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Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Container Gardening & Ponds

Choose the Right Planters

by National Gardening Association Editors

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.

Bigger Isn't Always Better

Bigger Isn't Always Better
This faux clay pot was planted for Memorial Day.

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


• Acquires character with age

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


• 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

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