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A common question from people who grow houseplants is how to choose the correct container for their plants.
Having indoor plants can be a very satisfying thing for people, especially for those who live in an apartment or have limited space outside. Many people don’t realize the importance of choosing the right container, and the consequences of choosing an incorrect one.
It can take a lot of work to maintain your houseplants in optimal condition, so the last thing you want to do is cause issues by choosing the wrong container.
Let’s look at houseplant containers so you don’t make any mistakes in your houseplant care.
Table of Contents
There are several considerations for choosing a container for your houseplants. Of course, there is color, style, size of the plant, size and shape of the container, your decor, and your ability to move the containers around if necessary.
Let’s look at some of the materials used for houseplant containers and the pros and cons of them all. These are the most common, but there are other materials as well.
Pros: Plants often come in plastic pots when you first buy them. This is because plastic is cheap and will contain the plant for several months if necessary. Plastic pots are light, so you can move them relatively easily.
Plastic can be made to look like other heavier materials with different textures, and there are a lot of designs available for this common material. They don’t have to be ugly. In fact, some of them are very attractive!
Plastic containers are reusable for a long time for indoor or outside plants and are cheap to replace if you’re on a budget. They can come with a drip tray already attached.
Cons: Sometimes when a container is too light, it allows the plant to tip over. This is common when the container is too small, or the plant is one of those that does best a little rootbound
Plastic containers often retain more water in the soil due to the nature of the material. It can be easy to overwater the plant and cause issues or diseases, especially with the roots.
Plastic breaks easily and becomes brittle in sunny locations.
Pros: Terracotta pots are popular and come in a huge variety of styles, shapes, and sizes. Due to being an earthy orange color, they fit most decors, though you can also buy them painted in different colors, though painting reduces the porosity.
They are heavier than plastic pots so less likely to fall over from the weight and height of the plant.
Terracotta pots aerate the soil well due to the porous nature of the material. Water is less likely to sit or pool. They also come with predrilled holes for good drainage.
Cons: Terracotta pots are quite fragile. They will crack or break if handled roughly and banged into other solid things. If you slam one down when moving it because it’s heavy, you will likely break it in half.
You must have a drip tray or saucer underneath the terracotta container because the water will drain out but may seep from the porous sides.
You need to water plants in terracotta pots more frequently as the soil dries out much more quickly.
Pros: Ceramic containers are visually appealing, though can be quite expensive compared to other types. Like terracotta, ceramic pots are better for soil aeration and airflow to the soil.
Ceramic containers can wick water away from the soil, so if you’ve overwatered accidentally, you won’t have the issues you would if you overwater in a plastic container.
Cons: Ceramic containers come with a few drainage holes, and I’ve seen some with no holes at all. You will have to drill some, which can be difficult for some people, and you risk damaging the pot.
Ceramic pots can cause soil to dry out quickly, so if you are forgetful when it comes to watering, your plants may struggle.
Ceramic containers are heavy like terracotta and may crack in very cold weather.
Other Types of Indoor Containers
2. Plant Requirements
Probably the biggest mistake some people make is they choose a houseplant container based solely on aesthetics. There are other factors to consider as well.
The first and most important consideration is the plant itself. Does it require a container that enables roots to go deep, or do the roots remain close to the surface?
Will the plant grow tall? In that case, a short, wide pot may be required for stability. Does the plant grow super fast? If so, you may want to get a cheap container so you aren’t spending a fortune every six months or so.
Some plants, like orchids, need extremely good drainage, so you might want a pot with multiple drainage holes.
Like all plants, houseplants grow and expand their root system, and this is something you will need to monitor. If you see roots poking out through the drainage holes, pushing the plant up the top of the container, or the plant is struggling, it likely needs repotting into a larger container.
A five-gallon short and wide container holds more available water than a five-gallon tall, slim pot, even though the soil volume is the same.
This is because gravity pulls water through the soil to the bottom. A short wide container means the roots of the plant have less distance to travel to get moisture and nutrients. If the container is tall and the water moves to the bottom, the plant with short roots may not get sufficient water before it moves down the container.
A plant with long roots or one that is drought-tolerant will suit the tall container. Think of something like a cactus or plants with similar moisture requirements. A plant that needs constant moisture will suit the wider, short container where access to moist soil is closer and easier.
A shallow container would be good for plants that naturally sit in boggy water or wet soil.
There are other variables such as soil consistency, but the principle of height, width, and gravity is still the same.
If you’re worried about a plant toppling over, consider the rule of thirds. If you have a tall plant, estimate the height from the root ball to the top. The planter should be 1/3 the height of the plant.
When it comes to a houseplant container, size actually does matter. The pot should not be too small based on the current size of the root ball.
Consider how big your house plant will get and work towards progressively bigger containers, rather than putting a smaller plant in a huge container.
If you put a plant that is in a container that’s too large, it will be more prone to root rot.
- The type of plant, its needs, and the size it will grow.
- Good drainage.
- Space to allow the roots to grow.
- The size and shape of the container in relation to the plant’s needs for water and nutrients.
In most cases, the container should be about two inches wider in diameter than the root ball of the plant you are putting in it. Of course, some plants need to be rootbound to do well, so keep that in mind.
Overwatering will kill your plants. In fact, it’s probably the biggest killer of houseplants. It’s so easy to add water without realizing that the roots are still moist. While a well-draining potting mix helps, the container the plant is in must drain well.
Water sitting in a container is bad for any plant, even those that need plenty of moisture. Make sure there are drainage holes. With terracotta and ceramic containers, you may need to drill extra holes.
You can cover the holes with mesh to prevent the soil from running out and you should empty any catchment container about 30 minutes after watering.
Problems Caused by the Wrong Container
Except with specialty plants like orchids, the wrong container decision shouldn’t spell the end for your houseplant. Here’s what to do if you think the choice of container may be causing a problem.
- Exposed roots: The plant has too big for its container. Some plants have aerial roots, so don’t worry about these.
- The plant is struggling: A container that too big for the plant and its root structure can cause root rot.
- The soil dries out quickly: If the container is small and shallow, and the soil dries out quicker than you would like, increase your watering schedule.
- The soil stays wet for too long: A pot that lacks good drainage causes wet soil. Decrease watering, or add soil to the container or add drainage holes.
As you can see, the right pot makes your plant healthier and happier.
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