Plant Containers, Pots, and Planters – What Material Is the Best?

Plant containers come in a wide variety of prices, sizes, colors, shapes and materials. Each specific container has advantages and disadvantages of its own.

Potted flowers on a stone wall, featuring geranium, million bells, and sweet potato vine.

Here is a breakdown of the different materials planters can be made from in order to make it easier for you to make the best choice for your needs.

Where you want to keep the potted plant, your climate, aesthetic value, and ease of maintenance and cost are all factors you need to consider before you make a decision.

Pressed Paper

Pressed paper containers are a great choice when dealing with vegetables. These containers breathe well, promoting healthy root growth and improving aeration, as well as insulating the roots from temperature changes that might otherwise harm or stress your plants.

These planters are biodegradable, which is great for the environment but means that you will need to replace them every single year.

Since the cost of these is low, usually around two dollars per pot, the pots are still an economically sound choice. Some pressed paper pots are now being lined with a wax coating, which gives them a slightly longer life span.

Coir

Coir containers are economically and ecologically sound choices. These planters are made from coconut husks and are studier than the pressed paper pots, but still keep the benefits for the paper pots.

Other types are made from grain husks and various binding agents rather than coconut husks. These pots are inexpensive and can be found in a wide variety of colors and shapes, up to around a foot in diameter.

Akro Mils Coir Nursery Pot, 12-Inch

Akro Mils CRN12000COC Coir Nursery Pot, 12-Inch available from Amazon

Ceramic

Ceramic containers, or stoneware, are made from finely textured, light-colored clay and then glazed. These containers are fired at a high kiln temperature, which reduces the pot’s porousness and vulnerability to the elements. However, if a ceramic pot is left out in the cold weather it can still crack.

A set of three colorful ceramic planters - green, brown, and cobalt blue.

Gifts & Decor Jewel Tone Flower Pot Trio Embossed Earthenware Planter available from Amazon

The down side to this durability is that the potss are quite heavy, although this factor makes them a good choice for plants that will grow to be top heavy. Ceramic planters also tend to be expensive, but are available in a wide variety of color glazes and designs.

They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, with large bowls being among the most common.

Terra Cotta

Terra cotta is a type of clay that is commonly used in making pots and planters of various sizes and shapes. Terra cotta pots can be as small as two inches in diameter or height, and as large as the creator’s imagination.

The shapes and sizes of containers from this material are seemingly endless, so they are quite versatile. It is typically a warm reddish brown color and offers an earthy appeal to gardeners.

Terra cotta also tends to be readily available and affordable, which makes it a popular choice among gardeners for indoor and outdoor use.

Terra cotta clay planters in various sizes.

DEROMA Terra Cotta Clay Pots available from Amazon

Two aspects of terra cotta that you need to be aware of is that it is more fragile than some of the other planting options, and that terra cotta is generally sold unglazed and is therefore permeable.

This means that the pot can lose moisture, and soak in moisture from the outside. If you find that you cannot keep up with the water needs of a plant that is otherwise thriving in terra cotta container, then I suggest lining the interior of the pot with a graze or some plastic to limit the amount of water that escapes through the pot.

Remember to leave some drainage holes in the plastic if you do chose to line a pot, or you will encounter a new set of water related woes.

If you live in an area with very cold winters, it is important to store any terra cotta pots upside-down and indoors to prevent early destruction from the elements.

Fiberglass and Resin

Fiberglass planters are created from a blend of resin and glass fibers. These pots tend to be molded to look like terra cotta or stone pots. Actually, some manufacturers have added some limestone of clay to the resin blend to create a better texture.

While this choice might not be the most ecologically friendly, it does have quite a few advantages.

DMC Products 24-Inch Square Resin Wicker Vista Planter at Amazon

Fiberglass planters are lightweight, durable, and look very much like the materials they are molded to imitate. These containers do not need any special storage; they can handle any expected weather without having to be taken indoors.

Plastic

Plastic containers can also be made to look like other materials, but is less realistic and durable that the fiberglass planters.

