Do Humidity Trays Really Work?

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Did you know that there’s a purpose to those pebbles that you see in potted plants?

They play a much more functional role than just beauty. Their purpose is to provide humidity for the plants. Interesting fact right?

Well, do humidity trays really work? Yes and no. They’ll serve their purpose and will provide humidity to your plants, but not at the level that you think it will. The best time to use the humidity trays is in the fall and spring season when the temperature is not as hot as the summer. You can use it year-round if you so choose to, but it won’t function as well in the winter. You’ll need another strategy to increase the humidity level for your indoor plants.

Another option to increase the level of humidity is to group your plant’s together or mist them with water. These effects may be temporary, though. But they may have a greater effect if you combine them with the pebble tray method.

It’s important to remember that every growing environment is different and what works for others, may not always work for you. So it’s always wise to do trial and error.

Please note that this article contains affiliate links, and that means that I may earn a commission if you buy something.

Give it a try and use this soil moisture meter to test your moisture level!

Related: How to Prepare Indoor Tropical Plants for the Cold Weather

What does a pebble tray do? 

A pebble tray (aka humidity tray) is pretty much just a tray that has a bunch of pebbles and water on it. The idea behind the concept of the tray is to increase the humidity level for houseplants. Water would be filled slightly below the height of the rocks and the pot would be sitting on top of the rocks instead of sitting in water. And we all know what can happen when plants sit in a puddle of water for a long period of time… root rot. 

Do Humidity trays really work for humidity?

Yes and no. Pebble trays can only do so much to increase the humidity level for indoor plants. The water from the tray is supposed to evaporate up into the air (or at least up into your plant’s pot since it’s on top of the tray) giving your plants extra moisture.

This method prevents your plant from root rot because it is not sitting in a puddle of water. Instead, it is sitting slightly above your pebble tray. You can always use a hygrometer to check the humidity level to determine if the pebble tray works. 

a houseplant with a pebble tray for humidity

Typically for a house that is typically drier more often than not, a humidity tray will not do much for your houseplants. It would barely provide enough moisture in the air for your plants to be happy with, let alone for your tropical plants that require a medium to high level of humidity. 

I personally like using these trays mostly for the decor. Potted plants just look so much classier when surrounded by pebbles. Pebble trays work so much better when you need a little extra humidity but not enough to buy a humidifier.

Making a tray when the weather starts to become a little cooler will benefit your tropical plants as well. The humidity levels will change slightly but if the weather continues to drop, investing in a humidifier (this one does quite an amazing job) would be a wise choice.

Will pebble trays help houseplants during the harsh winters?

No, a pebble tray would not give a higher humidity level with houseplants during the winter coldness. It would provide very little moisture in the air, depending on how cold and dry the air is. In this case, a humidifier and grow lights would make your plants a lot happier. 

Are pebble trays better than Humidifiers?

When compared to humidifiers, pebble trays are insignificant.

Humidifiers will provide a lot more moisture in the air than the trays ever will,  making plants that require a high humidity level thrive even on the harshest day in the winter months. 

But just because pebble trays don’t increase the humidity level as much as we want them to, it doesn’t mean that they are entirely useless.

a houseplant with a pebble tray for humidity

They are extraordinary at enhancing your plant’s surroundings as well as separating their roots from standing water.

A method you can use that may increase relative humidity is to group your plants and pebble trays together. This will help provide added humidity in the air. Especially when the weather transitions from summer to fall. But don’t expect that humidity level to do too much for the plants. They will eventually need a higher level of moisture in the air. 

Another method that I would much rather use to keep houseplants lively and thriving throughout the winter months is to use grow lights. Remember that lighting is one of the essentials that plants need to thrive and blossom.

I sometimes forget about their lighting requirements in the winter because winter tends to have shorter days as well as less sun on certain days. With grow lights, I can give my plants a couple of extra hours of lighting in a day. And it comes in extra handy on days that are cloudy or rainy. 

One of the biggest reasons I love having a humidity tray (besides for the aesthetics) is because it acts as a reminder to give my plants a thorough inspection often. Whenever I see the tray empty of water, I’ll go and refill it, while giving my plants a lookover.

I’ll check the soil moisture (to see if it needs more water), inspect the leaves for insects and whether or not it needs more sunlight, and sometimes will give it a quick clean (especially for my foliage plants). 

And it’s a great conversation starter as well. Guests tend to do a double-take when it comes to my potted plants that are sitting on top of a pebble tray. I always get tons of compliments (another bonus) which always boosts my ego as a plant parent!

Related: How to Increase Humidity in a Room for Indoor Plants

Can humidity trays actually encourage plant growth?

For certain plants, like orchids, I would say yes humidity trays can encourage growth. These trays do actually help plants grow effectively in the long run but maybe not always at the level you expect it would. 

The tray is actually what it looks like: a plate that is crammed with stones and water. The main reason for a tray is for it to provide a higher moistness level in the air for houseplants.

cactus plants with humidity trays for humidity

Depending on many different factors, most houses tend to have a drier atmosphere, and that’s not the greatest environment for tropical houseplants. So when I think of a pebble tray, I think of it as A basic, low-tech approach to providing a quick and easy solution to increase the humidity level, at least for that one plant that is on top of the tray. I do find it helpful at times, especially during the start of the fall season.

Can you make a humidity tray at home?

Of course! You can totally make a pebble plant indoor tray. This is where your creativity comes into play. Humidity trays can play a significant role in the growth of certain plants. However, if you are unable to get your hands on a humidity tray, you can easily form one at home.

All you truly need is a shallow plate of some sort and a range of stones. You can purchase a reasonably priced plate at your local nursery or you can likewise utilize old seepage plates from pots, baking pan, the top saucer of an old water basin, or whatever else that is about an inch in depth. It helps to choose a tray that is shallow, impermeable, and rustproof. It’ll last longer as well.

  • Fill the plate with your chosen stones/pebbles.
  • Then just add water to it, but make sure that the water does not reach the height of the stones. It needs to be a bit lower so that when you place your potted plant on top of the stones, it won’t be touching the water.
  • If your pot touches the water, it defeats the purpose of the tray and will encourage your roots to rot. 

Final thoughts on humidity trays

I do find humidity trays particularly valuable, especially during the cooler months. But I like to use it year-round for its aesthetics and reminders. I do find it even more helpful sometimes when I have both a pebble tray and the humidifier turned on during the wintertime.

I can turn off my humidifier a bit sooner since the water in the tray will still be working its magic and evaporating the water into the air. I find that it increases the moisture level just a tad bit more than usual. At this point, I’ll take as much moisture in the air as I can while using less of the humidifier (just so I can shave off a couple of bucks on the electricity bill). 

All in all, pebble plates are cheap, useful, and visually eye appealing, especially considering the amount that they’re offered at. Alongside buying them off of the internet or from your local nurseries, you can easily make them at home, making these plates extremely versatile. Lastly, they don’t just help your plants but also make your plants look much more appealing.

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