One of the most important decisions you’ll make for a houseplant is the container you put it in. Some plants prefer their own standalone pots; some plants work well in groupings inside planters. Some plants are peculiar or adaptable in a way that they can be placed in specialty plant containers. For size, material, design, and drainage, it’s important to find the best pots for your houseplants.
Types of Houseplant Pots and Containers
To help remember and understand the different types of houseplant containers, we recommend thinking of them as subsets. All pots are planters, but not all planters are pots. All planters are containers, but not all containers are planters.
Pots: Houseplant pots are a special kind of planter or container that is typically intended to hold one plant, or in some cases companion plants. Often, it is important to match the size of the plant and the size of the pot. Oversized pots do not do plants any favors; they do not encourage the plant to become larger. Most pots are round or square, but some are decorative or evoke other objects. You can find pots that resemble plants, for example. Houseplant pots are most often made of ceramic, plastic, or sometimes glass. Along with material and size, the most important quality of a houseplant pot is drainage. Most types of houseplants are susceptible to root rot when exposed to waterlogged soil and do better with pots that have drainage holes.
Planters: Compared to pots, planters are usually bigger, host multiple types of plants, and/or serve some specific function. One of the most common types is the planter box—a wooden or hard-surface container for plants, usually an herb or vegetable garden of some kind, that is great for controlling weeds as well as soil composition. There are also portable, self-watering planters with water reservoirs that the plants’ roots can access for water. These planters, usually made of hard plastic, are used to minimize the maintenance and time commitment when growing tomatoes or other water-loving plants. Long skinny containers attached to railings or windowsills are another common type of planter. Large outdoor pots that are intended as permanent fixtures of your lawn or landscaping are often called planters as well.
Other Containers: People can get incredibly creative with their houseplants. The most common pots and planters are not enough to cover all the different types of plant containers out there. For example, instead of putting a plant inside the pot, you can put the container over the plant, as is the case with air plant and seashell jellyfish. But some of these miscellaneous plant containers are pretty common in their own right. Glass and plastic terrariums trap moisture and humidity within an enclosed space, while letting sunlight stream into the transparent terrarium. They come in an endless variety of shapes and sizes. Containers don’t have to be heavy or fancy to do their job, which is principally to hold the potting soil and provide general support for the plant. Hanging baskets are another type of popular container, especially for outdoor houseplants.
Picking the Right Size Pots for Houseplants
It’s easy to assume that you can grow larger houseplants and shortcut the need for repotting by placing modestly sized plants in roomier pots. With large container gardening, this strategy works fine, but oversized pots tend to backfire when it comes to many types of houseplants. Larger pots hold more soil, which retains more water, and ultimately increases the risk of root rot. At the same time, houseplants with larger roots and faster growth may become pot-bound to the detriment of the plant’s overall health. Look to give the plant a little room to grow. As a plant grows and becomes pot-bound, we recommend transferring the plant to a new container that’s about 2-4 inches larger in diameter than its current pot.
Drainage vs Non-Drainage Pots for Houseplants
Pots with Drainage: This is the best type of pot for most houseplants, but especially succulents and other plants that are susceptible to root rot. When water pools at the base of your pot for too long, not only does it promote the growth of bacteria and fungus, but it reduces how much oxygen reaches the roots. Roots need access to air as well as water/moisture. Some drainage pots have their own saucer catchment. Other pots can be paired with a separate catchment. Elevated on a plant stand, you can also put some type of bowl under the large drainage pot just when watering.
Pots without Drainage: Pots without drainage may not be the best choice for direct planters, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be useful as a catchment. In other words, you can put a plant in a cheap plastic container with drainage, and then put this container inside a larger decorative pot. Glass jars and other transparent pots are another way to cultivate plants without drainage. It’s easier to control the water saturation level if you can see the water go through the dirt, but we’d still recommend avoiding plants that are especially sensitive to root rot.
Different Materials for Houseplant Pots
Along with size and design of a pot or planter, the material is a key trait for determining the decorative and functionality quality of the container. There are numerous materials for pots that can be successfully used, and they all have slightly different effects on houseplant design and care. To brainstorm ideas for new pots or to know how to care for your current houseplants, here is a rundown of the materials most commonly used for pots and containers.
Terra Cotta/Clay: The earthenware pots that you see everywhere is made from terra cotta, or clay that is baked at a lower temperature than glazed ceramics. Easy to manufacture with good drainage for plants, these are a great choice for low-budget pots and easy plant care.
Ceramic: Fired at higher temperatures than terra cotta, ceramic pots are harder, denser, and more commonly glazed. Some of these pots will still have drainage holes; others are designed to be used decorative catchment pots.
Plastic: Along with terra cotta, this is one of the most common and budget-friendly options. Some thicker types of plastic can be their own pots, but some plastic pots offer drainage and support for plants that are placed in larger catchment pots.
Fiberglass: If you see a hard, semigloss, glass-like pot and you’re wondering what the material is, it’s probably fiberglass. This material can be fashioned into pretty much any shape and is popular for decorative and creative pots. These pots are commonly produced with built-in drainage.
Stone and Cast Stone: Terrazzo pots made of chipped natural stone and binder is one popular choice. For more artisanal pots, cast stone is made from a combination of limestone and water and fashioned into a mold. Some beautiful pots and planters are the result.
Concrete: Available in an increasing selection of sizes, shapes, and colors, this material is sort of the new kid on the block. Some concrete pots have premade drainage and catchment. You can also make your own drainage holes, or use the concrete pot as an exterior catchment with a plastic pot insert.
Wood: Wooden pots are more popular in larger sizes where wood construction makes more economic sense. If you don’t count planter boxes as true houseplant pots, then whiskey barrels are perhaps the most popular type of wood pot. That said, you can also find small and medium-sized wooden pots as novelty items in some plant shops and gardening stores.
Metal: Repurposed buckets is one popular type of metal pot, but there are plenty of choices for pots made from metal. Like other items, aluminum tends to be a more budget-friendly option, while stainless steel and cast iron are also common choices for metal pots.
Foam: While not the most popular choice, hard foam offers certain advantages for pots. Don’t get fooled by the image of white Styromfoam, either. If you have something unique in mind for your pot, you can paint foam with any design or combination of colors.
How Much Do Houseplant Pots Cost?
It really just depends on what you’re looking for. Knowing that terra cotta pots can’t be recycled, many people will hoard these pots for years and/or look for opportunities to give them away to friends, family, and neighbors. At a yard sale, you can find pots for just a couple bucks. Most average sized pots at a local home and gardening store is likely to cost somewhere between $10-$100. Higher-end and very large fiberglass, stone, or metal can easily cost $1,000 or more. Houseplant pots that are custom pieces of art created by a local craftsman can cost several thousand dollars. Bottom line: You can find cute pots for your houseplants on a budget, if you’re willing to scrounge and network. You can also take a portion of your home decorating budget and make a large houseplant and pot combination a focal point for one of the living areas in your home.