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Containers for Houseplants

When choosing a container, consider your plant's needs, your decorating needs, and your houseplant skills.

Matching Plants and Pots

There are pots and baskets to fitevery plant and personality.

Most houseplants today are sold in standard plastic pots. Some plant owners prefer to replace these pots. They choose from pots that come in an almost-infinite variety of materials, types, sizes, and colors.

At its simplest level, the purpose of a container is to hold the right amount of growing medium for the plant. In other words, the container you choose should match the size of your plant. Small plants should be in small containers and large plants in large containers.

Plants that are too small for their containers look out of proportion and grow poorly since the soil stays overly moist for too long a time. Plants that are too large for their containers also look out of proportion. They become root-bound (roots fill up the whole pot, causing stunted growth), and often topple over, since their pots don't have enough weight to hold them up.

Drainage Holes

  • The best pots have holes in their bottoms for excess water to drain out. If water collects in the bottom of a pot, it can cause root rot, which eventually kills plants.
  • Because of these holes, each pot needs a plastic or clay saucer underneath it to prevent excess water from spilling onto your carpet, floor, or furniture. Many hanging pots have built-in saucers to collect excess water. Be careful when watering plants in these pots since their saucers are shallow and water sometimes overflows.
  • A few of the most decorative pots have no drainage holes. Knowing how much to water plants in these pots is difficult and requires far more skill than watering plants in traditional pots does. Still, many indoor gardeners use these lovely pots with great success by carefully avoiding overwatering.
  • Tip: The beginning houseplant grower can get the look of these ornamental pots without the risk of root rot simply by putting the less attractive pots (with their saucers) inside bigger, prettier pots such as jardinieres or wicker baskets. This way, water drains well, but you keep the desired look.

Types of Containers for Houseplants

Pots come not only in lots ofsizes, but also in lots of colors.

At one time, the clay pot was the most common container for indoor plants. Clay pots are attractive, heavy (ideal for big plants), and porous (excellent for bromeliads, cacti, ferns, orchids, and succulents). Unfortunately, clay pots break easily, need to be watered frequently, and are hard to clean. They also are becoming expensive.

The most popular container today is the plastic pot. It comes in an assortment of colors and is lightweight (plastic is an excellent material for hanging baskets), easy to clean, and inexpensive. One major advantage of plastic over clay is that, because plastic does not absorb moisture from the soil the way clay does, plants in plastic pots don't need to be watered as frequently. Normally, plastic is quite tough, but it can break in cold weather.

Other materials for houseplant containers include metal, basketry, treated or rot-resistant wood, glazed pottery, and glass. Containers made from these materials, though, usually are used only as bigger pots to surround smaller, more-functional ones, or for other special purposes.

Pots come in a variety of sizes. The width of the opening at the top determines the size. A 4-inch pot has an opening 4 inches wide. Most pots are as deep as they are wide. Azalea pots, however, are only three-fourths as deep as they are wide; bulb pots are half as deep. Growers have found that some plants look and grow better in shallow pots.

Keep pots clean to prevent disease. If you plan to reuse a pot, clean it well both inside and out. Clay pots often get a white crust on them after prolonged use. To remove this crust, scrub with a steel-wool pad or stiff brush in a vinegar and water solution. If the crust is thick, brush first with a dry steel wool pad. Rinse pots then soak them in a bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) for 30 minutes. Rinse again.

Cleaning Clay Pots

Clean clay pots.

To avoid infecting plants with disease, scrub all used pots carefully, inside and out, before reusing. To remove salt and clinging earth from clay pots, rub with steel wool and diluted vinegar. Then soak pots in a bleach solution.

Growing Plants in Water

Growing plants in water.

For best results, use opaque jars when growing plants in water. To keep the water fresh, change it frequently and add small bits of charcoal. Add water-soluble fertilizers for rich foliage.

Cleaning Plastic Pots

Clean plastic pots with a cloth dipped in warm soapy water. Scrub the pot until it's completely free of soil and grime. Soak the pot in a bleach solution as you would a clay pot.

Sterilizing pots is especially important if you intend to start seeds in them. Nonsterile pots often contain bacteria that can infect the soil, causing seedlings to topple over from a condition called damping-off. The condition is serious because it can kill all seedlings if not prevented in the first place or treated with fungicide when first noticed.


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