I wonder just how many people have even noticed the change? Because there is a sea change going on in houseplant care. That’s because more and more houseplants are now sold in cachepots rather than standard grow pots. I get the feeling the average houseplant fan hasn’t even noticed. Yet they should, as it’s seriously changing how you grow your plants!
So, what’s happening and how will it affect you?
What’s a Cachepot?
Let’s start by defining cachepot. It’s a French term for an outer pot or overpot. Its role is to cover up the relatively unattractive pot in which your plant grows with a more attractive shell . . . and the name cachepot translates as “pot hider.” Exactly what it does.
The name itself dates back to the 19th century, but containers used to hide pots almost certainly go much further back in time still.
You can pronounce the name cash-poe, as in French, with a silent “T”, or cash-pot. I say cash-poe myself, but then, I live in French-speaking Québec, so, of course, I would!
A cachepot is essentially a shell rather than a flowerpot. And rarely has the shape of a traditional flowerpot. It’s often oval, round, cubic or barrel-shaped. It comes in an unlimited number of colors, materials and textures. In particular, there is no drainage hole, so it holds water. (If there did have a drainage hole, it would be a planter or ornamental pot, not a cachepot.)
And because it doesn’t let excess water drain away, it can drown your plant. But more on that later.
And a Grow Pot?
This is the real flowerpot. The one the plant’s roots grow in. It does have a least one drainage hole and often several. And that’s vital. There must be drainage or plants could be left sitting in water and begin to rot.
Today, the typical grow pot has a classical flowerpot shape (wider at the top than the bottom), is made of plastic and usually of a nondescript color: green, black, white, brown, etc. Because orchid growers like to be able to inspect the state of their orchid’s roots, orchid grow pots are usually made of transparent plastic. But you won’t notice the grow pot. The cachepot hides it pretty much completely. Many houseplant enthusiasts have no idea it’s even there!
Cachepots were doubly interesting back in the era when we mostly used terra cotta pots as grow pots. That would have been until about the 1970s. Their habit of picking up hard-to-remove white calcium stains meant that such clay pots could look grungy quite quickly. But you just had to drop the stained grow pot into a cachepot to hide it from view and the problem instantly went away.
In the current cachepot system, the two pots now go together. They’re simply sold along with the plant.
When you buy a plant in a simple grow pot, the way gardeners have for the last few hundred years, you choose your plant for its beauty, its healthiness, its size, its floriferousness, etc. But you rarely pay much attention to the pot. Often dirty (yes, soil does tend get around, doesn’t it?), sometimes chipped or cracked, the appearance of the grow pot is usually a minor detail rather than a factor of importance in your choice.
You probably already have a number of cachepots at home if you ever wanted to hide the grow pot. I know I do. But gardeners became accustomed to plants sitting around for years in rather grubby pots placed in low saucers. That was just the laidback way we gardened indoors and no one thought much about it.
Today, though, nurseries sell many houseplants in an attractive cachepot, one chosen specially to make them look really good. It hides the grow pot and any dirt clinging to it. It’s always strikingly clean. And it makes the plant look much perkier and more desirable. It looks just mahhvelous! Like a diamond in a dazzling setting. Old grow pot plants look positively dumpy in comparison.
Usually there is a whole tray of assorted plants in assorted cachepots at the point of sale: quite a dazzling display! How could you resist?
Cachepots Stimulate Sales
And that’s what growers are discovering. We’re willing to pay more—a lot more!—for a plant in cachepot than the same plant in a grow pot. Twice the price. Maybe more! The cachepot itself is never really expensive, but it looks expensive, so the whole plant has a greater value in the eyes of the buyer.
The whole point is that your plant will now likely spend the rest of its life in a cachepot. Or, more exactly, in a grow pot nestled into a cachepot. When you repot in the future, you’ll need to look for a larger grow pot . . . and a larger cachepot as well.
The cachepots plants are sold in today differ from past ones in that they fit very snuggly around the grow pot. When I was a beginning houseplant nut in the 1970s, the cachepot was always about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the grow pot. That way, there was space all around the inside rim. Therefore, you could look down into the cachepot to see if the pot were soaking in water: a very handy feature! Or you could swish the cachepot back and forth and hear the sound of water if there were any. In both cases, you’d know enough to drain the excess moisture.
None So Blind. . .
Not so today. The modern version of the ensemble is a grow pot that fits so neatly into the cachepot you can’t even slip your baby finger in between the two. So, you can’t see if you’ve overwatered. To get your grow pot out of the cachepot, you, usually need to lean the pot to the side, hold the plant at its base, and lift . . . hoping the whole pot comes out and not just the rootball, leaving the pot behind!
