When putting together a container garden, it's tempting to grab any old pot and focus your attention on the plants. However, it's wise to avoid this temptation because the right pot is as critical to a container garden's success as the plants.
Terra-cotta is the classic choice for containers. Its warm orange color looks good with just about everything and it's commonly available.
Pros: Terra-cotta is relatively inexpensive, available in a wide range of styles and designs, and is relatively heavy so it's not likely to tip in strong winds.
Cons: It breaks easily, so terra-cotta is not a good choice where it may get bumped or knocked around. Many types can't be left outdoors in areas that experience freezing winter temperatures. Because terra-cotta is porous, it loses moisture faster than other materials -- meaning you'll need to water more often.
Thanks to advances in technology, plastic pots are now available in finishes that rival natural materials, usually at a lower cost. You can get them in virtually any color, size, or shape.
Pros: Plastic pots are often the least expensive around. They're long-lasting and lightweight.
Cons: Some types of plastic become brittle and break easily in freezing temperatures.
Perfect for the natural look, stained wood has a warm appearance. But it's also easy to paint to get the color you want. Most wood planters are made of cedar, rot-resistant hardwood, or pressure-treated wood to reduce moisture damage.
Pros: Like terra-cotta, wood is relatively inexpensive. It can be left outdoors all year in regions that experience freezing temperatures.
Cons: Unless you use a rot-resistant wood such as treated lumber, redwood, or cedar, you'll need to seal, line, or paint the pot to prevent decay. Wood containers are relatively heavy, so large containers may be difficult to move.
Metal containers are becoming increasingly popular, especially among gardeners who want a modern, contemporary look from copper, galvanized zinc, or cast iron.
Pros: Reusing salvaged items as containers is a great way to save money. Metal containers are virtually indestructible, too.
Cons: Metallic surfaces absorb heat, which causes roots to overheat in direct sun. Fertilizer salts damage the finish on some types of metal.
Lightweight, sturdy, and often surprisingly realistic, new polystyrene foam containers come in a wide array of sizes and finishes.
Pros: Polystyrene foam containers are more durable than traditional plastic pots. They hold up well to weather and can be left outdoors year-round. They're much lighter than wood, stone, or terra-cotta, as well.
Cons: High-quality polystyrene pots may be just as expensive, if not more so, than the wood, terra-cotta, or metal containers they've been fashioned to look like. Because they are lighter, they may blow over in windy locations.
Typically more expensive than their unglazed terra-cotta counterparts, glazed ceramic containers offer innumerable choices in color and pattern.
Pros: Glazed ceramic containers are some of the most beautiful around and can be perfect accents to the deck, patio, or landscape. They're not porous, so they don't lose moisture as fast as terra-cotta.
Cons: Glazed ceramic containers break as easily as terra-cotta and are just as heavy. If they're unglazed on the inside, you will need to move them to a sheltered spot indoors if you live in an area that sees freezing temperatures.
Concrete containers are rugged and heavy. They don't topple easily, but large ones can be backbreakers if you have to move them.
Pros: They're extremely durable and long-lasting. They offer a classic look and come in a wide range of styles.
Cons: There's a limited color choice, and concrete containers, especially large ones, tend to be expensive.
Why buy a container when you can make one? Hypertufa is a classic artificial stone product commonly used for making trough gardens.
Pros: You can make a hypertufa container any size, shape, or design you want.
Cons: Hypertufa doesn't offer a lot of color choices and it has to cure it for a month before being used.
Typically used in wire hanging baskets, you can wrap any frame in moss or coconut fibers to make a container with a decidedly natural look.
Pros: Both moss and coconut fiber liners are inexpensive, commonly available, and easy to use. They're also quite lightweight.
Cons: Moisture evaporates quickly from containers lined with moss or coconut fiber. And they're not durable; you usually have to replace the liner every year or two.