted plants. Instead of long, orderly rows of houseplants, there is likely to be a thoughtfully designed sales floor that shows off the best houseplant examples. More than shopping for a plant you already know you want, these stores are great spaces to brainstorm new ideas for houseplant décor. The drawback is that the prices at these types of gardening stores may be even higher than other local nurseries.

What about Plant Delivery Services?

For a long time, online plant delivery was a niche market for people who prioritized convenience and selection over price and sustainability. This is still true to some degree, but there are new delivery service models that are working to lower the cost and improve sustainability. Whether directly through big-box stores or online delivery services that partner with local nurseries, many gardening stores are offering both in-store and plant delivery sales options.

Best Houseplant Buy and Care Practices

Where to buy houseplants is an important decision, but don’t overlook the fundamentals of houseplant care. The healthiest, most beautiful plant specimen in the world can wilt to nothing in a matter of weeks if neglected or attacked by pests. In other cases, a houseplant on its last legs may be nursed back to health.


Practical Household Uses for Houseplants

Houseplants are not so different from other plants in their practical household uses. There are endless possibilities, but the most common uses are for fragrance, medicine, and flavor. If you’ve ever been to a botanical garden, you may have found plant and garden arrangements based on these three themes. Many houseplants can be used for more than one purpose. Rosemary can be used for all three. Many people associate herb plants with outdoor gardens. Some plants are best left to outdoor grown environments, but many popular herbs can be successfully cultivated indoors.

Some practical household uses for houseplants are actually myth. For example, houseplants don’t capture enough carbon dioxide or release enough oxygen to make a difference in indoor air quality. Some houseplants are used purely for decorative purposes and to develop your green thumb, but if you prefer plants with a practical use, you’ll still find lots of choices. Here are the most popular household uses for different types of houseplants.

Houseplants as Fragrance

Houseplants can be a great way to ensure various areas of your home have a pleasing fragrance. Many houseplants that are used for their fragrance like lots of light, so it will be easiest to provide fragrance in rooms with lots of window space. Even still, there are plenty of choices. Some people prefer the slightly sour smell of citrus trees. Some prefer the sweeter smell of fragrant jasmine. Lavender is popular for its calming aroma. Heliotropes are known for their vanilla scent. Orchids and geraniums can have a wide variety of mild smells, while gardenias are known for being a houseplant with a stronger fragrance.

Most aromatic houseplants are used for room fragrance, but they can also be distilled into personal fragrance. This is common for commercially produced perfumes, but you can also make your own. When using houseplants as personal fragrance, you need to know what part of the plant is used to make oil extracts.

Houseplants with Medicinal Uses

Numerous houseplants have medicinal uses, but for acute symptoms, it probably makes more sense to run to the drugstore. Houseplants are more common for chronic and preventative treatments. especially stomach pain and digestive problems. Along with traditional herbs, certain types of jasmine and marigolds are good for stomach pain and digestive health. Thyme is better known as a kitchen spice but also has many preventative health benefits. A lot of people want to know which plants are better or worse for allergy sufferers. That said, be skeptical about health benefits of plants based solely on improved indoor air quality.

Certainly, some houseplants and home remedies are just as good or even better than commercially developed products. However, we recommend you thoroughly research medicinal home remedies before using. Even something as innocent as chamomile, which can be used as an anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea treatment, can have serious complications for people with asthma. Aloe vera is a common ingredient in skin lotions that treats sunburns. Creating aloe vera gel on your own isn’t that difficult, but the outside part of the plant is actually a skin irritant that can make the problem worse. Online medical sources, like WebMD, offer information about houseplants with medicine uses as part of their Vitamin and Supplement Resource Center.

Houseplants for Herbs and Spices

With the right setup and care routine, you can grow most types of herbs indoors, though some are easier to grow than others. You can try growing garlic indoors as an experiment, for example, but we wouldn’t count on it for your culinary needs unless you’ve already had success. Mint is another herb you can try indoors, especially if you’re tired of the mint taking over the rest of your outdoor vegetable garden. Some of the most popular types of houseplants for herbs and spices include basil, rosemary, and sage. Many people also take to growing citrus trees year-round in containers. These trees are great for fragrance and, with a little luck, extra fruit.

