Cute pots, cute saucers… but they’re too small and they leak. Photo: marquisgardens.ca
There are indoor gardeners and there are indoor designers. Both love houseplants, but they rarely agree on how to use plants. And one thing they are likely to argue over is the type of saucer to put under plant pots.
Designers are big on saucers that match the pot, of the same material, the same texture and the same color. I totally get that, but matching saucers rarely lead to happy plants.
First, when a saucer is sold with a pot, it’s almost always far too small. If you water just a bit too much, it overflows and stains the furniture. Well, we can’t have that, can we? So, the gardener underwaters, keeping the poor plant constantly suffering in the name of beauty. And that will eventually kill it. (Indoor designers kill a lot of plants!)
? Remember this rule: any plant saucer needs to be as wide as the rim of the pot or even wider, not hug its base. This will look ungainly to designers, but only then can you water correctly, that is, enthusiastically, and expect any excess water will be caught by the saucer without it overflowing … which is, after all, its raison d’être.
Also, a lot of really cool designer-compliant saucers leak. If they’re terra cotta or ceramic, they’re likely to “sweat”: exude moisture and that can stain the surface below. Of course, you can fix this by putting them on a cork pad, but that’s an extra step.
Worse yet, in my opinion, is that you can’t readily see what’s happening in a matching saucer. They’re inevitably opaque. And that’s bad, because if you do water a bit too much and the pot is left sitting in water, that’s not good for the plant. You need to remove the plant for a few seconds while you drain the saucer. But you’re as not likely to notice there’s standing water in the saucer if its sides are opaque.
Cachepots are wonderful things. They’re attractive containers with no drainage hole, big enough so that, when you slip your plant’s grow pot* inside (and most grow pots are rather ordinary, esthetically speaking), it will be hidden from view. That’s the meaning of cachepot, French for “pot hider.”
*Grow pot: the perfunctory usually plastic pot most houseplants are sold in.
But cachepots do mean you need to add an extra step to your watering regime. They’re deep enough that you can’t see if any water has accumulated in the bottom. So, 10 to 20 minutes after you finish watering, you need to remove the grow pot and turn the cachepot upside down over the sink to drain out any excess water.
If you don’t add that “drain the cachepot step,” one of these days you’re likely to end up killing the plant, as a plant constantly soaking in water will, unless it’s semi-aquatic, be subject to rot.
Transparent Saucers: The Functional Choice
So, here’s my choice of the perfect plant saucer: one made of transparent plastic. Some manufacturers call them drip trays, carpet savers or floor guards.
And you’re right, transparent saucers are not pretty. And transparent or not, they’re not invisible to the eye, especially when they pick up, as they do over time, a bit of a stain at the base due to soil particles or calcium build-up. Some also yellow over time. But with a transparent saucer, at least you can clearly see if your plant is sitting in water or not, and that will help keep it alive.
When you do see your plant soaking in water, lift it out of its saucer, take the saucer to the sink and drain it. Most people do this automatically. And that helps reinforce your green thumb.
To further help you keep your plant happy, the idea transparent saucer needs to have grooves or depressions in the bottom into which excess water can flow. That way, if you only water a bit too much, the excess water will drain into the grooves and the pot won’t be left standing in water. This excess will simply evaporate and there’ll be no need to drain the saucer. Yet if you do water too much and the grooves fill up, leaving your plant soaking, you’ll be able to see this and take appropriate actions.
Lifesavers: that’s what I call these grooved transparent saucers!
Some Are Better Than Others
Not all plastic saucers are created equal. Some are made of flimsy plastic and tear easily, or become yellow and brittle over time. They’re often very inexpensive, though. The more rigid plastic saucers (try giving the saucer a bit of a twist in the store: if you can practically fold it in half, it’s likely to be one of the flimsy ones) are longer lasting, usually don’t discolor and end up being a better deal in the long term.
Also, I find the more rigid saucers simple to clean, either by hand or in the dishwasher.
Check around: online, you can often buy them in bulk and save quite a bit of money.
Need I add that transparent saucers come in all sizes? If you have any sort of houseplant collection, you’ll need a few of each. I keep a whole array of them on hand at all times. That way, when I repot a plant into a larger container, I don’t have to rush off to the garden center to buy a new saucer.
Transparent plastic saucers may be a bit nondescript, but at least they do the job! And they can make the difference between a thriving plant and a dead one.
Plastic saucers are not a good idea for desert gardening. The heat makes them brittle. Walking by one with a garden hose, which may bump it, makes them break easily.
Designers often treat plants like static and inert furnishings. I went to school with one, who tole me that, unlike those of us who work outside, who plant things that grow, interior designers install plants at their prime, and then try to get them to deteriorate as slowly s possible, until they get replaced. There is no expectation that they will actually ‘grow’. I happen to like glazed saucers because they stay dry, but in conjunction with clay pots.
I use the transparent ones, but then again, I’ m not expecting Martha Stewart any time soon. 🙂