Most plants that you purchase in a store or at a nursery will go home with you in a plastic container; this is because it is the cheapest container for commercial growers to use.

Thicker versions of plastic planters can be made to look like stoneware or terra cotta pots, but they do not have the heft of the real thing. Plastic planters can come in an endless number of sizes and shapes.

Fiskars 18 Inch Veranda Square Planter Box, Color Cement (57718)

Wood

Wooden planters can look great in just about any outdoor or patio setting. These containers tend to be square or rectangle, although there are some curved containers available as well.

Wood is not likely to crack in cold weather, and is slow to dry out. The only real danger with wood containers is rot; therefore, I suggest lining a wooden planter with plastic to prevent this problem. Just remember to leave some holes in the plastic for drainage.

Antique Revival Wooden Half-Barrel Planter

Antique Revival Wooden Half-Barrel Planter available from Amazon

Metal

Metal containers are extremely durable, and in the case of case iron, extremely heavy. Metals such as aluminum can offer gardeners the durability of metal with a lighter weight, making the planting and moving of pots much more practical.

Aluminum does not rust, does not need painting and costs less than some other metal options. Other metal choices include copper-coated stainless steel, zinc, lead, and copper.

Round Moonstone Planter

Novelty Round Moonstone Planter – available in various colors and sizes from Amazon

Concrete

Concrete planters can look great, especially once they have aged a little. While concrete is the practical choice for large plants that might need the ballast support against the wind because of its sheer weight, that weight also makes the planter difficult to move.

Succulents in an 18″ Grey Rectangular Handmade Concrete Planter Modern Minimalist Zen Centerpiece Dish Garden Vessel Planter

Therefore, if you plan to use concrete containers for anything, make sure you know where you want it and do not plan to move it.

On the other hand, no one will ever steal it or play a prank and move it. Concrete is a reliable insulator and will protect the roots even during times of large temperature changes.

What qualities do you look for in a garden planter? Let us know in the comments below! And don’t miss our guide to the best containers for succulents.

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

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Denise Shelton
Denise Shelton (@guest_329)
3 years ago

I would like to know more about raised gardening.

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
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Reply to  Denise Shelton
3 years ago

Hi Denise,

We plan to post more on raised bed gardening later this summer. Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading.

Nick Carpenter Australia
Nick Carpenter Australia (@guest_972)
Reply to  Denise Shelton
3 years ago

Awesome blog post. I have read many blogs related to this, but I truly got superb information from here. Thanks for sharing it.

Braden Bills
Braden Bills (@guest_352)
3 years ago

I want to make sure that I get the right planters. I didn’t know that coir planters looked so nice! The fact that they are friendly to the environment is a huge plus as well.

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
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Reply to  Braden Bills
3 years ago

Thanks for your comment, Braden. They’re a new material for a lot of people, with so many great attributes. What are you planting this season? Please follow our page on Facebook- we love when our readers share photos of what’s growing in their plots!

MiTmite9
MiTmite9 (@guest_2575)
2 years ago

Yes, coir planters/coir baskets look great, but beware when springtime rolls around and the birds are out looking for nesting material. I have watched my hanging coir baskets be “whittled away” to nothing by nesting birds. I think a great place to get pots (ceramic, terra cotta) is on Craigslist or eBay. eBay is great for smaller, prettier pots for your succulents. Recently, I had great success growing a yellow bell pepper a in largish ceramic pot. The pot is about 18″ high and 12-14″ in diameter. Again – watch out for pilfering animals. My pepper plant (bought an organic… Read more »

Barry Wolff
Barry Wolff (@guest_3864)
1 year ago

I use quite a few resin pots but they do allow the soil to get hot in the tropical sun whereas clay type pots do not. I think terracotta are best in this climate but GFR is good for shadier spots. I always put a few rocks and gravel at the bottom of big pots to give a natural drainage area.

