For any container gardener, the choice of pot is often just as important as the flora within.
If said container is made of a material that’s not a good fit for the current situation, the plant inside – and the grower that cares for it – can both face some real struggles.
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Plants grown in containers that are too light could tip in high winds, while too-heavy materials are tough to haul around.
Cheap containers could easily take damage, yet tougher and more expensive materials could suck your bank account dry.
To win at the game of material selection, a gardener has to weigh the good and bad before deciding yay or nay.
But how can a smart gardener go about making the right decision? With knowledge – that’s how.
Plant containers come in a wide variety of materials, with each type having notable advantages and disadvantages.
This guide breaks down the pros and cons of these common materials, which should make it easier for you to choose one to meet your needs.
Lo and behold this lineup:
Be prepared to consider some non-material factors before you make your selection as well, such as where you’ll keep your plants, your garden’s climate, and your budget.
All come into play when picking the perfect pot.
Just as a general heads-up, though: pots that can drain are typically better for cultivating plants than those that can’t, so either select containers with drainage holes or ones that you can drill holes into yourself.
Otherwise, plan to use planters of any material without drainage holes only as decorative cachepots.
Ceramic containers are sculpted from finely textured, light-colored clay, then fired in a kiln at high temperatures.
Once the ceramic has been hardened by the heat, artisans and manufacturers can apply a fine layer of glaze to its surface to give it a smooth, glossy finish, which can also extend the pot’s lifespan by many years.
This finish reduces the pot’s porosity – unglazed containers transpire quicker than glazed ones – and general vulnerability to the elements.
However, if a ceramic pot is left out in cold weather, it can still crack in spite of its glaze. The risk is all the higher if water has collected in the pot, which expands in volume when frozen.
With this overall durability comes a heavier overall weight, which can make moving the material a bit tough. But this weight does make ceramic pots a good choice for plants that will grow to be top-heavy.
And if your ceramic does break, usually after it’s dropped, it tends to do so into large pieces rather than smashing into small, skin-piercing shards like shattered glassware.
When it comes to ceramic, you usually get what you pay for. Whether your chosen container is super cheap or quite expensive, price and quality are usually proportionate.
These also come in many different shapes and sizes.
If you’re interested, there’s a 4.25-inch ceramic pot with drainage holes that’s available in solid white or black from Wayfair. It comes with a saucer to catch drainage!
Coir containers are economically and ecologically sound choices for starting seeds, transplanting, and lining larger containers, as they’re relatively inexpensive, biodegradable, and sustainable to produce.
And despite being made from coconut husks, they’re actually sturdier than you might think.
The structure of coir is loose and airy, which allows for ample aeration and root penetration.
Yet simultaneously, it does a decent job of water retention. These pots are inexpensive and can be found in round or square shapes in multiple sizes.
Their ability to biodegrade does come with reduced longevity, though.
If you plant in them above ground, you should expect only a couple years of usage before decomposition gives them a hairy-looking appearance.
If you wish to avoid that aesthetic, in-ground ones will actually decompose into the soil – fun fact – which makes them suitable for transplanting, provided that you slice open the bottom of the container first to avoid constraining the roots.
For a set of three coir hanging basket liners offered in multiple different sizes, check out Gardener’s Supply.
Concrete planters can look great, especially once they’ve aged a little.
While concrete is an obvious choice for large and heavy plants that might need the ballast for support against strong winds, that weight can also make the planter difficult to move.
But hey – at least they’re tough to steal!
If you plan to use concrete containers for big ol’ plantings, make sure you know where you want them, and don’t plan on moving them much.
Concrete is also a reliable insulator, and it can protect the roots even during times of significant temperature fluctuations.
But concrete can break easily from high impact falls, kind of like an elephant’s legs.
And much like pachyderms should always keep their feet on the ground, you also shouldn’t ever drop concrete or you risk serious breakage.
For a concrete houseplant container that’s emblazoned with a pretty swanky honeycomb design, visit Gardener’s Supply.
It includes a matching disc to place beneath the pot, to catch and drips from the drainage hole.
Fiberglass planters are created by laying spun glass fibers over a mold, coating those fibers with a polyester resin, and then adding some finishing touches via trimming, sanding, and primer coating.
Additionally, some manufacturers add clay to the blend to create an even better texture. These materials can be molded to look a lot like terra cotta or stone pots.
While this choice of material might not be the most ecologically friendly – as fiberglass is the opposite of readily decomposable – it does have quite a few advantages.
Fiberglass planters are lightweight, durable, UV-resistant, and look very much like the materials that they’re molded to imitate.
These containers don’t have any special storage requirements, and they can handle unexpected bouts of rough weather and temperature changes without having to be taken indoors.
However, they may develop a weathered and battered appearance over time that necessitates their eventual replacement.
For a cube-shaped, fiberglass planter that’s available in a plethora of sizes and colors, visit ePlanters.
You have the option to choose a cachepot sealed for indoor use, or you can request drainage holes.
Metal containers are extremely durable, and in the case of cast iron, they can be extremely heavy.
Said toughness makes them likely to last for many years, if they’re taken care of properly.
Metals such as aluminum can offer gardeners the durability of metal with a lighter weight, making the planting and moving of aluminum pots much more practical.
Aluminum doesn’t rust, requires no painting, and costs less than many other metals. Enamel finishes can also add some nice color and added protection from the elements.
Other choices in this category include copper, copper-coated stainless steel, zinc, and brass.
Although I suppose crafting pots from any metal in the periodic table would work, provided that it’s not unworkable, outside your price range, and/or radioactive.
But ironically, metal containers don’t do so hot in high heat. Or rather, the plants and soils within them don’t, as overheated metal can burn plant tissue and dry out soils.
