Tips for Choosing the Right Pot for Your Plant

My Garden Life
June 25, 2018
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Even before you buy the plants for your container garden, outdoor displays, or houseplants, you need to figure out what sort of pots you’ll want to plant them in. The perfect choice will take into account a number of variables: the size of your plant, where it will be located, the amount of money you’re willing to spend, and how the pot will fit into your overall design plans.

The most important consideration as far as your plant is concerned is the size of its pot. Though there’s no hard and fast rule for predicting how big a pot your plant needs, pay attention to the roots; they shouldn’t fully encircle the pot, and you should see more dirt than root as you plant. Give most plants at least an inch of growing space around the existing roots. For trees grown in pots, look for a container with a diameter about 2 inches larger than the nursery pot the tree comes in. No matter how small your plant, beware of tiny pots in which the soil can dry out too quickly.

You should also think about the weight of the container, both when filled with soil and when empty. Large concrete planters and many metal pots may be too hefty to move on your own. Window boxes and other planters that rest on braces shouldn’t be so heavy that they break their support frames, which is why plastics and fiberglass pots are often used for these sorts of set-ups.

If your pots are going to be situated outside, especially all-year round, the material out of which they are constructed is vital. Traditional unglazed terra cotta planters, can leech moisture from the soil in hot conditions and crack in freezing climates. Glazed pots do better in the cold, as do hard woods like teak and plastics like vinyl. Fiberglass, cast stone, and concrete are the most weather resistant pot materials, and all have the added benefit of providing frost-proofing insulation.

Metals like copper, cast-iron, stainless steel, and bronze hold up well in extreme temperatures but transfer both heat and cold to their contents. If metal containers are your choice, it’s best to add an insulating internal layer. A good solution is to pot the plant in a light-weight plastic pot about an inch smaller than the metal container, then set the plastic pot into the metal planter. Make sure the plastic pot has drainage holes. This allows for air to circulate inside the planter and stabilize the temperatures around the plant roots.

Houseplants are naturally protected from changes in weather, so any of these materials is appropriate for their pots, with one caveat – metal pots again. If they are placed in direct sun or near a heat source, you still need to create a space inside the planter, between the metal and the potted plant in order to keep heat from transferring to the plant.

The type of pot you choose will also depend on the design of your house or garden, and given the number of materials and colors available today, the sky’s the limit: wood planters for a rustic feel; metal scroll-work for a formal European garden; glazed ceramic for color choice; or earth-toned terracotta for the traditional container garden look. Though you can pay a hefty sum for some of these, advances in plastics and fiberglass construction have made available clever, attractive imitations at an affordable price.

One last consideration is whether you want to invest in self-watering pots. These can be simple and inexpensive: a traditional pot with a reservoir at the bottom from which the plant draws its liquids. The more expensive versions can include gauges that let you monitor the plant’s water level. The key to success with self-watering pots is making sure you add water often enough to keep the plant healthy. Even though they’re called “self-watering”, they still need a little help.

All containers for plants should have a drainage hole or two in their bottoms, but beyond that one requirement, there are a myriad of options available. By keeping in mind the size and location of your plantings, you should be able to find the perfect pot to fit your design scheme and budget.


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