You have a nice blog, read a few articles till now and looking forward to your next ones! Give plants as much space to spread their roots out, relative to what they can use or need. © Deep Green Permaculture, 2009. Adhesive forces are forces of attraction between molecules of different types. Adding a plant saucer to containers can be useful in increasing the decorative appeal of potted plants. Give plants as much space to spread their roots out, relative to what they can use or need. Hi Johnny, thanks for your question! The problem would be even worse in glazed terracotta pots, which don’t seep moisture from their sides and stay wet longer. If you pour water from the top, the medium will act like a sponge and prevent a certain amount draining out of the bottom, that is the perched water table. I really shouldn’t be the go-to succulent guru though, because I made a beautiful arrangement of succulents in a shallow bowl (not the best for drainage tbh) and thought the white fuzz they developed was really cute. Can You Water House Plants With Aquarium Water? Gravity is self-explanatory, it’s the ever-present force on this planet which pulls everything down! As it turns out, that’s not quite how it works. The simple way to understand the perched water table phenomenon is as follows. Potted plants can create an attractive and mobile garden arrangement for indoor and outdoor spaces. The point is not to block the hole, but to simply create a loose-fitting barrier to prevent the loss of growing medium while still allowing water to freely drain out. Perlite and vermiculte are materials which are used as soil amendments, and both are minerals that are made more porous by expanding them with heat, much like popcorn. I should have explained that the perched water table will always be the same height in the potting medium, no matter what you sit under it. Use waterproof items like:-A plastic tray with at least one half inch rim on all sides for several plants.-Plastic saucer for one potted plant, again with at least one half inch rim all around.-A ceramic or plastic pot with no holes in the bottom to serve as a sleeve to set your potted plant … Well, it’s because the potting medium in which the plant grows is designed to retain moisture, to a certain degree at least…. The way to increase drainage of the perched water table is to add materials throughout all of the potting medium to increasing the air spaces in the mix and reduce capillary action. Water each with the same volume of water, wait till they drain, and then observe the perched water table. Pebble tray. If the same potting medium is used, irrespective of the size or shape of the pot, the perched water table always stays the same height because it is determined by the wicking ability of the potting medium, since gravity doesn’t change. Great article. gravel and drainage came about because it was assumed that gravity would pull the water through the saturated zone and into the gravel, away from the roots of the plant. Clearly, the answer is “no.” Not sure if I needed to read an exhaustive treatise to get the answer, but, well, it was fascinating. The secret to improving pot drainage is to alter the composition of the potting medium, by mixing something with a larger particle size all the way through it, and there are several different amendment materials for this purpose. The reason why I chose expanded clay balls is because they don’t float as easily as perlite. Pushing the saturated water table layer upwards, closer to the plant roots actually increases the risk of root rot, as the roots will stay wetter, longer. I tend to do 1:1 sand and potting mix for succulents, or 1:1:1 potting mix, perlite, and orchid bark for, er, everything else. Thanks Elizabeth, that’s an excellent idea! Step 2: After 5 – 10 minutes carefully remove the plant from the pot. Water will flow across the rope to the plants. As long as you’ve not over-watered, it will be a couple of mm or so. One of them had one part potting soil (very rich in compost) mixed with one part clay balls on the bottom of the pot and then slowly decreasing the content of clay balls towards the surface. The pot has all surfaces exposed to air, which increases evaporation. Place your potted plants next to a tub of water, then cut natural-fiber clothesline or other rope in lengths that will reach from the tub to each pot. You’re welcome to disagree! Something with hellish roots, like the aforementioned ZZ plant, will hang onto those suckers like they’re protecting young. When you water a plant, there’s the saturated zone of the soil, and the unsaturated zone. Would it make any difference if we placed a wet sponge upright in the sink, or on a layer of gravel in the same sink? Fill the tray with a single layer of pebbles and add enough water so that it rises just about halfway up the rocks. Humidity rocks: If you will be away for a short while, an excellent way to keep up humidity levels around your plants is to use pebbles. Read the full disclosure here. If you want to DIY your potting mix, here’s what you need: Pretty much equal parts coco coir, perlite, and orchid bark, A third of the amount of coir of worm castings and activated charcoal. Thanks Angelo, myth buster. By adding a layer of gravel, all we’ve done is shifted the saturated zone closer to the roots of the plant. So to my mind 10% or so of pebbles/grit at the bottom of