Household Uses for Houseplants: DIY vs Commercial Products

Often times, the plants that make for effective home remedies are the same ones used for commercial household products. For the time and money involved, store-bought products usually make more sense than houseplant cultivation. Yet, it’s easier than ever to find tutorials about how to make your own aloe vera gel or how to make your own lavender essential oil. If you live in a rural or remote area, picking up common household products is no quick errand. Likewise, if you’re looking for a new hobby with a practical use, houseplants can be a great choice.


How to Bring Houseplants Inside for the Winter

Many types of houseplants can thrive outside during the summer and spend the rest of the time indoors so long as you know how to bring houseplants inside for the winter. (There are also rules to follow for taking a houseplant outside for the summer.) The most important thing is to remember to start early and slowly reintroduce the plant to its indoor environment over the period of a couple weeks. Houseplants are adaptable to gradual changes but vulnerable to acute shock from a sudden, unexpected change to their living conditions.

For timing, it’s not too early to start bringing your houseplants indoors for short periods of time at the start of fall especially if you live in colder climates. In warmer locations, it’s not uncommon to leave houseplants outside well into the fall season, almost to the beginning of winter itself. For temperatures, some tropical plants may need to start moving inside as soon as the overnight lows start dropping below 60 degrees. Most houseplants, however, can continue to do well outside until the temperatures drop below 50 degrees. Some will even tolerate the cold until frost starts to set in.

When and How to Bring Houseplants Indoors for the Winter

  • Inspect, Assess and Move: If the plant is showing serious signs of wilt or discoloration, it’s unlikely to make a sudden recovery by being moved indoors. It may be best to bid adieu to that houseplant. Some wilting is not unusual, and the dead growth should be removed. In contrast, plants that have taken off during the summer may be pot-bound and ready for a larger container. It many cases, the houseplant will be fine over the winter but should be put in a bigger pot before the next growing season. You’ll also want to look for signs of pests. Remove any bugs you find on the leaves or soil and apply an insecticidal treatment. Finally, if the plant isn’t already in a shady spot, create shade for the plant to begin the acclimation process to lower light conditions.
  • Create Space and Start the Transition: This may include both a temporary holding area and a more permanent spot for the plant. By immediately reintroducing the houseplant to other indoor plants, you run the risk of spreading pests to multiple plants. If pests aren’t a major concern, you can let the plant start acclimating to its new permanent spot. Bring the plant inside overnight and back outside in the morning. Gradually increase the amount of time the plant spends indoors. Do your best to maintain a schedule, but if you don’t get it exactly right every day, the plant should be fine. Continue to inspect the plant for pests and other signs of distress as you move it back and forth.
  • Move the Plant to Its New Spot: After a period of a week or two, it’s time to move the plant to its new spot. This is another good time to wash leaves and apply an insecticidal treatment to ensure there are no insects trying to become last-minute hitchhikers. Inspect the indoor plants that will live near the transplant. Wash the leaves. Wash any nearby windows to maximize the amount of natural light getting to the plants.

Seasonal Houseplant Care

It’s easy to make the mistake that moving a houseplant inside for the fall and winter is a time to give it extra water. In fact, the opposite is true. Indoors, the plant will almost surely need less water than it did outside during the growing season. Be sure to closely monitor the soil’s moisture level and be prepared to adjust your watering schedule accordingly. The same can be said for fertilizer. Don’t dump a bunch of fertilizer into the soil thinking it will help the plant manage transplant shock. During the winter, it’s more likely to oversaturate the soil and expose the roots to harm. You can find more tips for season-by-season houseplant care.


How to Repot Houseplants that are Pot-Bound

Repotting houseplants that are pot-bound isn’t all that different from potting other houseplants. But first, you need to know if, in fact, the plant has outgrown its pot. Sometimes, the signs are obvious. If the pot has split open and roots are growing through the cracks, it’s past time to repot the houseplant. If there are visible roots and hardly any soil, this is another clear indication for most types of houseplants. Without soil to retain moisture, there are often signs of underwatering including discoloration and weak growth. At the same time, you must know what type of plant you’re dealing with. Orchids, for example, live on other plant material rather than soil and have naturally exposed roots that look perpetually pot-bound even though the plant is perfectly healthy. Learn even more about how to tell if a houseplant is pot-bound.

How to Repot Houseplants that are Pot-Bound

  • Prepare a Workspace: Make sure it’s no problem to get some dirt on. Have fresh potting mix that’s formulated for that type of houseplant, succulent or tropical. Have a full watering can and a new pot ready to go. You may also need a knife or sharp edge. If you’re using rocks or activated charcoal as a bottom layer, have these ready as well.
  • Separate the Plant from the Pot: Turn the pot sideways or almost upside down. It helps to water the plant first and give the bottom of the pot a few whacks. Grasp the plant firmly by a major stem and give it a tug to see if you can dislodge the plant. If the plant is still stuck or if there’s no good stem to grab, you can gently scrape the inside of the pot a little ways, add more water, and try again. As a last resort, you may have to break the pot or dig out as much of the plant as you reasonably can.
  • Agitate the Roots: Pot-bound plants will have a large root ball that needs to be agitated to disentangle the roots. If some of the root ends get destroyed in the process, it should be fine. You want to encourage the roots to grow in various directions when placed in their new pot. In fact, it’s better to cut off the bottom of the root ball, rather than leave the plant root-bound in its new pot. Cutting the roots is common for seriously pot-bound houseplants.
  • Repot the Houseplant: Put a layer of fresh potting mix at the bottom. Gently tamp and compress the soil. Position the plant in the pot at a good height near the top of the pot but with sufficient room to give the houseplant water. Fill the remaining space with more potting mix and again tamp down the soil. You want to provide the plant with adequate physical support while also letting the roots easily penetrate through the soil. When you have the plant in a good position, all that’s left is to water generously and then monitor the plant’s progress and soil moisture level.

Fafard has one of the best online guides we’ve found for how to repot houseplants that are pot-bound.

Repotting Houseplants in the Same Pot

You may not want to put the plant in a bigger pot if it means it will no longer fit in that perfect spot in your home. The good news is that you can usually repot these plants in the same pot (or a new pot of the same size). The process is nearly identical. The key difference is that instead of agitating the root ball, you cut off the bottom third or quarter of the roots altogether. You should clean the inside of the pot, backfill the bottom with fresh potting mix, and then replace the houseplant.

When is the Best Time to Repot Houseplants that are Pot-Bound?

If your houseplant is showing serious, obvious signs of being pot-bound, there is no wrong time of year to repot your houseplant. If you’re not sure if a houseplant is pot-bound or it’s a borderline case, the best time to repot is in the spring when the plant is about to enter an active growth phase. So long as you stay diligent with houseplant care, it’s usually fine to repot a houseplant right away or wait till next year. Ignore the problem for too long, and the houseplant will eventually suffer and become vulnerable to even small mistakes with watering or soil consistency.


How to Tell if a Houseplant is Pot-Bound

People who take care of houseplants long enough will eventually run into houseplants that have become pot-bound. If you give certain types of houseplants the right growing conditions, this could be a question you’re asking almost every year. Sometimes, it’s easy to tell with clear-cut signs that a houseplant is pot-bound. In other cases, the signs are more subtle. With this guide, you’ll know how to tell if your houseplant is pot-bound and what you should do about it.

Signs of a Pot-Bound Houseplant

  • Exposed, overgrown roots are one of the most obvious signs of a pot-bound houseplant. This could be roots poking out the top of the soil, or it could be roots coming out the bottom of the drainage holes. However, some plants, like orchids, have naturally exposed roots, so you need to know the type of houseplant you’re dealing with.
  • The houseplant is drying out more quickly than usual. This is a side effect of the roots breaking down the soil. Without enough soil, the water washes through the pot too quickly. Discoloration and wilted growth may be a sign of a pot-bound plant.
  • Many pot-bound houseplants are hard to remove or even stuck in their pots. In some cases, the root ball forms in a place where it can’t escape the confines of the pot. These roots may crack or deform the pot from the pressure of its new growth.

Houseplants that Like Being Pot-Bound

Several types of houseplants are known to like being pot-bound, but this is something of a myth. It’s not so much that these pot-bound houseplants like cramped conditions. Rather, it’s that these houseplants respond to these conditions in favorable ways. Simply put, being pot-bound stresses the plant. Many types of plants respond to this stress by producing new offshoots (spider plants) or flowers (peace lily) to ensure a new generation of plants. Some plants will survive the stress of being pot-bound for many years but are already stressed to the point that repotting them may do more harm than good. African Violets, for example, are very hard to transplant successfully once they’ve become pot-bound.

