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.

Pots Without Drainage Holes = Cachepots


These cachepots are designed to contain flower pots, not for plants to be grown in them directly.

Don’t believe the popular myth that says if you have a decorative pot without drainage holes, you can fill simply the bottom with drainage layer of gravel or pot shards and then grow a plant in it. It is very difficult to ensure adequate watering in a pot that has no hole to allow excess water to drain away. Drainage layers only help a smidgen: the soil still tends to remain constantly wet and therefore the plants eventually rot. But you can use a pot with no drainage hole… but as a cachepot (a French word meaning “hidden pot”). In other words, place the plant in a standard flower pot (which does have drainage holes), then set the flower pot inside the decorative pot that doesn’t. And any excess water will drain from the flower pot into the cachepot. After watering, remove the flower pot from the cachepot, then tip it over to pour out any excess water.


These orchids are in cachepots: drain them after each watering.

Note that many orchids are currently sold  in just such a situation: in a flower pot (oddly enough, often transparent!) with drainage holes placed inside a cachepot without any. If you want your orchids to last, always drain the cachepot after watering!