the pot still has its use. I poke the skewer to the bottom of the pot, leave it a few minutes, then pull it out to check. Polar molecules act like magnets with north and south poles, the (+) positive charged atoms and (-) negative charged atoms of these molecules are attracted to one another. Each Important Function is Supported by Many Elements, 4. Near a sink, fill the tray and pebbles with water and let it sit for twenty or thirty seconds. One of the main positive attributes of saucers comes from their use with indoor potted plants. Rocks or pebbles are a natural option for the bottom of large planters. It’s important to understand that the perched water table does not drain, the water stays there unless plant roots draw the water up, or it evaporates away when the potting mix dries out, in which case the plant won’t survive! Cymbidium orchids for example are grown in an orchid mix which is composed mainly of 20mm composted pine bark pieces. This is the principle by which wicking pots work, as explained in my article DIY Self-Watering Pots and Mini Wicking Water each pot with the same volume of water. Putting gravel in the bottom of a plant pot doesn’t make the water drain away more quickly, it instead creates a perched water table. Rocks or pebbles are often used is the bottom of pots with with screen, mesh, old pantyhose cutouts coffee filters on top of them, for pots with no holes in the bottom. Very good article! This wicking or absorbent property of any potting medium is the critical key to understanding the behaviour of water in pots. The main reason for wanting to improve drainage in pots is because most plants don’t like having ‘wet feet’, otherwise known as waterlogged roots, because this leads to root rot, which can kill a plant. If we do a Permaculture functional analysis of the outcomes our outputs, we see that the technique reduces soil volume and raises the saturated perched water table. The growing medium wont be as saturated as the perched water table, but it will still be wet enough for way too long to be detrimental to the plant. Adding gravel a the the bottom of a pot will create two potentially serious problem: There is no benefit to be gained by adding a layer of gravel or rocks to a pot when we examine the matter from scientific first principles! Now that we know why water moves upwards and creates perched water tables in growing media, we can now re-examine our opening question from a more scientific perspective! When I mixed them with the compost, it was 50% clay balls and 50% soil on the bottom of the pot, then slightly decreased the clay balls, somewhere around 40% clay balls and 60% soil in the middle of the pot and on the surface it was 30% clay balls and 70% soil. My apologies for not being clearer in my explanation, so I appreciate you bringing the point up. It might need a better explanation, although you do well as always. In this section we’ll go a bit deeper into the science if you’re interested, if not, please skip to the next section. The water in the saturated zone is filling every air pocket with water, so the air can’t circulate from the bottom up. If pots drain because they have holes in them, then why the need to increase drainage? Will the wick also allow water to travel upward as needed without having the roots be overly moist. I have a whole post on potting mix here. By exposing the roots and letting it sit, preferably, overnight. Zuni says: June 20, 2020 at 3:27 pm. Is it helpful to put small stones on top of the soil in potted plants? Here is a simple experiment that can be set up to determine whether adding gravel at the bottom of a pot improves drainage or not. ( Log Out /  The water will move downward, some of it will drip away, and some of it will be retained. A year on, when I educated myself, I discovered that the white fuzz was indeed mealy bugs, and had to sacrifice two of the plants. Nearly all plants prefer a natural wet-dry cycle, as that’s what they experience in nature. Like pebbles, gravel pieces are very small. This gives each pebble time to absorb water deep inside. You can even use aquarium gravel to add a touch of color to your potted plants! The only kind of plants which love a saturated growing medium are marginal aquatic plants, and there are plenty of useful edible ones such as watercress, taro, kangkong and water chestnuts for example. I have some succulents in pots ( small, ... For my plants I have tomato plant food, do I need something for bottom rot. Water molecules will exhibit strong adhesive forces that allow them cling to other materials if those materials are even more polar (have a stronger electrical charge) than water itself, as the attraction will be stronger than the attraction of water molecules to each other. The forces of attraction between water molecules to each due to the hydrogen bonds they form with each other (cohesion), causing them to pull each other up. In potted plants, the glued down rock is also used to prevent moisture loss. Having a layer of gravel makes no difference to the system when using a wick. Few people are. BELLE VOUS Pebbles - 3.6kg, (1.4-2.6 cm Stones) Mini Assorted Decorative Pebble Stone Vase Filler - Pebbles for Plant Pots, Home Decoration, … Growers of Cymbidium orchids use an orchid mix which is composed mainly of  coarse 20mm (3/4″) composted pine bark pieces. Ummm I have to disagree with this. It seems