Pot-Bound vs. Root-Bound Plants

Root-bound plants are a closely related condition to pot-bound plants, though there are some differences. Pot-bound plants have consumed so much of the potting soil that there’s not enough growing medium left to provide enough nutrients, hold enough water, and allow the plant to continue to grow. Root-bound plants have had their roots turn in on themselves creating an increasingly dense root ball that threatens to strangle itself while also not finding enough nutrients in the growing medium. You can read more about the differences between root-bound and pot-bound plants from Nellie Neal at the Clarion Ledger.

How to Repot Houseplants

While transplanting will stress a plant, healthy plants quickly bounce back and see new growth. Even many struggling, pot-bound houseplants will quickly find their footing and again become strong, established plants. There are some basic steps to repotting houseplants, but the trickiest part is often removing the plant from its current pot. Pot-bound houseplants with extensive root growth often stubbornly cling to the pot. Learn even more about how to repot houseplants that are pot-bound.


Best Home Humidity Levels for Houseplants

Houseplants may struggle when the air has too much or too little humidity, so it’s good to know the best home humidity levels for houseplants. There is no exact number that fits every climate and houseplant, but the range is usually somewhere between the 30-60% recommended by the EPA for general home humidity. Too much humidity can lead to mold, bacteria, gnats, and increased risk of root rot, while too little humidity makes the plant vulnerable to spider mites, scale, aphids, and other pests that thrive on warm, dry air. These are among the most common houseplant killers in which advanced infestations may require you to start over or fight an indefinite battle with houseplant pests. But the pests themselves are only one part of the reason houseplants struggle in dry air.

Low Humidity Levels and Houseplant Pests

It’s not just that common houseplant pests like dry, warm air. The plants themselves may be vulnerable due to low humidity levels. If you live in an arid climate, it’s only the most drought-resistant succulents that will live their best lives. Most houseplants can still grow and look good in drier climates, especially if you stay up on its watering and fertilizer needs. At the same time, you may have a houseplant that’s done well for years, but during an especially dry year or because an adjacent plant became host to a pest, this houseplant gets an infestation and is never the same.

Another reason houseplant pest control is harder with low humidity is that it adversely affects predatory bugs. One of the most effective forms of houseplant pest control is to introduce other bugs that prey on houseplant pests. This is especially true if you can identify the type of pest and then determine if it has a natural predator. One of the most common types of plant pests is the spider mite, but there is also a bug called the spider mite destroyer. The only problem is that predatory mites and other bugs that might serve as pest control aren’t viable in humidity levels lower than 50-60%. Most homes require a whole home humidifier system to maintain this humidity level.   

High Humidity Levels and Mold Growth

People who live in a tropical or high-humidity climate need to be on the lookout for different warning signs. Too much humidity comes with its own set of risk factors including mold, bacteria, or fungal growth. Mold is the most common, but these problems are all treated pretty much the same. The first step is to physically remove as much of the mold as possible. For minor mold growth, you may be able to prevent new mold growth by increasing the ventilation and/or drainage so the soil can dry out between watering. More widespread mold may require repotting with fresh soil.

For further control and prevention, a simple home remedy is to dissolve one teaspoon of baking soda in one quart of water. You can also find many types of fungicidal treatments and products. These products are fine and good if you have them available, but don’t wait if you have baking soda ready to go. Better to treat the plant as soon as possible, and then follow up with targeted treatments as necessary.

What’s the Best Home Humidity Levels for Houseplants?

The best humidity levels for houseplants is usually within the high end of the range for a comfortable, healthy home. We frequently suggest somewhere between 45-55% to accommodate the widest range of plants. In general, it’s helpful but not essential for houseplants to have a whole house humidifier. Some houseplants including most succulents do fine with dry air, but many houseplants will do best with just a little extra humidity. If you live in a dry climate but want to grow more tropical houseplant varieties, some type of home humidifier may be essential. If you live in a tropical or coastal climate with high humidity, it’s important to maintain good ventilation in areas with houseplants. For seasonal climates, the time of year also plays a role with colder outdoor temperatures leading to lower humidity. Here is a handy chart of home humidity levels based on outdoor temperatures.