How To Put Holes in Plastic Pots Without a Drill

Drainage is crucial for the survival of your plants. Still, there are many planters available that are made with no holes. Using a drill to make more holes in these pots is commonly suggested, but if you don’t feel comfortable or prefer another method, there are other ways to make holes to create adequate drainage for your plants. 

Here is an easy guide on how to put holes in plastic pots without a drill: 

  1. Determine the necessary hole size.
  2. Decide on hole location and amount.
  3. Choose a method according to your needs.
  4. Test the drainage.

Keeping the soil drained is critical for plants, so you need to add holes to pots that cannot drain, and this article will explain how to do so without a drill and how to test the drainage. 

Quick Guide

Importance of Drainage for Plant SurvivalEnsure adequate drainage to prevent root rot and maintain plant health.
Alternatives to Drilling Holes in PlantersUse a hammer and nail, screwdriver with heat, soldering iron, or a sharp knife to create drainage holes.
Determining the Necessary Hole SizeBase hole size on planter size; use ¼ inch holes for smaller pots and ½ inch for larger ones.
Deciding on Hole Location and AmountSpace holes evenly and place them according to the planter’s shape and bottom type.
Methods to Create Holes Without a DrillEmploy methods like using a hammer and nail, heating a screwdriver, soldering, or cutting with a knife.
Testing the DrainageTest drainage with water and soil to ensure proper flow and avoid water saturation.
Importance of Proper DrainagePrevent root decay, minimize mineral build-up, allow air to roots, and reduce overwatering risks.
Signs of Insufficient DrainageLook for symptoms like droopy, wilting, or falling leaves, browning, yellowing, and stunted blooming.
Safety in Implementing Drainage SolutionsUse tools cautiously to prevent injury while creating drainage solutions.

1. Determine the Necessary Hole Size

Although one drainage hole is typically good enough if placed in the center of the bottom of the pot for drainage, some of the tools used to make your holes may not achieve the diameter needed for single hole drainage.

Typically, the hole size depends on the planter size; a bigger pot may need larger holes because more soil needs to drain, and the pot has a larger bottom surface for water to collect.

Each hole should be about ¼ inch (6 mm) in diameter for pots less than 12 inches (30.5 cm). For planters 12 inches or larger, the holes should be about ½ inch (12 mm) in diameter

When the holes are too large, too much soil will escape when the water drains. Conversely, holes that are too small won’t allow enough water drainage, also making the pot heavier.

2. Decide on Hole Location and Amount

Pots are shaped differently, but the concept of drainage location is typically the same; the water flows to the lowest point of the pot. If you have other planters with drainage holes, you can use them as a guide for adding holes to the pot without drainage holes.

Or, you can follow these suggestions:

  • Many flat bottom planters have one center hole with holes surrounding it. So, when adding holes to flat bottom planters, you’ll want to add a center hole with four to eight holes surrounding it
  • Planters with a raised bottom in the center typically have holes surrounding the raised center. This allows the soil to drain to the lower level of the pot. When adding holes to pots with raised centers, add four to eight holes surrounding the raised center.
  • For long-bed planters, even with raised centers, you may want to add two to five evenly spaced holes within the raised center, depending on the size of the planter.
  • Any holes you add should be evenly spaced to allow easy drainage flow. 

3. Choose a Method According to Your Needs

There are many innovative ways to make holes in plastic pots without a drill. Luckily, a lot of methods include tools and materials you already have in your household.

Here are four methods used to make drainage holes in plastic planters:

  1. Punch holes with a hammer and nail.
  2. Use a screwdriver and heat.
  3. Melt the plastic with a soldering iron.
  4. Cut triangle holes with a sharp knife.

Below I will explain each of these methods in detail.

1. Punch Holes With a Hammer and Nail

Using a hammer and nail is a common method (other than drilling) to make holes. Although many planters come without holes, many come with perforated pieces to punch out for holes. If there’s no indication of premade holes to punch out, you can still use this method to make your holes. 

Here are the materials you’ll need for this method: 

  • Tape: Most types of tape will work here. If you don’t have any tape on hand, use a marker.
  • Hammer: The tool can be of small or standard size, whichever you feel comfortable using.
  • Nail: The nail should be thick in diameter to make a decent size hole when it pokes through.

This method is better to use with thicker plastic planters that don’t buckle when pressure is applied. To make holes using a hammer and nail, follow these easy steps:

Place Tape Inside and Outside of the Pot

Be sure to mark all the holes. Taping the inside and outside surface helps prevent the plastic from cracking or breaking as you make the holes. The trick is not to apply too much pressure, or it may end up cracking anyway.

Position the Nail

Aim for the nail to be as close to the center of the tape as possible. 

Push the Nail Through the Plastic

While holding the nail, use the hammer to lightly tap the nail, pushing it through the plastic with each tap. Ensure your fingers are safely positioned away from the nail head to prevent injury. And don’t use too much pressure, or you’ll risk cracking the plastic.

Remove the Nail

Once the nail has punched through the plastic, use the hammer claw to pull the nail out.

Then, repeat the above steps for the remaining holes you’ve marked. Once you have punched each hole, you’re finished.