Therefore, you should either keep metal containers solely in the shade, or fill them with plants that love the heat and dry soils.
A solid – in both the literal and figurative sense – Aluzinc steel square planter is available from Gardener’s Supply.
Plastic planters come in an endless number of sizes and shapes. Heck, if you have a 3-D printer and mad design skills, I’m sure you could whip up some crazy shapes yourself.
Similarly to fiberglass, plastic containers can also be made to look like other materials, but are less realistic and durable than the fiberglass planters.
Although they don’t have the heft of the real thing, thicker versions of plastic planters can be made to imitate ceramic or terra cotta pots, while others may appear to be woven from lighter materials.
Most plants that you purchase from a store or at a garden center will go home with you in a thin plastic container, since it’s the cheapest option for commercial growers to use.
Many botanical gardens, nurseries, and veteran gardeners are united in having a pile of various plastic containers stashed somewhere that steadily grows in size with each new transplant purchase.
But cheapness aside, plastic is super resilient to dropping, and it can generally be treated with a total lack of TLC without taking too much damage.
However, the sun can make plastic fade and become brittle over time.
Plus, in the case of unstable plastics that can leach chemicals into the soil, this material may not be the best choice for growing edible plants.
For a stylish reddish-brown, white, or gray plastic planter from Fiskars that’s offered in 14- to 18-inch widths, visit Amazon. The bottom comes sealed, with optional knock-out drainage holes.
Speaking of growing edible plants, pressed paper containers are a great choice when growing and transplanting veggie seedlings.
These containers breathe well, promote healthy root growth, and insulate the roots from temperature changes that might otherwise harm or stress your plants.
These planters are biodegradable, which is no doubt great for the environment. But as a result, you’ll have to replace them every single year.
Since the cost of these is low – usually around a couple bucks per pot – pressed paper containers are still an economically sound choice.
Some are available lined with a wax coating, which gives them a slightly longer life span.
To “go green” in style, check out these sustainably-produced, recycled paper pots from Botanical Interests.
If you love the “au naturale” aesthetic – and you probably do, if you’re growing plants – then you’ll love the look of stone.
Stone containers can be 100 percent natural or made of a synthetic substance such as polystone – the latter is a polyurethane resin mixed with powdered stone, which results in the look and feel of stone sans all that weight.
But yes, all-natural stone is super heavy, and in the case of shrub- and tree-sized containers, can require specialized equipment to lift.
Therefore, you want to choose your initial placement carefully, as moving them can be a royal pain. But on the plus side, this weight can keep the container sturdy in the face of strong winds!
Also, pure, natural stone has decent porosity, allowing for air to move in and out. This can help prevent rot and the development of water-loving pathogens.
But significant temperature fluctuations can cause some expansion and contraction, which can eventually crack and split the pot.
For a black, gray, or white polystone pot available in widths of 12, 16, or 20 inches, check out Wayfair.
Terra cotta is a specific type of ceramic that is commonly used in making pots and planters of various sizes and shapes.
Terra cotta pots can be as small as two inches tall and wide, and as large as the creator’s imagination and the size of their kiln will allow.
The shapes and sizes of containers made from this material are seemingly endless, so it’s quite a versatile medium. The warm, reddish-brown color of the clay that’s used offers an earthy appeal to gardeners.
Small, unglazed terra cotta also tends to be quite affordable and readily available, which makes it a popular choice among gardeners for indoor and outdoor use.
Larger, more decorative terra cotta containers are also available, albeit at a greater expense – particularly if these are handmade.
Two aspects of terra cotta that you need to be aware of: it’s more fragile than some of the other planting options described here, and it’s generally sold unglazed.
Unglazed means permeable, which means the pot can both lose moisture and take it in from the outside.
If you find that you cannot keep up with the water needs of a plant that’s otherwise thriving in a terra cotta container, then I suggest lining the interior of the pot with a plastic liner to limit the amount of water that escapes through the pot.
If you do choose to line a pot, remember to leave some drainage holes in the plastic, or you’ll encounter a new set of water-related woes.
If you live in an area with very cold winters, then it’s important to store any terra cotta pots indoors, empty and oriented upside-down, to prevent early destruction from the elements.
A glazed terra cotta pot in riviera blue is available in four different sizes from Wayfair.
Wooden planters can look great in just about any outdoor or patio setting, and they’re easily paintable.
These containers tend to be square or rectangular, although there are some curved shapes available as well.
Some common types for containers are cedar, redwood, and even bamboo – the latter works wonderfully as an antimicrobial and water-resistant cachepot for houseplants.
Wood is fairly affordable, unlikely to crack in cold weather, and slow to dry out. The only real dangers with wood are rot and decay.
Therefore, I suggest lining a wooden planter with plastic to prevent or slow this problem… but don’t forget to leave some holes in the plastic for drainage!
The workability of wood as a planter medium also makes the material quite attractive to handy people and DIY-ers.
Not everyone can bust out a kiln for high-end ceramic-making, but most folks are capable of putting together a raised bed in their yard, albeit with a bit of prep beforehand.
A weather-resistant window planter box that’s made of acacia wood is available in 24-, 30-, and 36-inch lengths from Gardener’s Supply Company.
Living in a Material World
Knowing what stuff is made of really comes in handy in this world of ours.
And just like knowing which foods contain peanuts can save those allergic from a bout of anaphylaxis, knowing about planter materials can save gardeners time, money, and effort.
Hopefully this primer has provided enough information for you to work with. Combine that info with your own preferences, and you should be ready now to select a material. Have fun!
Comments, questions, materials that I unjustly left out? Share it all in the comments section below!
Still interested in containers, planters, and the like? Then these guides should keep you pleasantly occupied: