This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V18", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Is it necessary to drain my flower-pots? I am asked this question many times during the year, and not only from personal visitors to our establishment does the question come, but from many of our friends and patrons from all parts of the globe. I have come to the conclusion that an answer to this question through the columns of your paper might not only be beneficial to those who have already made inquiry, but to many others who have not taken the trouble to inquire into the matter.
To make a short and decisive answer I would say that pot-drainage is not only useless but injurious. I expect to be contradicted in my assertion, and perhaps by those who are much older than I am, but I am perfectly confident that I can show points where drainage is not only useless but hurtful to flowering-plants, and I am confident that I will be upheld in my statements by some of our leading florists, and those of many years' experience. My objections are, first, a waste of time, for where the operator spends time to pick out the drainage from the bottom of the ball of earth, and again replace them in the new pot, before replacing the plant, he spends at least one-half of his time in the operation of replacing the drainage, and this would never do for a greenhouse operative. And in the second place, where drainage is placed in the bottom of the pot, the roots grow down to the bottom of and through the drainage, and when the plant is shifted to a larger pot, you destroy many of the young fibers, or working-roots, so-called, for it is impossible to extract the drainage from the old ball without breaking and otherwise injuring many of these tender roots, and this causes the plant to stop making top growth till it has formed a new set of roots.
Some say use only one piece of drainage, and place that directly over the hole in the bottom of the pot; but this even is useless, if you are cautious not to give too much water, and this should always be avoided. If a farmer should remove the top soil and place a layer of stones under the soil, in a field in which he was to plant grain, before sowing his seed, you would pronounce him any thing but a wise man. I claim that the farmer has as much necessity of drainage in his field as we have in our flower-pots. I am asked how I know that drainage is not necessary; I answer, by experience. I do not mean to say that a plant will not do well if it is drained", but I do mean to say that it will do just as well if it is not drained. I have tested it thoroughly, and I find that plants do just as well, if not better, without drainage. Again, I hear some one say that perhaps plants can be grown in the sandy soil of the East without the use of drainage, but drainage must be used for our loamy soil of the prairie; but I answer not so, for I have tried them both, and I find that by a sufficent use of sand in the potting soil which should consist of rotted sod from the pasture or road-side, and rotted refuse hops from the brewery, about two-thirds of the former and one-third of the latter, with a sufficient quantity of sand to make the soil porous, that no drainage is necessary.
If my friends will try my plan of growing plants without the use of those old fogy crocks, and be careful not to use too much water, I am perfectly confident that they will have as good, if not better success with their Flora's Pets. Please give it a fair trial at least.