2. Use a Screwdriver and Heat 

Another easy method is to use a Phillips-head screwdriver (the one with the cross on the tip) and a heat source. For the heat, you can use a candle or a lighter.

 There are a few materials needed for this method: 

  • Marker: Any permanent type
  • Phillips-head screwdriver: Phillips-head is easier to make holes with than a flat-head. But if a flat-head screwdriver is all you have, you can try using the corner of the flat-head. 
  • Heat: Lighter or candle

To make holes using a screwdriver and heat, follow these easy steps:

Mark the Holes

Use a marker to mark the bottom of the planter where the holes will be made. 

Heat the Screwdriver

Grab the screwdriver and use the lighter or candle to heat the screwdriver’s tip so it will melt the plastic as you apply a bit of pressure.

Melt the Holes

Using the screwdriver, apply a little pressure while working in a twisting motion to push through the plastic. Don’t use too much pressure, or you’ll risk cracking the plastic. And keep the screwdriver upright while twisting.

Increase Heat as Needed

Apply more heat if needed until the screwdriver punches through the plastic.

Then, repeat. Use the previous steps until all of the remaining holes have been punched.

3. Melt the Plastic With a Soldering Iron

If you have a soldering iron available, it is a quick and easy tool to use for making holes in your plastic pots. For this method, you’ll only need a marker and soldering iron to add drainage holes.

To make holes using a soldering iron, follow these easy steps:

Prepare Your Tools

Plug in the soldering iron to preheat and grab your plastic pot. 

Use a Marker to Indicate the Holes

Use a marker to mark the areas where the holes will be by making a dot or circle with a diameter of ¼ inch (6.35 mm)

Apply Pressure Using the Iron

Once the soldering iron is heated, place it over the area for the hole and apply slight pressure. It won’t take long for the tip to melt the plastic. Soldering irons reach temperatures of 392 to 896 °F (200 to 480 °C), so practice safety while using this tool.

Widen the Hole as Needed

While holding the soldering iron, move your hand in a circular motion to melt the plastic and widen the hole to ¼ inch (6.35 mm) in diameter. 

Then, repeat. Once you have the desired size hole, repeat for the remaining holes needed for your pot.

4. Cut Triangular Holes With a Sharp Knife

This method works best when you’re making holes in pots made of thin plastic. Be mindful of your hand placement and pressure to avoid injury.

Apply these easy steps to cut triangle drainage holes in your pots:

Mark the Holes

Use a marker to mark the bottom of the pot where the holes will be made. 

Establish the Initial Holes

Using the knife, gently apply pressure with a twisting motion until the tip of the knife pokes through.

Create Slits

When the knife pokes through, push it down to the thicker part of the knife to make a slit.

From there, join each slit to form triangular holes. You’ll repeat the previous two steps to make the slits form a triangle hole for drainage.

Then, repeat. Use the above steps for the remaining holes you have marked

4. Test the Drainage

Testing the drainage before adding your plant to the intended pot is essential. This ensures you have enough holes that are big enough to allow the proper flow of the excess water to exit from the pot. 

To test the drainage, follow these steps:

  1. Add soil to your pot once all the holes are made.
  2. Measure water equivalent to ⅓ or ¼ of the volume of your pot and pour it over the soil. 
  3. As gravity pushes the water through the soil, you should see the excess water coming out of the holes you made. 
  4. If the water is draining at an acceptable rate to prevent the soil from staying saturated, you can add your plant.
  5. If the water is draining too slow or not, you may need to widen the holes or add more. 

Drainage Is Crucial to the Health of Your Plants

Having adequate adequate drainage is critical because it fulfills the following key roles:

  • Prevents root decay from water saturation
  • Reduces mineral build-up that can potentially burn the roots and leaves of the plants
  • Allows air to reach the root system and aid in proper hydration
  • Reduces the risk of overwatering your plants

If the soil becomes anaerobic, decay will develop in the root system. Root rot is the deterioration of the root system from pathogens causing decay, and, in most cases, this condition is irreversible. If left untreated, your plant will suffocate and die. 

Signs your plants may be suffering from root rot or other conditions as a result of insufficient drainage are as follows:

  • The plant leaves appear droopy
  • Leaves are wilting or falling off
  • There is browning or yellowing of the leaves
  • The tips of the leaves appear ‘burnt.
  • White powdery residue on the top of the soil
  • Blooming is stunted

Final Thoughts

Ensuring your plants have sufficient drainage is part of the care you should be providing to your plants. This article discussed four different methods to use, including materials most people already have in their household. And by adding four to eight holes to allow the soil to drain. The holes prevent the roots from sitting in saturated soil and forming root rot.

Whenever you use tools or sharp objects for projects, even as simple as adding drainage holes, remember safety and be mindful of where your hands and fingers are placed.

Dr. Moritz Picot

Dr. Moritz Picot is a horticulture enthusiast and the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com, where he serves as the lead content writer. He established the website in 2022 as a valuable resource for both gardening aficionados and beginners, compiling all the gardening tips he has accumulated over the past 25 years. Alex has a passion for nurturing plants, transforming backyards into inviting spaces, and sharing his knowledge with the world.

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