Planters - A Gardener's Guide

Father and son on a patio with planters filled with flowers

Just like plants, you can select a variety of planters. There are square, round, rectangular, hanging, and more. You can also choose materials like terra cotta, metal, plastic, resin, fiberglass, concrete, etc.

You might think aesthetics are the only consideration when selecting a planter. But the type of plant container you purchase has more far-reaching impacts. Everything from how often you’ll need to water your plants to how well your plant will survive in the chosen planter.

Here’s a guide to help you select the right plant pot.

Selecting the Right Material for Planters

The material used to manufacture planters impacts longevity, watering, and even your plant’s health. Here are some of the most common materials:

Railing planter with plants

  • Terracotta: Terracotta containers are reasonably inexpensive but fragile. They’re prone to breakage. Even freezing temperatures can damage them. Moreover, the planters are porous, so they dry out quickly, making them a good choice for succulents and other plants that require well-drained soil.
  • Concrete: Concrete planter pots are durable. You can also mold them into various shapes. However, they’re heavy, especially after filling them with potting soil and your plant.
  • Resin: Resin planters are increasing in popularity. They have the advantages of plastic, but they’re more durable. Resin planters include a blend of plastic resins and crushed limestone. The combination creates a planter offering the light weight of plastic but substantially greater durability. Artstone is a leading manufacturer of resin planters.
  • Metal: Metal planters are durable but will eventually rust. They also retain heat, so you’ll need to water your plants more, particularly outdoor plants. Otherwise, they’ll cook in the sun.
  • Plastic: Like terracotta, plastic planters are inexpensive. However, unlike terracotta, you can choose from various styles and colors. They’re light and easy to reuse. Make sure you go with heavier-grade plastic planter pots. They hold up and resist fading, unlike flimsy plastic pots.
  • Ceramic: Ceramic plant containers are versatile. Because they’re non-porous, they retain water. As a result, tropical plants work well in them. Ceramic breaks and chips easily if hit or dropped.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Planters

Some planters are made for indoor and outdoor use. Others are better suited for one or the other use. So, if your primary purpose is outdoor planting, ensure the planter you purchase can withstand outdoor conditions.

Here are some considerations when purchasing a planter:

  1. Material: Outdoor planters use more durable materials that are weather-resistant, like stone, concrete, resin, and metal. Conversely, indoor planters use materials like ceramic, plastic, and glass. So, although you can use them outside, their lifespan may be compromised.
  2. Drainage: Outdoor planters generally use more robust drainage systems to prevent water from pooling in the bottom and causing root rot. Because indoor planters aren’t exposed to elements, they typically have fewer drainage requirements.
  3. Size: You’re unlimited with size with outdoor planters. So, they’ll come in a wide range of sizes, many of them getting extremely big. However, indoor planters lean toward the smaller side because they’re intended to fit on shelves, windowsills, or table tops.
  4. Light: Often, indoor plants get placed in low-light areas. So indoor planters accommodate plants that work well in those conditions. On the other hand, outdoor planters accommodate plants that receive more light to grow. In addition to more light, outdoor planters must withstand heat and preferably use materials that keep the plant’s roots cooler.

Planter Shapes Have an Impact

Personal preference plays a role in shape selection. But each shape has its merits.

Several black planters of different shapes are sitting and hanging on a wall

  • Square Containers: Square planters fit nicely into corners. They also look great at entryways and lining paths. From a practical standpoint, a square container makes watering easier because there are fewer gaps. Square planters also provide more surface area for planting than round pots. So, plants have access to more nutrients from the soil.
  • Rectangular Containers: Rectangular containers are versatile. You can plant a variety of plants to create a color splash. Or you can use one plant variety to create a row of lavender, for example. Rectangular-shaped containers also work nicely as railing planters and flower window boxes.
  • Round Containers: Round planters work well for accentuating a single plant. As mentioned, they provide less surface area than square planters. Round planters can tip over more quickly, mainly when used outdoors.

Tall vs. Short Planters

One black and two gray tall planters are sitting on the porch outside the front door

Every planter has a layer of soil at the bottom that’s always in water, owing to gravity. That accumulation of water is known as perching. If your plant’s roots are too close to that perched water, it will impact its health.

As a result, plant containers accumulate water differently based on their shape. For example, tall planters provide the best air-to-water ratio to promote better gas exchange. Taller planters dry out faster than short, wide pots.