this mix could also be useful as it retained 10-15% of it’s weight in water. How to Improve Drainage in Plant Pots, The Proper Way to Do It! It probably won’t help much though, and you should, you know, GO AND GET A POT WITH HOLES. I just wanted to know if I should jam some gravel in the bottom of the pots of my fledgling pothus ivy plants. You can absolutely make do with regular house plant potting mix, but always add perlite and orchid bark for more drainage. Water naturally runs to the lowest point under the influence of gravity, and will all run out from a container with drainage holes in the base unless there is something else present to hold it there. Will the wick lower the PWT? Just read this post if you don’t believe me. Should You Tease Out Plant Roots When Transplanting? You might have to check if your plant needs water differently, since you can’t see, or may not easily be able to touch the potting soil. The size and shape of the pot makes no difference, it doesn’t matter if a pot is tall and narrow or wide and shallow, neither if it’s big or small, if the growing medium/potting mix is the same, the perched water table will always be the same height. Hope it’s not too cheeky of me to say that my explanation is the only one from first principles and goes to a greater depth scientifically though. Filling the bottom of the pot with coarse scoria, which is light in weight, will eliminate the unusable space in a tall, narrow pot and effectively reduce pot size to a more suitable volume. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Angelo Eliades and Deep Green Permaculture with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Beds. Sand will improve soil, as it has larger particles than clay or silt, but it’s way smaller than potting medium particles and will clog it up instead, filling the air spaces. The first thing you put in your plant pot is a lovely layer of rocks, or pebbles, or styrofoam, or broken up terracotta pots. The main consideration with flowers or vegetables grown in containers is … I really liked that you went into detail, it becomes very clear. Line the bottom of a shallow tray with small rocks or pebbles and then fill with water almost to the top of the rocks. When any excess water drains away due to gravity and the two forces reach equilibrium or balance, a certain amount of water will be retained at the bottom of the potting medium, this is known as the perched water table. It also shouldn’t be a problem if you have a relatively small plant in a decent sized pot HOWEVER if you have a plant that’s well matched to its pot with thick roots then I’d recommend repotting asap. Succulents and cacti naturally grow in sandy soils that drain quickly. The first thing you put in your plant pot is a lovely layer of rocks, or pebbles, or styrofoam, or broken up terracotta pots. Reply. I’ve already said you can have one rock, but what if you have a tiny pot that doesn’t have the spare real estate for a rock? They can also add weight to the container. That’ll be porous enough to allow the water to drain away (or soak through, if you’re bottom watering). We can see that the common practice in horticulture to increase drainage in pots and containers is to alter the composition of the potting medium to increase the air spaces within it, and not by making changes to the the space beneath the pot. But, the smaller pebbles suit potted plants much better. The more absorbent the potting medium, the taller the perched water table will be. The original ones consisted of simple wicks which were placed in the bottom of grow pots, hanging down 3 or 4″ into the dish of water at the bottom of the pot. You’ve preempted my next article on which explains the proper way to increase drainage in pots, which I’ll publish soon, but your solution is half-way there. These growing media have large air spaces both inside and between the particles, so they drain extremely well, but hold enough water to keep the roots moist. We can see that it’s a common practice in horticulture to increase drainage in a pot by altering the potting medium, and not the space beneath the pot. It’s all about the potting mix. Adding gravel into the bottom of  terracotta pots creates a small water holding area for the excess water that would normally drain out on its own  if the gravel wasn’t there to collect into if the single drainage hole become blocked. Cactus and succulent mix contains a little organic matter but plenty of coarse gritty material which acts like a sandy soil and lets water pass almost straight through. From the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Master Gardeners of Monterey Bay. Too much water and plant roots rot, not enough water and plants dry out. But no happy as I will now be obsessed with correcting my pots. We’ve already established that putting a layer of gravel in your pot won’t help the water drain quicker – it’ll hinder it in fact. Best way to top-up water Remove the potted plant and set it aside, on a plate or dish to protect your furniture. I have wondered for years why nurseries don’t have gravel or the like in the bottom of their pots. Capillary action is created by the cohesive and adhesive forces of liquids. In the first pot, place only potting mix, and in the rest, put increasing amounts of gravel beneath the potting mix. Should the soil be really compacted, your best option might be to repot the