Cactus and succulents Gardening Houseplants Pots

Sniff Houseplants Before You Buy!

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Always treat plants in designer pots with suspicion. Give them a sniff before you buy them! Source: &, montage:

These days, horticulture seems to have taken a huge step backward. Garden centers now currently sell plants in “designer pots*,” really cute ones, but without drainage holes, something they would never have considered even 10 years ago. Cacti and succulents bear the brunt of this mistreatment: the very plants that can’t take soaking in water even for short periods are now sold in pots that don’t allow excess water to drain away. What a horror!

*Who designs these designer pots? Certainly not horticulturists! A good gardener would never consider growing plants under such perilous conditions!

Often these plants are already rotting when you buy them. And usually when rot sets in, it ends up killing the plant … but that can take months (succulents do everything slowly, even dying). That’s why I recommend sniffing the potting soil of any plant growing in a pot with no drainage hole before you buy it. Yes, putting your nose right down near the soil and inhaling deeply. Rot has a quite particular odor: sort of sour, like a rotting potato. You’ll recognize it when you sniff it.

Don’t buy plants that are suffering from rot. Yes, sometimes you can save them by taking cuttings and staring anew, but only if the rot is not too advanced. You’d do much better to buy a plant that “smells fine.”

Once you get home, do repot any poor plant growing in a pot with no drainage hole into one that does have a drainage hole. Or drill a hole in the bottom of the pot. For more information on that, read The Delicate Art of Watering Pots With No Drainage Hole.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

3 comments on “Sniff Houseplants Before You Buy!

  1. Reblogged this on Just another Day on the Farm and commented:
    Been noticing this as well.. so many plant pots without dranage included. Great advice as always from the laidback gardener

  2. Samuel Moran

    The only plants that should be planted in pots with no drainage hole would be swamp plants like papyrus or baby’s tears. These would take soggy soil.

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