This well known gardening hack could be damaging your pot plants experts warn

Don't smash up your Wedgewood before you read this

As a keen gardener, you might think adding an inch or so of gravel or broken crockery to the bottom of plant pots before adding compost will help plants thrive. But, if you've been passed down this common garden drainage advice whilst looking for potted plants as part of your patio ideas you could do more harm than good.

QVC’s Gardening Expert Richard Jackson has shared with Ideal Home that this garden advice is a common potting myth. 'Which? Gardening disproved this works a few years ago. Instead of improving drainage – it can make it worse and increase water logging,' Richard explains.

Potting up plants mistake

A team of experts at Which? magazine have undermined the claim having carried out a series of controlled tests. They tested 40 pots by filling 50% with crockery and 50% without. After watering them in equal measures over some time, they found it made no difference to how the plants grew.

garden area with potted plants and pink chair

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Joanna Henderson)

Sean Lade, director of Easy Garden Irrigation agrees with Richard and points out that in some cases the gardening hack can actually prove damaging to your plants. 'It is a common misconception that you need to put drainage material like gravel, broken up pots or other course material in the bottom of plant pots,' he says.

'The logic is sound enough; if we're worried about overwatering, we want to aid drainage, but this doesn't have the desired effect. Some studies have found it has the opposite effect, which leads to root rot and leads to plant death.'

painted flower pots on wooden table

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Graeme Ainscough)

What should gardeners do to improve plant drainage instead?

So how do you create a gorgeous garden layout filled with flourishing potted foliage? Although gravel and crockery are a no-no. There are alternative techniques to make your painted flower pots bloom.

'Certainly, put a flat stone or one piece of crock over each drainage hole to prevent it clogging, but leave it at that and fill the rest of the pot with compost,' says Richard Jackson.

potted plants on floating shelf

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Jamie Mason)

Sean suggests investing in high-quality potting soil and mixing it with potting grit. 'What we want to do instead is use high-quality potting soil that will allow the water to drain freely and have a drainage hole in the base of the plant pot to release excess water. We want to mix into the soil a fine potting grit and perlite for free-draining soil and to help aerate the soil. Aerating the soil allows oxygen to get to the roots and promotes plant health.'

Next time you're potting up your houseplants forget the gravel and crockery myth, and instead, stick to good potting soil.


Rachel Homer has been in the interiors publishing industry for over 15 years. Starting as a Style Assistant on Inspirations Magazine, she has since worked for some of the UK’s leading interiors magazines and websites. After starting a family, she moved from being a content editor at to be a digital freelancer and hasn’t looked back.