How to Keep Soil From Washing Out of Pots

Last Updated on April 5, 2024 by Real Men Sow

One problem you may have encountered when keeping potted plants is when the soil keeps washing out of the pots. Potted plants need to be watered regularly in order to keep them healthy and flourishing. If a container is not designed to drain, watering can cause a lot of mess and spread a mixture of soil and water outside. Potted plants require both water and nutrient-rich potting soil to thrive. Gardeners don’t want either of these vital ingredients to be completely removed from their containers. 

Importance of Pot Drainage Holes to Keep Soil from Washing Out of Pots

It is common for water to drain through potted plants and out of the bottom of containers through the holes. Therefore, it is simple to assume that blocking the holes is the best way to keep water and soil from washing out of pots.

This can be dangerous for plants, however, as the drainage holes serve an important purpose. Drainage holes allow excess water from the potting soil to drain out of the pot easily, so that plant roots have enough air.

Risks of Not Having Drainage Holes

Many different plants require different drainage levels, but very few plants can tolerate stagnant or undrained water. There are some risks associated with not having a drainage system in a pot:

  • Root Suffering – A plant’s roots can become too dry if it doesn’t have a functioning drainage system. This is because the soil particles in between the plants are not able to absorb enough oxygen.
  • Root Rot – Caused by a plant’s roots becoming saturated with water for a prolonged period. The wet environment attracts molds, which multiply and eventually destroy the roots. Root rot symptoms include yellowing of the leaves, stunted growth, and mushy brown roots.
  • Salt build-up – Gardeners can cause a plant to become resistant to soluble salts if they water it with synthetic fertilizer. The plant may suffer from root damage if it doesn’t have drainage holes.

Root rot and other moisture-related issues are often caused by soggy soil. This is because there is not enough space for air to reach the roots. These problems can be avoided if the pot is properly drained.

How To Add Holes to Pots

There are many ways to make drainage holes in the container you want. Drilling a hole in the bottom of the pot is the easiest way to go. To make it easier for gardeners, some choose to drill a single large hole in the bottom of the pot. Others prefer to drill several smaller holes. Each drainage method can be used for plants. It is only important that there is a drainage system. However, multiple small holes might be the best.

It is best to turn a potted plant upside down if it does not have drainage holes. This is common for decorative, small-sized houseplants.

Experiential gardeners can repot a plant in a container with drainage holes. However, it is best to not disturb the root ball during the plant’s growth stages (often in spring). The plant’s ability to grow can be affected by the condition of its root ball.

Losing Soil Through Drainage Holes

Gardeners should be aware that watering potted plants can cause the water to drain some of the plant’s potting soil.

Important to remember that high-quality soils are highly cohesive and will not see much soil leave the pot. Sandie or coarse soils may be more likely to leak out of the pot. Gardeners must use a suitable method to stop large amounts of dirt from escaping.

How to Keep Soil from Washing Out of Pots

For a potted plant to survive, drainage holes are essential. So how can we stop water from washing away some of the plant’s nutrient-rich soil? Here are some plant-friendly ways to prevent dirt from escaping pots and causing havoc.

1. Use a Pot with Multiple, Small Holes

Gardeners can choose from either a single large hole or several small holes when choosing a container to house their plants. It is better to have several drainage holes in the bottom of your container than one large hole. This will prevent soil and potting soil from washing out of pots. This will ensure that excess water can drain easily, but dirt can remain in place.

2. Add a Filter

Thin material can be placed over the holes to prevent dirt from getting into the pot while you are watering it. It is important that the material is thin enough for water to pass through. You can buy a square of fine mesh screen online for a fraction of the price, as well as cheesecloth and paper coffee filters. You can cover any holes with a folded newspaper if neither of these options are available.

For best results, it is a good idea to cover the bottom of the pot with thin material if the plant has not been planted yet. If the plant is already in its container, you can place the material outside of the pot. However, it will need to be watered outside, or over a sink, to avoid any messes.

3. Use a Saucer

A drainage tray, or saucer, can be placed underneath the pot to prevent dirt from escaping. The saucer will catch any excess water and potting soil that runs out of the container’s drainage holes. It will prevent it from getting onto surfaces such as tables, floors, and decks.

The saucer should not be left in contact with the potted plants for more than 30 minutes. This will cause root suffocation and can also cover the pot’s holes. After watering, let the soil drain for about 30 minutes. Then empty the saucer. Any soil lingering in the pot can be returned to it.

4. Use The Pot on Pot System 

Double potting is best for hanging plants to prevent water and dirt from spilling onto the floor through the drainage holes. This is an ideal method to use if the larger decorative pot is being used to house the plants and does not have drainage holes.

