Pottery is an investment that can add interest to your home and show off your personal style no matter what plants you choose to put in them. But with so many styles and colors to choose from, deciding what’s right for you and your plants isn’t totally straightforward. We are here to help demystify the process with a few things to keep in mind when choosing a container for your home, porch, or yard.
When it comes to pottery, size is a major factor both for your budget and for the health of the plants you place in your pots. You may be tempted to go big so that you never have to re-pot but be careful! When plants are planted into containers significantly larger than their nursery pots the root system is not robust enough to absorb all the water in the soil and that can lead to root rot. A good rule of thumb when transplanting into a new container is that the diameter of the new pot should only be about two inches wider than the plant’s current pot.
If you fall in love with a decorative container that’s too large for your plant but you know that it will eventually grow into it you can slowly acclimate it to the larger pot using inexpensive grow pots that fit inside your decorative container or by using an Ups-A-Daisy, which will reduce the amount of soil you need in the pot until your plant’s root system is ready for more.
On the flip side, you do not want to try to cram a plant in a six-inch diameter grow pot into another six-inch diameter decorative pot, particularly if the decorative pot has a tapered bottom. Never go smaller, your plants need room to grow.
Drainage and Airflow are Important.
You may have noticed that when you buy plants, they usually come in plastic containers with several drainage holes along the bottom. Air is every bit as important to a healthy root system as water. Roots cannot breathe when the soil is sopping wet, all the air molecules get crowded out by water molecules. If you are planning to transplant directly into a decorative container, drainage holes are a must. It is even better if you can get air moving under your plant. Pot feet or Ups-A-Daisys are a terrific way to do this.
Some decorative indoor containers are manufactured without holes so that indoor surfaces are protected. These are called cache pots and it is best to leave your plants in their grow pots (with all those drainage holes) and pop the whole thing into the container. Check out the video below for how to use a cache pot!
Different Materials Meet Different Goals.
Now that we understand the basics of size, drainage, and airflow, it is time to choose a container made from materials that meet your specific needs.
A favorite of plants everywhere and a classic that is making its way back into chic and modern home design, terra cotta is a smart choice for even moisture distribution and healthy roots. Because terra cotta is porous, oxygen exchange is facilitated throughout the root system, not just at the bottom. Additionally, terra cotta absorbs excess moisture to prevent plant roots from staying soggy for too long. These days, terra cotta is available not just in the classic earthy orange but also in attractive “chocolate” and “vanilla” tones to seamlessly integrate into any color scheme.
Speaking of color, nothing offers the variety of hues like glazed ceramic pottery. Additionally, you will find a broad selection of shapes and sizes and many of these pots are crafted to be frost resistant. However, keep in mind that frost-resistant does not mean it is freeze-proof. Water expands when it turns to ice so moisture in your planters can push a ceramic pot to the breaking point during a freeze. Raising your outdoor pots off the ground with pot feet can help create airflow that will melt the ice during warmer days. When in doubt, it is best to empty your ceramic pots and bring them into the garage after Christmas to protect your investment. A dolly is helpful for this!
Lightweight Fiber Clay
Great for indoors or out, lightweight fiber clay offers the gravitas of stone with the easy maneuverability of durable plastic. Fiber clay is freeze-tolerant, making it a good option for year-round use but keep in mind, using ice melt around them will corrode the finish. Keep them looking great by avoiding the base of the pot when using ice melt.
If you know you will be moving your pots around to suit your design choices or crops each season, plastic is another great and affordable choice. It’s ideal for container gardening with herbs, veggies, and annuals and available in several different colors and finishes. Do be sure to bring these inside for the winter. Plastic will easily crack if it gets too cold. Fortunately, this is easy to do since they are so lightweight!
The ultimate choice for New England, cedar boxes are classic, beautiful, and easily withstand freezing temperatures. Cedar will naturally weather to a lovely beachy grey tone, but you can preserve the original wood color by staining with a protective finish or paint to suit your color palette. Be sure to treat inside and out to prolong the life of the wood and if you are using the container for edibles, finish with non-toxic linseed oil.
Certain plants will benefit from specialized pots to live their best life. These include orchids, which are epiphytes and like their roots to be extremely well-aerated. That’s why orchid pots have holes in the sides to provide sufficient air circulation! On the other hand, African violets and ferns like to stay consistently moist and self-watering pots are great for this purpose.