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Pros and cons of plant container materials

by Timber Press on March 1, 2013

in Design, Gardening

Ultimately, you want to choose a container that you (and your plants!) like, but what are the pros and cons of container materials? Photo: Rob Cardillo

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With the decrease in yard sizes and the increase in condominium, townhouse, and apartment living, more people are gardening in containers. In small gardens or on patios, a well-planted pot or container brings plants and flowers and their fragrances up close and adds a bit of excitement to the area. Container gardening also allows you the opportunity to experiment, to try new plants, to get to know a plant.

Just remember that no plant can stay in one pot indefinitely and live. Unless it is repotted into a larger pot or has some if its roots removed and the soil replenished, it will choke itself to death. This may take anywhere from one to ten years, but you will notice when it happens as the leaves and stems begin to die off in great numbers and it is difficult to even water the plant.

Most outdoor containers are made of fired clay (glazed or unglazed—I include ceramics in this category), wood, plastic, fiberglass, metal, or concrete/cement. Each type has its good and bad points.

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Terracotta pots
Pros: Terracotta pots are traditional looking; the color is warm and natural; the root zone breathes; standard sizes are available in quantity.
Cons: Low-fired cheap kinds break apart in freezing winters; they are heavy; if not soaked in water before potting they will wick water away from the soil; they become stained with salts, lime, and mosses on the outside.

Wooden containers
Pros: Wood planters are cheap, lightweight, can be made in any shape or size needed, and can be painted or repainted to match any color scheme; they can be made of rot-resistant woods; wine barrel containers are usually of a consistent size whenever you need them.
Cons: “Redwood” types are small and poorly made and will have only a year or two of use; “wine barrels” may be cheap imitations; wood, unless properly treated or rot resistant, will deteriorate rapidly; antique lead-lined wooden containers can be expensive.

Hyacinths can ease the burden of waiting for spring. When the stems grow too tall continue to enjoy them as cut flowers. Photo: Rob Cardillo

Hyacinths can ease the burden of waiting for spring. When the stems grow too tall continue to enjoy them as cut flowers. Photo: Rob Cardillo

Glazed pots
Pros: Glazed pots are colorful as a container or as a decorative object on their own, are better able to withstand
freezing, and come in a variety of affordable prices.
Cons: They are heavy; colors are difficult to match if buying at different times; they may be damaged by freezing weather; higher-quality containers can be expensive and targets of theft.

Metal containers
Pros: Metal containers can be lightweight; they come in uniform shapes and sizes and colors; galvanized garbage cans are inexpensive and may annoy neighbors who need annoying.
Cons: Cheaper metals rust out and are easily dented; they are toxic and expensive if made of copper or lead; they can be heavy if made of thick and heavy metals; they can become very hot if in full sun; shiny trash can kinds can cause neighbors to make disparaging remarks, which may upset owners with thin skins or no sturdy belief in their own style choices.

Daffodils, anemones, and pansies compliment the straight lines and circles of the fence beyond. Photo: Rob Cardillo

Daffodils, anemones, and pansies compliment the straight lines and circles of the fence beyond. Photo: Rob Cardillo

Plastic containers
Pros: Plastic containers are uniform in size, lightweight, cheap or free from neighbors or nurseries, and long lasting if of high quality; they won’t rot or break in frost.
Cons: They are plastic and look like plastic unless very high quality; in many areas they can’t be recycled if any
color other than black.

Fiberglass containers
Pros: Fiberglass containers are strong, durable, and more colorfast than plastic; they come in a variety of shapes and colors; they can be made to look like other materials.
Cons: The price may be higher than for comparable plastic containers; harsh power washing or animals or people scratching on them can cause fraying of the fibers.

Oversized chartreuse pots become a dramatic home for Zantedeschia elliottiana. Photo: Rob Cardillo

Oversized chartreuse pots make a dramatic home for Zantedeschia elliottiana. Photo: Rob Cardillo

Concrete containers
Pros: Well-made concrete containers will last for decades; color mixed into the concrete will last for decades;
they come in classic designs and styles.
Cons: They are very heavy; cheaply made ones won’t last but a couple of years; color stains applied to the outside will need periodic maintenance; they are expensive; they leach lime, which stains colored concrete.

Text from How to Buy the Right Plants, Tools & Garden Supplies by Jim Fox. Photos from The Encyclopedia of Container Plants by Ray Rogers and Rob Cardillo

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Derek Freiman March 4, 2013 at 1:10 am

Don’t forget about upside down gardening! You can grow tomatoes in a pot turned upside down and then hang it right outside your front door for easy watering (and harvesting). Tried it a couple years ago and works really well.

Good ideas here too –

Derek

2 Brian Ridder March 4, 2013 at 11:59 am

Hi Derek,

Great suggestion. We’d love to see how you did it. Perhaps in a new blog post at http://derekfreiman.blogspot.com/?

3 Cassidy March 30, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Thanks for this! I’ve been trying to decide which types of pots to buy and this proved to be a very helpful guide!

4 plant pots January 10, 2017 at 1:18 am

Thanks a lot for providing valuable information.

5 Carolyn January 17, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Is it OK, plant health wise , to keep cacti & simular in galvanised bucket’s in hot countries, if in full sun would this heat the roots to much, or would that be OK for this type of plant family, your answer would be appreciated,
Kind regards
Carolyn

6 siaosi February 22, 2017 at 10:51 am

I would love to make sure that I have some nice curb appeal to my back yard. I want to make sure that I have some pots that are long lasting. I will be looking for some durable materials.

7 Anonymous June 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

There are many lovely and somewhat expensive resin planters, made in the US largely. They last for years and have protective elements for the plants. Sometimes it is worth paying a little more. Also they are largely made from recycled materials and are recyclable at the end of their long life. Susie Plant

8 Omor@ Gardening planters December 7, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Wonderful writing. From it I learn many more. I hope it will help everyone who reads it, Thanks a lot for nice writing. Garden planters are most important for garden making like mind.Best of luck.

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