plant entirely. Cohesive forces are forces of attraction between molecules of the same type. So how can we turn the problems created by adding gravel at the bottom of pots into solutions? In all the other pots, add increasing amounts of gravel at the bottom, then fill with potting mix to within 2.5cm (1″) of the pot. That way you know the soil is getting moisture all the way to the bottom. ( Log Out /  Any water table above an aquitard is called a perched water table. So the answer is no, there’s no need for rocks. Your Potted Plants Don't Need Gravel. There are only two forces at play on water in a pot of growing medium. A shallow rooted plant in a tall narrow pot will have similar issues, there will be too much overly wet potting mix which the roots will never be able to reach, and if the potting mix stays too wet for too long it will break down much faster, and sink down, dropping the level of the plant in the pot. That is not right. A layer of gravel or rock on top can help prevent excess drying. In the past, it was recommended that broken pieces of clay pots, rocks, wood chips or Styrofoam packing peanuts be placed in the bottom of pots as filler and to improve drainage. The others were without any real explanations, so I didn’t include them as a I only link to authoritative sources, so I hope that’s okay. This is a proper controlled experiment, so please don’t go changing the experiment design parameters on whim! To support our claim, we refer to this educative article on Illinois University , according to them “ It is a myth that a layer of gravel (inside the bottom of an individual pot) beneath the soil improves container drainage. The upward motion of liquids against gravity, known as capillary action, is a combination of: To put it another way, capillary action is a combination of the effects of adhesive and cohesive forces displayed by water. If it’s sitting in soil, which as you say acts like a sponge, the soil above will gradually pull the excess that can’t be completely absorbed upwards towards the roots. You are completely incorrect in your article. This is speculation on my behalf, but I suspect that the reason gardeners traditionally used gravel in the bottom of pots is probably because pots were traditionally made of terracotta clay rather than plastic, and these pots only have a large single drainage hole in the base of the pot. One thing I did know was that when you pot up a plant, it’s good practice to put rocks in the bottom of your plant pots. Repotting can be stressful to some plants, so don’t do it unless you’re pretty sure it’s in the best interests of the plant. When filling the pots, just tap the sides gently to settle the potting mix slightly, don’t compress it down. It was traditional to put a stone over the hole to stop the potting mix falling out, so if this single hole became blocked, water would pool at the bottom of the pot and drain out slowly. Adding stones, pebbles, and potsherds to the bottom of planters to improve drainage in potted plants is so 1980’s – and it does not work as well as this quick and easy, counterintuitive solution. Water (H2O) is considered a polar molecule because it has a negative charge on one side of the molecule and the positive charge on the other. If you have a pot with no drainage holes, this water that has gone right through will sit in the bottom of the pot instead. You can use decorative pebbles from a garden center, rocks right out of your own garden, or inexpensive gravel. Thanks for your question, to help make my article clearer I’ve updated it to address your excellent points and included two diagrams to illustrate the point, one from the North Willamette Research and Extension Center, Oregon State University and another from University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Master Gardeners of Monterey Bay. I know that kind of seems like your plant is about to come alive, but it’s true. Only enough potting soil should be placed in the pot's bottom so the plant, when placed on top of that soil, will be at the top of the container. PPL that use soil you mentioned mix it with coarse/sifted-screened perlite, in min. There are a lot of things you can use to fill under the soil in your potted plants. One of the problems gardeners encounter often is unknowingly planting a tiny plant into an overly large pot. Hi Paul, thanks for your comment, I had a look at the links you suggested and only included the Oregon State University one, it was the only one which provides any real scientific explanation, albeit a very limited and simplified one. Gravel or pebbles will artwork to help guard moisture additionally, as might a extra moisture retentive soil mixture specifically. Automatic bottom watering system for potted plants Figaholics. Change ), You are commenting using your Facebook account. If the plant has thin delicate roots, like a snake plant, then the rocks will just fall out when you come to repot. As long as you’re allowing your plants to dry out completely before watering them again, they’ll be fine. I’ll show you how to test this, all you need is some empty soft drink bottles. ... Watering 101: Houseplants & Potted Plants - Platt Hill Nursery - Duration: 2:55. Should you? The only thing that forces the water down is gravity, and the downward force of gravity always remains the same no matter what sits underneath. This mixture contains