How to Choose the Right Pot or Planter for a Plant

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Introduction: How to Choose the Right Pot or Planter for a Plant

About: I work at instructables by day, and turn into a stitch witch by night. follow me on instagram @jessyratfink to see what i'm working on! ^_^

Choosing the right pot for the right plant is very important! The planter you choose will affect how the quickly soil dries out, how well a plant grows, and how healthy the roots are.

There are three major categories of pots: ceramic/glazed, terra cotta/clay, and plastic. I'll walk you through the pros and cons of each category. I'll also cover using containers without holes for plants, as well as which size pot you should choose when replanting.

Water and light might be the most important parts of keeping healthy plants, but the right pot is the cherry on top!

Step 1: Pros and Cons of Terra Cotta (Clay) Pots

I personally love terra cotta pots! I would say about half my plants are potted in them. They're easy to find where I live and are pretty standard as far as shape and size, so you can find matching pots easily.

PROS

  • Terra cotta dries out quickly, making it perfect for succulents and other plants that hate sitting in water.
  • Cheaper than ceramic pots.
  • Neutral in color, looks great with plants.
  • Ability to see current moisture level based on pot color. (The terra cotta will soak up water and turn a darker color)

CONS

  • If you drop one of these, chances are it will shatter. They're fairly delicate!
  • Can dry out exceptionally quick in places with high temperatures and low humidity, so make sure to keep an eye on new transplants.
  • Can crack due to cold temperatures in winter.

Step 2: Pros and Cons of Plastic Pots

Plastic pots are the cheapest and easiest to obtain no matter where you are! The majority of plants are sold in plastic pots, so it's simple to amass a large quantity of them in no time. I keep all the plastic pots I buy plants in, wash them, and reuse them. They're great for starting seeds or plant propagation!

Plastic pots keep water in the soil for much longer than a terra cotta pot, so it's very important to have drainage holes in the bottom of the pot to prevent root rot.

PROS

  • The cheapest plant pot around!
  • Come in a large variety of shapes, colors and sizes.
  • Lighter than ceramic or terra cotta.
  • Easy to wash and reuse.

CONS

  • Can become faded and brittle in the sun.

Step 3: Pros and Cons of Ceramic or Glazed Pots

I adore ceramic pots but don't use them for many of my plants. They look gorgeous and come in so many interesting shapes! Because they can be so heavy, I really only use them for small plants and succulents. I like to walk my plants to the sink to water them, and a huge ceramic planter would make that tough!

PROS

  • Great for tropical plants and plants that enjoy moist soil.
  • Sturdy and attractive.
  • Heavy enough to keep top-heavy plants from falling over.

CONS

  • Incredibly heavy when large in size. I do not recommend for big plants that you plan on moving around often.
  • The most expensive type of pot (unless you luck out and find some on sale!)

Step 4: Using Containers Without Holes for Pots

(The photo above is my first plant [a haworthia] in its new pot and the original hole-less pot it came in. While I kept it alive in the first container, it didn't grow and thrive until I repotted it!)


This is something I really only recommend in one of three cases:

  1. You're familiar with the light and water needs of the plant you're growing and have successfully grown it in a normal pot. OR
  2. You're able to drill holes in the bottom of the container. OR
  3. You can place a pot with drainage holes INSIDE the hole-less pot.

Drainage is VERY important to keep plants healthy. Containers without a drainage hole can lead to water collecting in the bottom and causing root rot. (Root rot is often fatal for plants and nearly impossible to reverse.)

Ceramic and terra cotta containers can be drilled using a masonry drill bit, and plastic containers can be drilled using almost any sharp drill bit. There are loads of guides online for doing this, so I highly suggest looking up how to drill into the material your container is made of.

Using a cheap plastic pot inside of a decorative container is another clever way to get drainage without drilling into the container. This is also a good way to protect containers such as woven grass or fabric baskets.