To do this, place the pot with holes inside a larger pot without drainage holes. This will capture any water or potting soil that reaches the pot. Similar to saucers but without drainage holes, the pot must be emptied regularly after watering so that it does not remain in standing water. Many gardeners prefer to use plastic planters that have drainage holes in order to place them inside decorative pots.

Excessive Water Loss Through Water Holes

Some gardeners might notice that potted plants are losing more water through their drainage holes than they should. Gardeners don’t have to be concerned if the drainage holes allow water to drain freely and do not pool at the bottom.

It is crucial to examine the soil type and frequency of watering, as these are two factors that can lead to excessive water drainage.

Soil Type

It is important to ensure that the potting mix used for a plant’s plant is appropriate for its water needs if it is losing excessive amounts of water. The soil type is often the cause of excessive water loss.

The majority of potted plants purchased are planted using a professional potting mixture that incorporates several organic materials. These organic materials create a light substrate that retains the correct amount of water around roots and allows excess water to drain away easily. The roots can also have air and prevent root rot by using a light potting mixture.

Coarse & Sandy Soils

Coarse potting mixes might not absorb as much water as the others and could see more water drainage. Sandier soils will drain more water than soils with more cohesive elements. 

You can moisten the soil first before you fill the pot with it if the plant needs sandy soil. You can also line the bottom with a coffee filter paper before you fill it with soil.

Watering Frequency

If a plant has been subject to a lot of underwatering, it may not be able to absorb as much water as it once could. These cases may result in water simply falling to the bottom of the container and through drainage holes, without actually soaking into the soil.

Do not pour the water out immediately if you are using a water drainages system, such as a second container or saucer. The water should remain for no more than 30 minutes. If the plant is particularly thirsty, it may absorb some of the water from the tray.

Many container plants have drainage holes in the bottom that prevent dirt from escaping during watering. If soil is washing out from pots’ bottom, you can try the following tips.

Plant Watering & Soil Maintenance: Do’s & Don’ts

Potted plants have a small soil volume so it is important to fertilize and water properly throughout the growing season. Here are some tips to make sure your potted plants have a healthy amount of soil and water, and that surfaces remain clean and tidy:


  • Water the Plant OutsideYou can use any water or potting soil left over to help other plants, and the plant can also enjoy some sun while outside.
  • Use Self-Watering Pots if NecessaryIf you don’t have the time or are on vacation and can’t care for your plants, there are some brands that will water your plants. These pots use different methods to draw water from the reservoir. The water then re-enters the soil via capillary action. There are many plant waterers available that slow down the delivery of water to plants so that they don’t become saturated.
  • Keep Track of the Plant’s Watering NeedsThe frequency with which a potted plant requires watering will depend on its type, age, where it is located, how long it has lived in the pot, the type of soil used, and the type of potting soil. The finger test can be used to determine if a plant requires water. Place a finger in the soil for the first 2 inches. If the soil is not dry, water it.
  • Know the Watering Limit – Plants should receive enough water to moisten the entire soil ball. Also, water should be allowed to run out of the drainage holes in the pot.
  • Water Plants in the MorningThis allows the water to reach the roots of the plant before it drains and evaporates.
  • Use Clay PotsClay pots are porous and more open to moisture and airflow than other container materials. Similar effects can be seen with poly-clay pots.

Do Nots

  • Add Gravel to Inside the Bottom of PotGravel will prevent excess potting soil from getting through the drainage holes. However, it can also trap water. The course material will allow water to pool above it until it is fully saturated in the soil.
  • Overwatering Provide enough water to a plant so that it begins dripping from its drainage holes but not too much that the soil is completely soaked. It is important to keep the soil moist and not dry.
  • UnderwateringIf you limit the water you give to your plant (just enough to moisten the soil), it will make it less likely for it to seep into the bottom of the pot, bringing dirt along with it. This is bad for the roots of the plant, as it will prevent them from developing as they should.
  • Patting Down Dirt When Filling a New Pot This will make the soil more cohesive and less likely to come apart from the pot. However, it will also remove the air between the soil particles for oxygen for the roots. Instead, scoop the potting mixture in and gently pour it in.
  • Water Too Fast Slowly pouring water into the plants allows them to allow the soil to absorb the water before draining.
Real Men Sow
Real Men Sow

Hello, I’m Pete and I’m currently based in the west of Scotland, in a small place called Rosneath, where I’m exploring my garden adventures. I personally started gardening around 6 years ago and initially, I started out by growing my favorite fruits and berries, such as strawberries, Raspberries & Gooseberries. Since then I’ve added a lot of vegetables and working closely with my neighbor, it’s been a lot of fun.