I now keep a pair of long-nosed pliers at hand that I can use to grab the edge of the pot and lift. Eventually, that will likely tear or break the grow pot. I don’t intend, though, to continue with this technique very long.
Replaces the Saucer
The cachepot replaces the saucer, traditionally the tool used in watering plants. It’s like the saucer’s sexier older sister. Both are used with grow pots (pots with drainage holes) . . . and both catch excess water. So, use one or the other, but there is no need to put a cachepot in a saucer . . . although I see that done all the time!
Cachepots Belong Indoors
Here’s a major problem. People put their houseplants out for the summer. That’s great! Plants love it as long as you acclimatize them first! But then they leave them in their cachepot. Oops! That was a blunder! And if it rains, where will the excess moisture go? It won’t be able to drain away. And that could lead to rot!
For that reason, leave the cachepot indoors! If you want to hide a grow pot set outside for the summer, use an ornamental pot with drainage holes that will let excess water drain away.
Never Plant in a Cachepot
Given the absence of a drainage hole, cachepots are not meant for planting. Unless you drill a hole in the bottom, you should limit their use to hiding grow pots.
How to Water a Plant in a Tight Cachepot
Here’s the crux of the matter. I’m getting questions like never before from people losing houseplants to rot. They haven’t understood that this tandem (grow pot/tight cachepot) significantly changes how you have to water. Tight-fitting cachepots are bad for your plants . . . unless you learn how to correctly water them. And here’s how:
1. Watering From Above
This is what most people do. After all, it’s just like traditional watering,
right? Except the grow pot sits in a cachepot instead of a saucer. So, you pour
water into the pot from above, enough to moisten the mix, and it’s done. Except
it isn’t. You’re lacking some critical information… and a few extra steps.
You see, in traditional watering, you can see what happens in the saucer, as
it’s wider than the pot. You water from above until you see water start to
drip out of the bottom of the pot. This is what tells you’ve watered enough and the potting mix can hold no more. It tells you “time to stop.”
You can’t look into the bottom of a tightly fitted cachepot, though. You have no idea if you’ve watered too little, just enough or too much. So you need to add a few steps, as below.
- Wait until the soil is dry to the touch. Very dry for succulents.
- Water slowly with tepid water until you figure the soil mix is evenly moist. You’ll have to guesstimate the amount to apply. You really can’t see what you’re doing with a tight cachepot.
- Go away and do something else for about 5 to 25 minutes as the water percolates down. A sudoku maybe?
- Come back and remove the grow pot from the cachepot. You may need long-nosed pliers to be able to do so.
- Put the pot temporarily on a cloth or rag to soak up any excess moisture at its base.
- Look into the bottom of the cachepot.
- If there’s any amount of (probably dirty) water in the bottom, empty it into the sink, the garden or elsewhere.
- Then drop the plant back into its pot.
- If there is no water in the bottom, you might want to heft the pot to see if you watered enough and, if not, give it a bit more. (Damp soil is heavier than dry soil.)
- Otherwise, drop the grow pot back into its cachepot.
- Job done!
Unfortunately, few people do check out the situation. And that often leads to overwatering (or underwatering) and, eventually, a dead plant.
2. Soak the Pot Elsewhere
You could also water a grow pot in a tight-fitting cachepot by removing it from the cachepot and soaking it in water at the sink or in a bucket or tray. Then let it drain well. Indeed, this is the common practice for orchids these days: most are watered by soaking.
You can read about how to soak your plant once removed from its cachepot in the article How to Water an Orchid. This is a much more logical method and I recommend it highly. It can keep your plant alive practically forever!
How to Water a Plant in a Wider Cachepot
This struggle trying to get the grow pot in and out of a tight-fitting cachepot loses its charm pretty quickly. You’ll find it far easier buy a few wider cachepots—again, with an opening about 2 inches (5 cm) wider than the grow pot—and move your plants to those. That way you can now see into the bottom of your cachepot and watch what happens as you water. It’s really just like you were watering the plant in a saucer. In that case, you could water pretty much as you always have:
- Wait until the soil is dry to the touch. Very dry for succulents.
- Water slowly with tepid water until the soil mix is evenly moist.
- Stop watering when you see moisture starting to drip from the grow pot into the bottom of the cachepot.
- That’s it. You’re done!
If ever you accidentally overwater, you’ll know right away, as you’ll see a puddle of water form at the bottom of the cachepot. If so, just take the grow pot out of the cachepot and pour out the excess. Then put the grow pot back into place.
Give Your Houseplants a Gander!
I suspect that many readers will be surprised to discover that they’re dealing with just this situation: one plant, two containers. Fortunately, it’s an easy enough situation to work with . . . once you understand that there is a possible problem!