How to choose care-free containers for plants

Use the information here as a guide when shopping for containers. If you are buying plants and containers at the same time, it's easy to see how well the combination works before you buy.

 

How to choose care-free containers for plants

Terracotta and other ceramics

Characteristics:

  • Available in many sizes and shapes; some have colourful glazed exteriors.
  • Unglazed pots allow soil to dry quickly.

Best uses:

  • For summering plants.
  • Heavy and stable enough for shrubs and small trees.

Care tips:

  • Glazed pots should be used in protected locations.
  • Either empty pots or allow soil to dry completely before storing indoors in cold winters, because frozen soil can cause the material to crack.

Concrete and stone

Characteristics:

  • Heavy and stable.
  • Porous material allows soil to dry out quickly.
  • Pots may lack drainage holes.
  • Wind and weather resistant.

Best uses:

  • For tough, resilient shrubs, herbs and flowers that tolerate dry soil, such as typical rock-garden plants.

Care tips:

  • Because of their weight, these containers are seldom moved and must be cleaned in place.
  • They are safe to leave out over cold winters.

Plastic

Characteristics:

  • Lightweight and inexpensive.
  • Slows water evaporation from the soil.
  • Black pots heat up quickly and can injure plant roots.

Best uses:

  • For plants that are left outdoors through winter in mild climates. Also use as liners for more decorative containers.

Care tips:

  • Clean and store indoors, away from cold and bright light, which causes plastic to become brittle.

Wooden planters and half-barrels

Characteristics:

  • Handsome, versatile and sturdy.
  • Can be stained or painted.
  • Weather resistant.

Best uses:

  • Large types for ornamental grasses, shrubs and trees.
  • Small types for window boxes and porch rails.

Care tips:

  • Use with plastic liners to protect wood.
  • Clean and dry before storing through winter to preserve joints and finishes.
  • Can be left outside in winter if covered with plastic sheeting.

Wire baskets and hangers

Characteristics:

  • Lightweight and available in many ornamental shapes.
  • Wire may be plain or coated.
  • Must be lined with moss or coconut fibre to retain soil.
  • Fairly weather resistant.

Best uses:

  • For displaying plants on a wall, fence or windowsill, or use as a hanging basket.
  • Ideal for summer annuals and winter arrangements.

Care tips:

  • Clean and dry before storing through winter.
  • Check for rust spots in spring and repaint as needed.

Fibreglass and molded foam

Characteristics:

  • Lightweight containers designed to resemble concrete, stone, wood or clay.
  • Materials hold moisture and insulate plant roots well.
  • Weather resistant.

Best uses:

  • For porch boxes, window boxes and patio planters filled with any type of plant.

Care tips:

  • Empty and clean at least every other year.
  • Containers last longer if cleaned thoroughly between uses and stored in a dry place through winter.
  • Can be left outdoors over winter.

Stands and saucers

There are two accessories often used with containers.

  • Saucers fit under pots to collect water that escapes from the drain holes. These are useful for pots standing on decks, where you want to avoid water stains on the wood, and also under hanging baskets to prevent drips onto outdoor furniture or porch floors.
  • Many plastic pots come with saucers attached, but you will usually need to add saucers to other types of containers.
  • Select saucers in the same material as the container and in a size that is in proportion to the pot and fits comfortably under the base.

While saucers do a good job of minimizing stains to a surface, they do need to be drained if they fill with water because plant roots that wick up water constantly from below are in danger of root rot.

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