huge air spaces and drains extremely well, barely retaining moisture in the bark pieces, so there is no perched water table. Small plants don’t have enough roots to take up huge quantities of water, and in large pots the potting mix stays too wet for too long, causing root rot once again. Hydroponic systems also use perlite as a potting medium, or ‘clay balls’ which are in fact clay coated pumice balls which are very porous and weigh almost nothing. Short answer, you can’t. The main purpose of placing pebbles on the bottom of the potted succulent plant is to enhance drainage. I might have to set this up when I have time and photograph it. As a final thought worth pondering, it’s curious how gardening has as its foundations the applied sciences of horticulture and agriculture, yet it’s filled with so much dogma and myths, very strange indeed…. Answered. My nest article “How to Improve Drainage in Plant Pots, The Proper Way to Do It” is coming soon! The top dries out a lot quicker than the bottom, for my plants anyway. Different growing media will have different perched table heights, the more absorbent materials will have higher perched water table, and the less absorbent ones will have lower levels. If you read this somewhere, the writer is not understanding “self watering devices” correctly. That’s how people find common ground for understanding! Without drainage, the excess water will sit at the bottom of the pot. The absorbency of the potting medium pulls the water upward and stops the water draining out, no matter what is underneath. So 3:3:3:1:1. It’s dependent on the depth of the pot, but you’d have to put a lot of grit/pebbles in to create a perched water table. One rock to cover the drainage hole is enough – just enough so that the soil doesn’t leach out of the bottom but water can flow freely through the pot. So why bottom water? So should I put rocks in the bottom of my plant pots? Post was not sent - check your email addresses! I think I’ve made my stance here pretty clear, no? Step 1: Use a watering can to irrigate your plant until the water comes out of the drainage holes. Should You Put Gravel or Rocks at the Bottom of Plant Pots for Drainage? Add builders sand if you’re making succulent mix. Converting Months to Seasons – Northern and Southern Hemisphere, Meteorological and Astronomical, The Birth of a Permaculture Food Forest – Before & After Photos, Garden Arches, Vertical Gardening for More Growing Area in Small Spaces. You could force more water to drain out by adding another downward force, such as tying a rope to the top of the pot and spinning it really fast to create centripetal force, much like what happens in a laboratory centrifuge. The forces of attraction between water molecules and another material above the water’s surface which doesn’t already have water clinging to it already (adhesion), causing the water molecules to climb upwards a little. A better solution is perlite, a heat-expanded mineral used in hydroponic systems, from experience, it works really well. I like to teach from first principles, as I believe this way we can really come to a deeper level of understanding, but then again, I’ve got qualifications in the biological sciences, so I’m biased! Citrus Problems – Why Is My Citrus Tree Dying? Its bent V-shape which gives it a partial positive charge on the side of the hydrogen atoms and a partial negative charge on the side of the oxygen atom. Dear Angelo, If the physics is true, then the perched water table, the wet bottom layer of the potting medium will be the same thickness in every pot, and the gravel will simply push it up higher in the pot because it’s pushing all the potting mix up higher in the pot. Make some clear plastic pots by cutting the tops of clear plastic soft drink bottles so the perched water table can be viewed through the sides. I am the Technical Director of Dümmen Orange in Spain and Portugal and I have 20 years of experience in pot cultivation with various drainage systems and gravel is one of the most recommended for fans of ornamental plants. Some plants require extremely well draining potting mixes in containers. The saturated zone is at the bottom and the unsaturated zone is at the top because gravity causes the water to head down through the soil. The more moisture retentive growing medium/potting mix available, the less often a plant will need to be watered, as long as the pot is not too big. ( Log Out /  How completely they dry out depends on the plant, which is why I’m so in love with moisture meters. Remember, the downwards force is due to gravity, which we can’t increase, a lower layer of another material won’t change the adhesive forces between the growing medium and the water molecules, nor will it alter the cohesive hydrogen bonds between water. They add weight without interfering with drainage or introducing unnatural materials into the mix. i take advantage of a peat based mixture for my Tomatoes and sink their pots into the floor to help shop them moist right here. Beth Skwarecki. Wait till all pots drain well, this will depend on the type of potting medium used and the volume of the containers. The pwt will NOT be “higher up in the pot”. I was unbelievably lucky that they hadn’t spread to the other plants. Some of them will help reduce the weight of large pots, others help retain moisture. 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