Joann
Joann (@guest_3883)
1 year ago

I am on the Landscape Committee for my community. We are removing two columns on both signs of our entrance sign and considering putting an urn or planter to replace the columns. The height of the sign, including the base it sits on, is 52 inches. Can you suggest what size (height & diameter) urn/planter we should use and what material you think would be best?

Marna
Marna (@guest_4417)
1 year ago

My 99c store has bamboo pots. Would these make a good pot choice?

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
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Reply to  Marna
1 year ago

I’ve used ceramic containers with bamboo saucers, which are a great choice since this durable wood has a fine grain and doesn’t absorb water. Bamboo planters, on the other hand, are often manufactured without drainage holes. If this is the case for the ones that you found, using a plastic insert or another smaller container with good drainage and placing it inside is recommended.

Bonnie
Bonnie (@guest_5179)
1 year ago

I would like to know the best material for outdoor pots in the desert where temperatures can reach 120 degrees

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
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Reply to  Bonnie
1 year ago

Thanks for your question, Bonnie. What types of plants are you growing? It can be difficult to provide good drainage while at the same time aiming to provide your potted plants with enough moisture to sustain them through hot, sunny days in the desert. I have two tops tips for planters and pots in desert environments: 1. Avoid plastic, since extreme temperatures can cause this material to crack and become brittle quickly. 2. Avoid dark colors, since these will retain heat and dry out your plants very quickly. Terra cotta ceramic planters are one of my favorites for use in… Read more »

Stephen Graham
Stephen Graham (@guest_5353)
1 year ago

Hello Everyone

Graham here new to the discussion,liked it pretty much. I was searching the internet for answers of an alternative to Concrete, because I make and sell concrete planters. However just recently, I was looking at other techniques on making planters. Saw this method called fiberclay hope that someone can tell me what is the raw material used.

Please help me find out.

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
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Reply to  Stephen Graham
1 year ago

Welcome, Graham! I don’t have firsthand experience with the manufacturing process, but fiber clay is made with a combination of fiberglass fibers and clay, sometimes with the addition of another material such as gravel. Fiber clay is also used in other types of ceramics and sculptural artwork, and is usually comprised of a combination of clay and paper or fabric fibers, but this probably won’t provide the kind of structural integrity you’re looking for to construct sturdy pots and planters. Hypertufa is another very popular lighter weight alternative to concrete that is made with a combination of Portland cement, perlite… Read more »

sam
sam (@guest_5987)
8 months ago

I live in an apartment with a small balcony. I am contemplating using copper to make a planter to grow vegetables. Always heard that plastic contains harmful material. Not sure about copper. Is copper harmful to humans?

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
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Reply to  sam
8 months ago

Copper in the soil itself can inhibit nutrient update by plants, but the copper in containers is “fixed” and as such, should be safe to use since only small amounts will naturally leech into the soil. If you have any concerns, use a liner inside your planters, and always be sure to use well-draining containers. Issues with growing in plastic containers are debatable and the various risks involved can vary, since there are many different types of plastics on the market. BPA in plastics can be harmful to plants at high concentrations, and it is sometimes found in plastic-based “fabric”… Read more »

erica
erica (@guest_7767)
5 months ago

I bought my first hydrangea. I live in Cali, where the weather goes back and forth from 90 to the upper 100s. I would like to plant in a planter so I can take it with me when we move out of our rental.

Lorna Kring
Lorna Kring (@lornakring)
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Active Member
Reply to  erica
5 months ago

Hey Erica, these plants are moisture lovers, so be sure to amend your soil with water-retentive materials such as peat moss, perlite, or vermiculite.

And once planted, add a thick straw mulch to help retain moisture and keep roots cool.

For transportation purposes, containers made of plastic or resin are lightweight and the easiest to move from one location to another.

Thanks for asking!

Geraldine
Geraldine (@guest_10323)
1 month ago

What about grocery delivery bags? Since COVID, the bags are no longer returnable. In response to my email, the company said they were “Recycling number 5 – polypropylene. The bags are not PET.” Thanks.