Step 5: Choosing the Right Size Pot for Your Plant

This is one of those things about gardening that can be really confusing for beginners: how do you know which pot size is the right size for your plant?

Here are some basic guidelines!

Choose a pot that's comparable to the size of the plant

Many plants enjoy having room to spread out, but too much or too little room can cause problems! Pots that are too big can cause a plant to sit in water for too long or cause nutrient burn from the large amount of nutrients the soil ends up holding. A pot that's too small can cause a plant to become rootbound, leaving very little soil available to hold on to water.

Don't make a drastic jump in sizes

If you have a plant in a four inch pot, it's best to move up to the next size - a six inch pot! Don't go crazy and double the pot size, as it will take a long time for the plant to fill the pot and increase your chances of over watering it.

Choose deeper pots for plants with large roots, and shallower ones for plants with small roots

Large houseplants with a ton of foliage tend to develop deeper, larger root systems and can handle being put in a pot as tall as it is wide. Succulents and cacti do well in shallower pots.

If all else fails, check the roots

If you're really unsure about which direction to go, gently remove the plant from its current pot and check the roots. Are they filling out the pot? If so, go up a size. If you see an equal amount of soil and roots, chances are the plant is fine in the current pot size. If you see loads of soil and very little roots, you may want to go down a size if the plant or its roots look unhealthy.


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    11 Discussions

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    DanP142

    Question 2 months ago

    Hey Jessy, Hope you know this answer. In the photo below Step 3 title, there are 5 pots with cactus' on the left, and succulents on the right.... What is the tall plant in the background. I had someone give me on, love how those mini seeds on the leaves turning into plant with roots

    Thanks.

    6 more answers

    There are some neat apps for identifying your plants, check out the app or play store for "plant identifier" or similar search term. I have one called "PictureThis", but there are others as well.

    I did see one IOS app that looked promising, but many people said it was not worth the money. I noted your suggestion, and will check it out - Thanks!

    It's called a "Mother of Millions" or "Mother of Thousands" plant! This specific one is Kalanchoe Daigremontiana, the alligator jaw variety. It's one of my favorites! :D

    Thanks, J. Mmmmmm "alligator jaw" - Yes it bit me hard, on it's persistence to make babies everywhere, and vine out evrywhere! :-)

    I believe that is a Kalanchoe daigremontiana, also known as Mother of Thousands. I've had one for years and little ones popping up in all the pots around it. :)

    Thanks, Elizabeth. Yes, I know those seeds pop up everywhere. I was watering my Orchids, and have noticed before that the darn things start growing in the Orchid pots underneath - which have the bark like soil. I took one of the plants and put it into a pot, with some cactus soil. We will see if it grows :-)

    There's also other disadvantages to plastic pots: they don't breed, i.e. there's no air flow through the pot walls, and what little substances they leech into the soil, while not outright harming the plant, has a slightly detrimental effect on the bacteria in the soil.

    Glazed ceramic pots also don't breed, but at least don't leech anything. The water being absorbed into the pot walls of ceramic pots can affect the integrity of the pot, causing the glaze to crumble and fall off, especially if the pot is left out to freeze when wet.

    Not all pots sold as terracotta are equal. Some of the lower quality ones, oftentimes painted or glazed ones, or pots without the typical terracotta color, are often prone to being heavily infested by algae or crack and crumble, after a few years of seasonal changes.

    This being said, most pots will do well for many years if not left outside in the winter and not exposed to direct sunlight during the summer.

    Thanks for sharing this... Now I see what I was doing wrong....

    Honestly, it depends entirely on the plant! For plants that like moist soil, I tend to use an all purpose potting mix. For plants that like to dry out before re-watering, I tend to mix all purpose soil with succulent soil. (3 parts all purpose to 1 part succulent soil) Succulents and cacti are require a succulent/cactus soil, and sometimes I mix in some more perlite or sand to help it drain better. :)