Choosing the right pot for the right plant is very important! The planter you choose will affect how the quickly soil dries out, how well a plant grows, and how healthy the roots are.
There are three major categories of pots: ceramic/glazed, terra cotta/clay, and plastic. I'll walk you through the pros and cons of each category. I'll also cover using containers without holes for plants, as well as which size pot you should choose when replanting.
Water and light might be the most important parts of keeping healthy plants, but the right pot is the cherry on top!
Step 1: Pros and Cons of Terra Cotta (Clay) Pots
I personally love terra cotta pots! I would say about half my plants are potted in them. They're easy to find where I live and are pretty standard as far as shape and size, so you can find matching pots easily.
- Terra cotta dries out quickly, making it perfect for succulents and other plants that hate sitting in water.
- Cheaper than ceramic pots.
- Neutral in color, looks great with plants.
- Ability to see current moisture level based on pot color. (The terra cotta will soak up water and turn a darker color)
- If you drop one of these, chances are it will shatter. They're fairly delicate!
- Can dry out exceptionally quick in places with high temperatures and low humidity, so make sure to keep an eye on new transplants.
- Can crack due to cold temperatures in winter.
Step 2: Pros and Cons of Plastic Pots
Plastic pots are the cheapest and easiest to obtain no matter where you are! The majority of plants are sold in plastic pots, so it's simple to amass a large quantity of them in no time. I keep all the plastic pots I buy plants in, wash them, and reuse them. They're great for starting seeds or plant propagation!
Plastic pots keep water in the soil for much longer than a terra cotta pot, so it's very important to have drainage holes in the bottom of the pot to prevent root rot.
- The cheapest plant pot around!
- Come in a large variety of shapes, colors and sizes.
- Lighter than ceramic or terra cotta.
- Easy to wash and reuse.
- Can become faded and brittle in the sun.
Step 3: Pros and Cons of Ceramic or Glazed Pots
I adore ceramic pots but don't use them for many of my plants. They look gorgeous and come in so many interesting shapes! Because they can be so heavy, I really only use them for small plants and succulents. I like to walk my plants to the sink to water them, and a huge ceramic planter would make that tough!
- Great for tropical plants and plants that enjoy moist soil.
- Sturdy and attractive.
- Heavy enough to keep top-heavy plants from falling over.
- Incredibly heavy when large in size. I do not recommend for big plants that you plan on moving around often.
- The most expensive type of pot (unless you luck out and find some on sale!)
Step 4: Using Containers Without Holes for Pots
(The photo above is my first plant [a haworthia] in its new pot and the original hole-less pot it came in. While I kept it alive in the first container, it didn't grow and thrive until I repotted it!)
This is something I really only recommend in one of three cases:
- You're familiar with the light and water needs of the plant you're growing and have successfully grown it in a normal pot. OR
- You're able to drill holes in the bottom of the container. OR
- You can place a pot with drainage holes INSIDE the hole-less pot.
Drainage is VERY important to keep plants healthy. Containers without a drainage hole can lead to water collecting in the bottom and causing root rot. (Root rot is often fatal for plants and nearly impossible to reverse.)
Ceramic and terra cotta containers can be drilled using a masonry drill bit, and plastic containers can be drilled using almost any sharp drill bit. There are loads of guides online for doing this, so I highly suggest looking up how to drill into the material your container is made of.
Using a cheap plastic pot inside of a decorative container is another clever way to get drainage without drilling into the container. This is also a good way to protect containers such as woven grass or fabric baskets.
Step 5: Choosing the Right Size Pot for Your Plant
This is one of those things about gardening that can be really confusing for beginners: how do you know which pot size is the right size for your plant?
Here are some basic guidelines!
Choose a pot that's comparable to the size of the plant
Many plants enjoy having room to spread out, but too much or too little room can cause problems! Pots that are too big can cause a plant to sit in water for too long or cause nutrient burn from the large amount of nutrients the soil ends up holding. A pot that's too small can cause a plant to become rootbound, leaving very little soil available to hold on to water.
Don't make a drastic jump in sizes
If you have a plant in a four inch pot, it's best to move up to the next size - a six inch pot! Don't go crazy and double the pot size, as it will take a long time for the plant to fill the pot and increase your chances of over watering it.
Choose deeper pots for plants with large roots, and shallower ones for plants with small roots
Large houseplants with a ton of foliage tend to develop deeper, larger root systems and can handle being put in a pot as tall as it is wide. Succulents and cacti do well in shallower pots.
If all else fails, check the roots
If you're really unsure about which direction to go, gently remove the plant from its current pot and check the roots. Are they filling out the pot? If so, go up a size. If you see an equal amount of soil and roots, chances are the plant is fine in the current pot size. If you see loads of soil and very little roots, you may want to go down a size if the plant or its roots look unhealthy.