Choose the Right Planters

This glazed ceramic pot is lovely, but also heavy and breakable.

Container gardening is one of the hottest trends, and the selection of planters continues to grow. You've fallen in love with that glazed blue ceramic pot, but are there elements besides aesthetics you should keep in mind?

First of all, just about anything that can hold soil can serve as a planter. You've seen flowers growing in barrels and buckets, but how about bathtubs, old work boots, or wheelbarrows? The only necessity is that the container has drainage holes so water doesn't collect and damage roots — and there are even ways around that. But if plants growing in old shoes isn't your style, consider the following when shopping for containers.

This faux clay pot was planted for Memorial Day.

Bigger Isn't Always Better

To decide what size container you want, consider how you'll use it. Will you be hanging it? Will you need to move it once in a while? What plants are you growing? How often are you willing to water it?

  • In general, hanging planters should be lightweight, and that usually means they need to relatively small. Remember, the heavier the pot, the sturdier the hook, chain, or other hanger you'll need.
  • Even if your pot will remain earth-bound, consider whether its location is permanent or if you'll need to move it. Large containers filled with moist soil can be very heavy.
  • Different plants require different amounts of soil. Small annuals like alyssum and lobelia have compact root systems; tomato plants and patio trees need more space.
  • Small containers dry out more quickly than larger ones and may need watering twice daily in hot, sunny weather.

Good Drainage is Essential

Plant roots need both air and water, and it's vital that the soil they're in isn't saturated for extended periods. Planters should have holes in the bottom so excess water can drain away. You can use pots without drainage as cache pots — decorative outer containers. Make sure the inner pot has drainage holes. At watering time, remove the plant from the cachepot, water it, allow it to drain, then put it back into its decorative container.

Ceramic, Wood, or Plastic -- Which is Best?

Containers are available in a variety of materials. Let's look at the characteristics of a few of the most common.

Material Benefits Drawbacks
Unglazed ceramic, such as terra cotta

• Readily available and affordable
• Excellent drainage
• Acquires character with age

• Breakable
• Porous; small pots dry out quickly
• Heavy

Glazed ceramic

• Large variety of colors and designs
• Retains water better than unglazed ceramic

• Breakable
• Heavy

Wood

• Acquires character with age

• Will decay; longevity depends on type of wood and exposure to elements
• Heavy

Metal

• Acquires character with age

• May rust, decay, or dent
• May cause soil to overheat, damaging roots

Plastic, fiberglass

• Lightweight and long-lasting
• Resists breakage
• Available in a wide variety of styles, including "faux" wood and ceramic

• Does not weather
• Top-heavy plants may topple in lightweight containers

These newly planted containers will soon be cascading with flowers.

Specialized Planters

Self-watering containers. These have a water reservoir plus a mechanism, usually a wick, for providing the plant with a sustained supply of moisture. Self-watering pots are very well suited for sunny spots, and for those times when you're not available to water daily. Most containers will hold enough water to last over a weekend unless conditions are extremely dry or plants are very thirsty.

Window boxes. Window boxes are charming, but because they hold so little soil they're notorious for drying out quickly, especially in full sun. Look for large window boxes made from nonporous material. Self-watering window boxes are especially handy.

Accessories You Can't Live Without

Saucers. Waterproof saucers catch overflow and protect surfaces. But don't let excess water sit in the saucer — it can lead to root rot and may attract breeding mosquitoes. Unglazed terra cotta saucers absorb water, and may not prevent damage to surfaces underneath — use glazed clay or plastic saucers instead.

Wheeled caddy. Place large planters on caddies with casters so you can move them easily. Look for locking wheels that will keep planters from tumbling off your deck.

Pot feet. Moisture collects under planters and can stain surfaces. Pot feet are small, often decorative devices that elevate planters off the surface they're sitting on. Air circulating under the pot prevents moisture buildup, discouraging mold and algae growth.

Terra cotta pots develop an attractive weathered look, but they need more frequent watering than nonporous containers.

Go Crazy With Containers

Almost any plant will grow in a suitable container, so be creative and have fun. Grow thyme and rosemary in a kitchen window box so you can open your window and snip a sprig or two for dinner. Flank your front door with matching planters cascading with colorful annuals. Patio trees are very popular now, especially dwarf citrus and tropical hibiscus. Use them to define a seating area on your deck or to provide privacy from neighbors. Place potted trees on casters so you can roll them indoors if your winters are too severe for them. Whether you garden in a small courtyard, a sprawling estate, or anywhere in between, there's always a perfect spot for one more planter.

This article is categorized under:
Articles → General → Landscaping → Container Gardening and Ponds
Articles → General → Landscaping → Yard and Garden Planning
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