How to Plant Succulents & Cacti in Pots Without Drainage Holes

A few years ago my husband bought me this cactus because he knew how much I love Topo Chico (mineral water) and succulents (including cacti). You always hear that cacti and succulents need “well-draining” soil and typically a terracotta pot with a drainage hole. Knowing this, I was surprised that that this glass bottle with no drainage holes has successfully grown a water-hating plant like this cactus for so many years.

With a little bit of knowledge (that I will explain in this post) you and I don’t have to be afraid anymore to plant any of our succulents in pots that don’t have drainage holes. So get ready for so many more pot possibilities for your cute plants!

While I don’t usually name my plants, I named that little cactusTopiafter the Topo Chico bottle he is potted in.

Every now and then I would accidentally leave Topi in the rain or do something to cause all his arms to fall off…oopsies. So now I am left with way too many tiny cactus arms that need a pot upgrade. Since one of my succulents also lost its container to a strong gust of wind, I decided to show you how to pot both a cactus and a succulent.

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SUPPLIES FOR THIS PROJECT:

1. A non-draining pot: any container can become your pot such as a used candle container.

2.Pumice

3. Cactus/Succulent Potting Soil Mix

4. Perlite

5. Pebbles/River Rocks

6. A succulent or cactus

I used two finished candles that I cleaned out for the plants’ non-draining containers. I try not to throw anything away in the trash or even in the recycling if I can reuse it instead. The “reduce, reuse, recycle” slogan is listed in order of importance, so I try to reuse an item before recycling it if possible and practical.

Ok! Now, let me teach you how to plant a cactus or succulent in a pot without drainage holes.

WARNING

If you know yourself to be a “succulent killer”…

First of all, don’t be ashamed! (We have all been there. Well, I have.)

If you tend to overwater your succulents or cacti which eventually kills them, then use a terracotta pot with a drainage hole at the bottom. Unglazed and unpainted terracotta pots are made of a very porous material that allows the soil to dry out quickly (AKA, not retain water which would rot the roots).

Step 1. Choose your pot.

While a more porous material will give your plant the best chance (like terracotta or concrete) you can still use containers made of glass, plastic, ceramic, or metal. For your best bet, choose a tall pot rather than a shallow one. This will keep any excess water lower down in the pot, further away from the roots that we are trying not to overwater.

Some people will tell you that growing succulents in a pot without drainage holes should be avoided or only be temporary. It is true that drainage will help you keep from overwatering, but let me tell you that most of my succulents are in non-draining containers and they have happily survived and thrived for years.

Reasons I use non-draining pots:

  1. There are so many cute and trendy pots that don’t have drainage holes.
  2. There is no need to use a plant saucer under your pot which can be ugly or just get in the way.
  3. It allows the convenience of reusing containers you have on hand or around the house (like a mason jar, used candle, a teacup or mug).

Step 2. Fill the bottom layer with rocks.

This is the most important step!

You will want to fill the bottom layer with at least one inch of rocks. The rocks will promote drainage, which keeps water from rotting the roots. They also act as an anchor for the roots which helps with stability of the plant from being knocked (whether by wind, pets, or clumsy humans like me).

Since I used a glass container, I cared what the rocks looked like so I chose a light-colored pumice. Pumice is a great option for this purpose because it is porous which further helps to keep any water from pooling at the bottom. You can also use pebbles at the bottom of the pot. If you want additional protection from root rot, put a layer of activated charcoal below the soil and above the bottom rock layer.

Step 3. Add perlite to the soil.

To ensure that the soil for your succulent or cactus is well-draining, mix some perlite into your soil. If you are already using soil that is specifically meant for succulents and cacti like this popular Miracle Grow soil mix it will already have some perlite in it. Adding a little more perlite to the mix is still a good idea though (let’s take all the help we can get, right?). Create a 2:1 ratio of perlite to soil. This means you should mix in 50 percent of the amount of cactus soil you have. If you are using regular potting soil, you should add coarse sand and perlite to the soil in this ratio:

*If you do not have coarse sand, you can substitute it for perlite (so a 1:1 ratio of soil to perlite).

Now add the mixed soil into your pot. You can gently mix the soil a little bit more once it’s in the pot if you notice the perlite is unevenly distributed. The pumice that I have suggested throughout this post came with a metal chopstick that I used to further mix the perlite into the soil. Be careful not to displace the bottom rock layer though.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PERLITE AND PUMICE:​

Perlite is the lighter-weight version of pumice. Both rock types come from coarse volcanic rock, but perlite has been processed further with heat to make it pop and expand even more than pumice.

Step 4. Plant your succulent.

Make a hole in the soil that is big enough for the roots of your succulent or cactus. I used a metal chopstick to make such a hole in the top of the soil. Then carefully insert your plant into the hole and ensure that all of the roots are covered by soil.

If you are planting a cactus, there are several ways to pick up your spiky plant:

  1. Use nitrile-coated gloves. Wear them double-layered if for the most protection.
  2. Use silicone tongs. Don’t squeeze too hard to keep from damaging the plant.
  3.  For small cacti, use chopsticks to hold the cactus (like you do when you’re eating with chopsticks).
  4. Wrap a thick rag around the cactus and wear gloves for added protection.

Step 5. Add top dressing.

“Top dressing” is a layer of decorative rock on the top of the soil. It helps keep the soil in place especially when watering, but it is primarily done to provide a finished look to your succulent arrangement. You can use almost anything for this such as decorative pea gravel,  aquarium gravel, coarse sand, or pebbles. I used white pebbles but this is your plant, maybe you want more brightly-colored stones instead!

TIP:

Do not use pumice for top dressing because it can float away or become discolored.

All done!

Now find a bright area to display your new DIY succulent container!

Happy planting!

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Proof.

I just wanted to show you that this is how much my cacti grew in TWO days after repotting! I did a double-take when I saw them and even checked my before pictures to make sure I wasn’t imagining things.

Following these steps really makes a difference in the health and growth of your plants. Just look how much they shot up once they were finally in deep well-draining soil. Let me remind you that these little cactus arms have been in a shallow dish with poor soil for months (maybe even going on one year…) with no growth whatsoever. Looks like they were just waiting for this new home of theirs so they could finally grow up!

Inspiration.​

Here are two other examples of how I have used this method to pot one succulent and one cactus in pots without draining holes. The bird was a house-warming gift for a friend and the turtle was the perfect home for my cactus valentine gift from the hubby <3.

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