By: Sebastian Sajoux
Let’s set the scene. You’ve brought home a (plant) baby that is thriving and happy in its tiny pot and potting medium. You water it, give it a diluted dose of fertilizer or another amendment, and sit back to watch it grow.
All is bliss, until the dreaded transplant looms, and you’re faced with one of the toughest decisions a plant parent can make: what should you use to re-pot your plant and ensure it gets adequate drainage?
If you’re wondering, “Can’t I just use the dirt from my backyard to repot my plant?” the answer is absolutely not! Soil for potted plants is designed to drain water more efficiently. If you pack it into a pot, it will hold water in and likely lead to the kiss of death in the form of root rot. In addition, the bacteria that live happily in the backyard with established plants can be toxic to a young plant still developing its root system.
A good-quality potting medium is usually composed of a few different components, such as soil, bark, moss, perlite, or vermiculite, all of which blend together to be absorbent enough to feed your thirsty plant without drowning it.
But even though these mixes are designed to keep potted plants healthy, you might be tempted to overwater, and your abundance of love could result in a waterlogged, drowned plant. Faced with the possibility of water retention problems, the question becomes: is there a proven way to keep potted plants happily watered and root rot-free?
For decades two sides have been battling: to rock or not to rock. Some say the rocks below the soil push water out and some speak about capillarity and other technical matters pushing the other way.
The reality is that since the Roman Empire, gravel has worked as a drainage medium to help move water. How does this work? That’s easy: it creates pockets of air. Nothing like an open space to let water through. And that’s what gravel is doing down there, keeping spaces open so that water moves and doesn’t just sit on the roots of your plants. That’s right, the gravel is not what’s important, but the open spaces it creates in between each small rock are essential.
Now, if you were water going down a pot, what would make your exit easier and faster, while still allowing you to water the plant? An aerated soil or a clear way out?
The defense rests, your honor. Gravel is the way to go.
So go ahead and water (but don’t overwater!) the newest green members of the family, and rest assured that the drainage they need is just a bag of gravel away.