Gardener's Guide to Flower Planters

Clay, concrete, metal, fiberglass: Choosing a container can be a difficult task for a gardener. We've broken it down to the basics, helping you make the right choice with this Gardener's Guide to Flower Planters.


Whether you want a small pot for tabletop annuals or a large container that will hold a dwarf shrub indefinitely, there's a container to suit your needs. Our Gardener's Guide to Flower Planters will help you find the right container for your annual or perennial flowers --- or even blooming shrubs.

Gardener's Guide to Flower Planters: Terra-Cotta

What it's made of: Terra-cotta means baked earth; while most terra-cotta planters are a classic orange-red color, they can come in various shades -- such as beige, brown, pink, and off-white -- depending on the clay used to make them. Terra-cotta planters may also be unglazed or glazed, the latter clear or colored with paint. Terra-cotta is heavy, which means the pots are stable and can stand up to windy days. But that heft also means that they're more difficult to move, particularly larger versions.

When it works: Terra-cotta is great to circulate air and water through soil, but it also dries out quickly in sun or wind. Terra-cotta is fairly budget-friendly, depending on the size and type.

Outdoor life: Terra-cotta planters that are fired at high temperatures will last longer than low-fire planters; they'll also be more resistant to scratches and less likely to generate clay dust. However, freezing temperatures can cause terra-cotta planters to chip, crack, or flake, so they must be brought inside in winter. To prevent the spread of bacteria and organisms, terra-cotta planters should be emptied, scrubbed, and cleaned with a bleach-water solution (1 part bleach, 10 parts water).

See these video tips for painting terra-cotta containers.

Gardener's Guide to Flower Planters: Wood

What it's made of: Redwood, cedar, cypress, pine, or other softwoods are typical choices.

When it works: Like terra-cotta planters, wood planters easily circulate water and air and require frequent watering. Wood isn't that expensive or heavy, depending on the size of the planter.

Outdoor life: Wood is not damaged by the cold, but if it is not treated, the wood will be prone to rot. Use a product that does not contain pentachlorophenol; the treatment can be tinted or clear. Pressure-treated wood can also be used, as long as edibles are not grown in the containers. To extend the life of a wood planter, line with plastic or galvanized metal with holes punched through the bottom.

Gardener's Guide to Flower Planters: Plastic and Fiberglass

What it's made of: These containers are variously described as plastic, resin, extruded, fiberglass, or cast, depending on what's used in their manufacture.

When it works: Plastic comes in nearly every imaginable style and color, imitating other types of planter materials -- sometimes at a fraction of the price. It is extremely lightweight, making it easy to move, and nearly nonporous, allowing it to retain water much better.

Outdoor life: Plastic and fiberglass can fade with exposure to the elements, and extreme winter conditions can cause planters to crack, too. To prevent this, move these planters indoors in the winter.

Gardener's Guide to Flower Planters: Concrete

What it's made of: Concrete is poured into molds to form urns, bowls, and giant planters.

When it works: Concrete is extremely heavy and durable, but also more expensive. It can be colored, too. Because of its heft, a concrete container is often difficult to move.

Outdoor life: Concrete planters are durable in cold-winter areas.

Gardener's Guide to Flower Planters: Metal

What it's made of: Cast iron, galvanized tin, aluminum, and copper are among the many metal options.

When it works: Available in a wide variety of styles, metal planters can be used in a multitude of situations. Weight and cost vary depending on the material and size, but metal planters tend to be more expensive.

Outdoor life: Tin and aluminum will last for years in the garden, even enduring cold winters. Iron can crack in the cold and will rust with age and exposure, so it must be protected indoors or painted early. Copper naturally patinates with age, too. Smaller planters can heat up too much in direct sun, possibly damaging sensitive flowers.

Learn more about container materials.

Be creative with container choices.

Gardener's Guide to Planter Shapes

You've probably seen several different types of planters at the garden center -- but what do all the names actually mean?

English planter: Classic slanted sides, which allow for easy removal of plants. A thick rim also adds strength.

Standard planter: As tall as it is wide. Good for tap-rooted perennials and deep-rooted plants.

Azalea planter: A pot three-fourths as tall as it is wide. Excellent for annuals, ferns, azaleas, and plants with shallow roots.

Bulb planter: A pot half as tall as it is wide. Perfect for spring bulbs or very low-growing plants, such as sedums.

Long Tom: A pot taller than it is wide and usually rimless. Prone to tipping, but good for deep-rooted plants or to display trailing vines.

Italian planter: Rimless with slightly flared edge. Pretty with plants that spill over the edge.

Other types of pots: Hanging pots, window boxes

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