All About Choosing Plant Containers

  • 01 of 07

    Terracotta Pots

    Indoor Herb Plant Garden in Flower Pots by Window Sill
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    When choosing a plant container, the options are limitless. You can spend almost anything on a pot or nothing at all. From hand-crafted, Italian terracotta to a tin can--whatever your budget, there is a container for you. However, there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to every container. Here are the upsides and downsides of some common and not so common materials for containers and suggestions on how to minimize those downsides.

    I love terracotta pots. There is something about the color that is neutral and warm that makes almost any plant look great. The range of quality and cost of terracotta pots is huge--from super cheap to phenomenally expensive. There is a line of Italian terracotta that is exquisite, durable and frost proof.​

    Most inexpensive terracotta is delicate and will not survive repeated freezing and thawing. Another disadvantage is that if your terracotta pot is not lined or sealed on the inside, once filled with potting soil, it can dry out quite quickly. Some pots are glazed on the inside and this (look for a shiny finish) which can make the pot less prone to drying and more durable.

    I line my inexpensive terracotta pots with heavy plastic, with a hole cut in the bottom for drainage. I also sometimes use the terracotta as a cachepot by finding an inexpensive plastic pot that will fit inside the terracotta pot so that it isn't seen. If it's not a perfect fit, I sometimes can hide the plastic edge with moss.


    If you live in a cold climate, unless they are rated as frostproof (most are not) store your terracotta indoors. You can leave them outside if empty them and protect them from moisture.

    Stack terracotta pots in graduated sizes for a great looking planter and to maximize vertical growing space.

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    • 02 of 07

      Wooden Containers

      High Angle View Of Plants Growing In Wooden Crate By Wall
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      Wood container can be gorgeous and can go from super modern to very traditional in design. The advantages of wood planters are many. If you need a custom size container to fit a specific area or need to match a color, wood may be the least expensive and easiest choice.

      A wooden container can last for years--depending on the type of wood, how it's constructed and where it's placed. However, many wood containers will only last a season or two, given a harsh environment and if the moist soil is in contact with the wood. Cedar is a long lasting though relatively expensive wood; teak will also last. Pine is inexpensive but will not last as long.

      It is relatively easy to construct a wood container. While choosing your hardware make sure to remember everything will get moist, so use hardware that won't easily rust.

      There are also lots of inexpensive wood containers. Wine boxes make lovely containers as do wooden boxes found at yard sales and flea markets. Even wooden dressers can make great container gardens. Either use the drawers separately or keep them in the dresser and pull them out in a graduated pattern (the lowest drawer out the farthest, the top drawer out pulled out the least) to make a large vertical garden.


      • Line your wooden containers with heavy plastic to make them last longer. I use heavy duty plastic bags with holes cut in the bottom for drainage and line the inside of the entire container with the plastic which I then fill with potting soil and plant up. I then cut off the top of the plastic bag and tuck in the edges under the soil.
      • Painting wooden containers bright colors is a great way to add color or a focal point to your patio, yard or garden.
      • Buy old wooden crates at yard sales or flea markets
      • Be cautious of old painted wood as the paint may contain lead which is very hard to get rid of and dangerous
      • To help your wooden container last longer, use pot feet to elevate it, so it's not sitting right on the ground or patio
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    • 03 of 07

      Metal Planters

      Succulents, cacti and spathiphyllum planted in metal pots
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      Metal containers can look fabulous. From giant feed troughs and brushed modern steel boxes to tin cans there are any number of looks and styles of metal containers. I have even seen re-purposed file cabinets become cool containers. Painted, brushed or shiny metal can rock. However, the key disadvantage is that metal can get searingly hot--too hot it can burn your plants and dry our your soil in a nanosecond.

      There are a couple of ways to get around this problem. My favorite method is to place metal containers in shady locations. This has two advantages, one is the heat, but the other is glare. I metal container in the sun can create a glare that is not only rough on plants,  and it can be rough on your eyeballs. So if you put your metal container in a partially shady or full shade area, you don't have to worry about either.

