Cactuses are plants habituated to grow in drought-prone areas having soil rich in organic materials that have superior drainage. So to make them grow wonderfully in your home you need to provide them with conditions as close to its native place as possible.
Do cactus need drainage holes? Cactuses hate damp soil that remains moist for a long time. Their roots are susceptible to root rot owing to the presence of moisture in the soil. Cactuses survive vibrantly when grown in a drainage friendly soil & pots having drainage holes at the bottom.
What is the use of Drainage Holes and why is it important
Drainage holes can fullfil 5 important aspects:
- Helps in getting rid of excess water: As succulents including cactuses dislike being in wet conditions for a long time, cactus mix soil & drainage holes of the pot are just a perfect match. They help in getting rid of the water as soon as possible giving the cactus just enough time to absorb the needed water. Cactus roots when kept in damp conditions for long can develop root rot which slowly ends up killing the plant.
- Helps in better Root development: When you have holes in place, you can water freely and drench the cactus every time you water them until water starts oozing out of the drainage holes. You should only water cactuses when the soil is dry but when you do you should not hold back. This further helps in better root development as the roots can go deeper in search of water. However, you cant drench cactuses without holes so the roots can be a lot weaker in that case.
- Helps you to understand the water needs of the cactus better: Succulents are sensitive to overwatering and easily catches a root rot. So you should only water them when the soil is dry. How long it will take for the soil to be dry depends on the weather, the soil composition, and many other factors. So you can always use a moisture meter to check the soil or just put your fingers in the drainage holes and decide whether you need to water the cactus or not. If it feels dry, go ahead and water, if it feels damp then wait for a few more days.
- Flushes the Excess Salts out: If you use tap water for watering cactuses then there is a high chance a lot of unwanted minerals and salts are getting poured into the soil hidden in the tap water that can accumulate in the soil and harm the plant. The drainage holes help in flushing out the excess water along with which most of the salts also get pushed out because of the flow as most of the accumulation in the soil occurs at the bottom of the pot only.
- Promotes better aeration: Cactuses love well-aerated soil. Presence of inorganic components in the soil along with having drainage holes in the pot not only promotes drainage but also aeration. This means better oxygen supply for the roots.
Problems you can Face while Growing Cactuses without Drainage holes
- Damp Soil: The soil will remain wet for days. This can be particularly alarming if you grow cactus indoors. Without much sunlight and no drainage holes, the chances of developing root rot due to fungal infection are high.
- Weaker Roots: As you have no drainage holes, you need to water the cactus feebly, making sure you dont flood the plant. This when done for months will lead to the growth of weaker roots as the roots dont need to do any work to grow deeper and be stronger. Roots are the most important parts of every plant and the root health gets reflected upon the entire plant.
- Less Aeration: No holes will mean almost no aeration so a lesser supply of oxygen for the roots. This will affect the growth of the entire plant and won’t let it grow to its full potential.
- Accumulation of excess unwanted salts & minerals in the soil: As there are no holes, no flushing out of water takes place with excess salts of the tap water. So the accumulation of the unwanted chemicals will occur rapidly in the soil which in turn can degrade the plant health.
Also Read: Is Tap Water Bad for Succulents?
Can you grow Cactuses without Drainage holes?
Even though growing cactuses without drainage holes is not something everyone should do, you can grow them without drainage holes. However, you need to be extremely cautious and need to have some extra measures in place.
- How do you water cactus without drainage holes? Be strict with watering. Only water the cactus when the soil of the pot is dry. You need to absolutely sure of this. Use a moisture meter or dip your finger into the soil to judge the dampness. When watering dont flush the entire soil, water it in a controlled way and aim to wet the few inches of the topsoil only.
- Have a layer of pebbles & gravels at the bottom of the pot: This added layer at the bottom will help in better drainage. Water will travel through the soil than through the rocks and stay at the bottom of the pot. In this way, the coil won’t remain damp for days.
- Consider giving an extra layer of charcoal in the soil: Horticulture Charcoal not only promotes better absorption of water but also helps in killing harmful pathogens in the soil. So you can give an extra layer of charcoal of 1 inch above the rock layering.
- Have a cactus soil mix in place above the charcoal or rock layer: Use3 a proper cactus mix soil that promotes superior water drainage. In case you wanna make your own soil mix, consider having the ratio of 35:65 for potting soil and inorganic components like coarse sand, volcanic rocks, pumice, etc.
- Keep the pot in a place that gets sufficient bright light all-day: Cactuses love filtered bright light all day. Under circumstances of poor drainage, sunlight becomes a more important factor. Better sunlight will help in drying up the soil faster.
- Consider repotting once a year: As there are no drainage holes, you cant never be just too sure that the soil quality is not degrading over time. It is always better to be safe. Normally cactuses and other succulents need to be repotted once every two years to remain healthy. But for pots without holes, consider doing it once in 1-1.5 years.
So Should you Grow cactus with Drainage Holes or without Drainage Holes?
Ideally, you should always aim to grow cactuses with drainage holes. Growing succulents in pots having holes at the bottom save you from a whole lot of tension and trouble down the lane.
- You can water the cactus much more freely
- the cactus will grow to be more healthy
- The chances of root dot development will be a lot less
However, if you wanna grow them in decorative containers made of glass or mugs then you need to adapt the tips mentioned above and put a special emphasis on watering scarcely.
How to Care & Grow Cactuses Indoors with Drainage Holes
- Make sure you have a tray in place under the cactus pots: Every time you water, the water will get collected in the tray on its own and you can just get rid of the excess water without creating a mess.
- Watering: Water only when the soil is dry. Cactuses will have dry soil more frequently in hotter months than rest of the year. So adjust accordingly.
- Sunlight: Always place cactuses near a window or balcony that gets enough bright light throughout the day. Poor sunlight exposure will suppress the growth of the plant.
- What water to use: Use distilled or rainwater for watering the cactus instead of the tap water. The latter is rich in unwanted minerals that can harm plant growth. YOu can also collect rainwater and use it for watering. Read about all this here.
- Fertilization: Fertilize the cactus soil at least once a year before the start of the growing season. Use a well-balanced fertilizer rich in nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous along with magnesium, sulfur, etc. Dilute it with several gallons of water before use.
Drainage holes help in not only providing better drainage to the cactus but also indirectly promoting their better health. So consider growing your cactuses in pots having drainage holes as it will make your life much easier.
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