Do Plants Really Need Saucers?

Do your plants need saucers?  No, your plants do not need saucers your plants would prefer you not.  Why not and can you still use them?

Everywhere I go, I see plant saucers for sale, yet all the experts say not to sit in water …. What’s the deal?  

What is a plant saucer?

Anything that is waterproof that holds water under plants after leaking out of the drainage holes.  This can be a cachepot, plate, basin, tray, or plant coaster.

Saucers are useful for preventing the water that you use, which is vitally necessary for your plants, from spilling on your tables, and counters, or leaking on the floor.  

How they are used, why it’s wrong, and how to use them the right way.

Pick up your plant in its pot and place it on/ in the saucer.  Water plant until water starts to leak out of drainage holes and pool in the saucer.  Done. Bzzzzzzz, wrong, sorry. Your plant will plead for mercy, “I’m drowning, and my roots will begin to rot.”  

This will take some time, imagine your plant is holding its breath underwater.  You can live underwater too, for a moment. But eventually, you will need to come up for air.  Plants too. Soil has small, nay, tiny, air space in between soil particles. They fill up with water when the soil is saturated.  When soil drains, the soil particles hold some water, but the air spaces drain. If the pot is sitting in a saucerful of water, then water can not drain properly because of capillary action.  In the same way a paper towel will become saturated when only one corner of it is touching the water spill.

Why plants don’t want to sit in water.

Why do roots need air?  Plant cells, including root cells, need oxygen to chemically use sugars to grow.  The green parts of the plant make more oxygen than they use, and “exhale” to us.  The roots do not perform photosynthesis, so there is none for those cells to use (or exhale) but still need oxygen to use the sugars to grow.

Now, yes, some plants have developed ways around the need for oxygen readily available around roots, but we are discussing most plants.  So soil that does not drain and stays saturated prevents roots from getting the oxygen they need to live.

Saturated soils are the perfect environment for some things, like the bacteria and fungi that break down plant tissues….in other words, rot.

Why you shouldn’t plant directly into cachepots.

Planting directly in cache pots prevents water from draining out of the soil.  Is it possible for plants to live planted directly in them without the proper drainage?  Yes, but it is very difficult to monitor the water so precisely as not to give too much water, or conversely not give enough water to grow and flourish.  We can all think of examples where living under difficult conditions is possible, but not ideal, where health, size, or life expectancy is compromised.

Here is how you can use plant saucers to control water leakage properly and make you and your plants happy.

One of my favorite methods of using saucers or cache pots and encourage great growing conditions is to use stones.

Yes, stones, pebbles flatted marbles, or pot feet.  Anything that can hold the pot (WITH drainage holes) up and above the water that drains out.  Fill the saucer or cachepot with at least a layer ( how deep will depend on the size of your saucer and the size of the pot) of this non-absorbent material.  Set the pot on top.

Pot Feet

This does two things, holds the pot with soil out of the water to encourage drainage of extra water out of the soil, and has a reservoir of water to increase humidity continually around the plant, and most of the plants we chose for containers in our home, prefer higher humidity. If the recommendation is to mist the plant, then wants higher humidity, and this is more effective to provide longer-lasting humidity.

A win/win. A two-for-one.  One solution, two problems.  I love that 🙂

You can do the same thing for cachepots, trays that hold several pots as a grouping, or plant pots in saucers inside decorative pots.  

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Toni has a bachelor degree in Plant & Soil Science, has lived, gardened and growing all over the US, in Vermont, Tennessee, Idaho, coastal North Carolina and Virginia. She has been sharing her knowledge through writing, one on one consulting and talking to anyone who wants to listen at social gatherings everywhere : )

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