      I also line my metal containers with bubble wrap to insulate the soil and roots from hot metal. It works well and lasts the season. That said, I live in a climate where it very rarely gets above 90 °F. I can imagine in hot climates metal could get hot enough to melt the bubble wrap, so I would keep them in the shade. There are also some plants that are more finicky about heat and drought than others. If you have a metal container that is going to get hot, make sure to choose plants that can take the heat.

      I also often use metal containers as cachepots, using either fiber or plastic containers and setting them inside the metal container.

      Tips for metal

      • Use a can opener, or hammer in holes using an awl or large nail for drainage. The more holes, the better
      • Go to a hardware or feed and farm store to find large and relatively inexpensive large containers
      • Collect plant colanders, barbecues, pretty metal cans and other found or inexpensive metal containers
      • If you have a metal mesh container, either line it with a plastic bag with holes cut for drainage or line it with moss,
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    • 04 of 07

      Plastic Plant Pots

      High Angle View Of Potted Plants In Balcony
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      Plastic pots have come a long way. Some are absolutely gorgeous, and high end-some are cheap and ugly, and others are simply functional.

      Plastic pots are lightweight and can be any shape and style. Ranging from modern to the traditional, they can even mimic stone, concrete, and terracotta. They can have patterns, be matte, shiny and any color. However, be cautious of cheap pots, because after sitting in the sun the color can fade and brittle plastic can easily crack.

      Another caution is using plastic for growing edibles. There are some studies that show that some plastics can leach chemicals into the soil, particularly if left in the sun. I look for food grade plastics for growing edibles. Many planters designed for edibles are made of stable plastic that won't leach such as Earthboxes and Grow Boxes.

      I also use plastic containers as liners for terracotta and metal containers.

      Lechuza Planter - the Ferrari of plastic planters.

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    • 05 of 07

      Fabric Pots

      Directly Above View Of Paper Bags On Table At Home
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      While planting in fabric pots may seem counterintuitive, plants seem to love them, and there are more and more on the market. My favorite is Smart Pots--breathable fabric pots that "air prune" plants so they don't become root bound. They are lightweight, incredibly durable and at the end of the season you simply hose them up, fold them up and put them away. They also come in multiple sizes. To jazz them up, I put them in colorful laundry baskets that I buy at discount or dollar store.

      I also am a huge fan of using reusable grocery bags to grow plants. The ones I use are a cross between plastic and fabric. The plants also thrive in these. I have done edibles, herbs and decorative containers in these bags. Just make sure you use the plastic bags, I prefer the ones that have fabric on the insides. The reusable grocery bags completely made of fabric don't hold up for a whole season.

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    • 06 of 07

      Concrete and Hypertufa Planters

      Houseleeks on table
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      Some of the most beautiful containers are made of concrete. The colors and shapes can be elegant and nuanced. The only drawback is weight--they can be ridiculously heavy. Hypertufa has some of the looks of concrete but is lighter.

      Hypertufa is a lightweight concrete that is often done as a DIY project. You make a mud textured concrete and peat mixture which you then cast in molds. You can make textured pots by using a basket or even embed leaves, shells or other decorative items to create patterns in the finished pots. I have never made hypertufa, but I have heard it is easy, inexpensive and the shapes you can make are limitless. It takes a few weeks to cure, so it is a good springtime project, so your pots will be ready for planting in the summer.

      Concrete and hypertufa are both incredibly durable and can be left outside even in the harshest climates. However, it is best to cover them as even the toughest pots can be cracked with repeated thawing and freezing of water inside.

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    • 07 of 07

      Fiberglass Containers

      container gardening picture of fiberglass pot
      Sideways Fiberglass Pot. Photograph © Kerry Michaels

      You might mistake cast fiberglass containers for concrete, terracotta or even wood. The versatility of this material is incredible. Though a good fiberglass pot can be pricey, it also can be beautiful, durable and very lightweight.

      Fiberglass can be textured or smooth, shiny or matte and can impersonate almost any material.