Shorter, more shallow pots like low-profile cylinder pots are best suited for plants with roots near the soil’s surface.

Don’t Overplant Your Container

It’s easy to get overzealous and cram too many plants into a planter. Don’t. Overcrowding plants can stunt their growth. The size of the plant impacts things significantly, but you can use these guidelines for planters:

  • 10” to 12”: 3-4 plants
  • 14” to 16”: 5-7 plants
  • 16” to 20”: 6-9 plants

Of course, you can elect to plant a single, larger plant in a larger planter. For example, a 16-inch container will handle a small shrub or dwarf tree. Twenty-inch containers are suitable for decorative and evergreen shrubs and smaller trees.

Selecting the Right-Sized Planter Pot

Gray round planter with a succulent sitting on a table

Here’s where many gardeners miss the mark, using a container that’s either too large or too small.

First, start by selecting a planter comparable to the plant’s size. If it’s too big, your plants can get waterlogged or suffer a nutrient burn from the excessive soil. Contrastingly, a planter that’s too small leaves your plants rootbound with limited soil to hold water.

As a rule, if the current planter is 10” or less, select one 1-2” larger. So, a plant in a 6-inch tall by 6-inch wide planter will work best in a gardening container that’s seven to eight inches.

For plants in containers larger than 10 inches, jump to a planter 2-3” larger in diameter.

Second, use deeper planters for plants with large roots and shallower ones for plants with small roots. For example, Ficus trees have deep roots and require a deeper container. On the other hand, succulents have smaller roots requiring a shallow pot.

How to Plant Your Container

If you want to get your plants off to a successful start, pay attention to how your plant them. The more care you give during the planting process, the better your plants will perform.

Here are the steps to consider when planting a container:

  1. Select the Right Plants: Consider the amount of light, moisture, and space available. Often, it’s best to opt for low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants or native plants that are well-suited to your climate.
  2. Prepare the Planter: Fill the planter with high-quality potting soil. You can add fertilizer or organic matter like compost to enrich the soil and help establish your plant’s root system.
  3. Plant Your Plants: Arrange the plants to your liking keeping their sizes in mind – low plants in front and taller plants in the back. Allow adequate space to accommodate their mature size. Gently loosen the roots if they’re pot-bound to improve their nutrient and water uptake.
  4. Water: Add water until the soil is evenly moist. You can water until you see it drain from the planter.
  5. Mulch: If you’re planting outdoors, a layer of mulch is a good idea. It helps retain moisture and keeps your plant’s roots cool. Indoors you can accessorize your planter with stone, moss, small sculptures, or other materials.

And there you have it. Your next step is monitoring and maintenance.

Make Sure Your Planter Has Drainage

Most planters come with drainage holes. That’s important because plants will suffer root rot and die if left in too much water. Place a drainage tray under it if you’re housing the plant indoors.

If you select a planter without drainage, you have some options:

  1. Drill a hole in the bottom of the planter
  2. Place rocks in the bottom of the planter to create a drainage area

To avoid moisture concerns, you should limit watering to one-third of the container’s size. In addition, you can purchase self-watering planters to make your life easier while keeping your plants healthy.

Learn about our patented sub-irrigated Water-Minder™ self-watering reservoir that keeps your plants green and lush. Included with all our Artstone planters 5½" and larger.

Tips for Successful Gardening Using Planters

Lots of folks add plants to their home or garden. But, unfortunately, lots of folks also neglect to take care of those plants. You can’t plant and forget, especially in planters where watering and fertilizing present ongoing concerns.

Here are some tips to help get the most from your plants:

  1. Choose the Right Soil: Potting soil is a solid choice for most plants. However, some plants, like cacti or succulents, require a different mix to grow best.
  2. Drainage: It can’t be repeated enough – drainage is critical. Without it, your plants can sit in a reservoir of water that will destroy their roots. In addition, drainage is essential outdoors, where planters can accumulate moisture from heavy rainfalls.
  3. Sizing: As mentioned, find the right-sized planter. Leave some room for growth, but don’t plant a large plant in a small container or a small plant in a large container. First, the planter will lack visual balance. Second, it can impact the health of your plants.
  4. Location: As they say in real estate, location is everything. Well, the same holds for plants. First, make sure you understand the light requirements of plants. Plants that thrive in sunlight but get too little often get spindly and fail to produce flowers.
  5. Temperature: In some cases, location and temperature go hand-in-hand. Planters placed in full sunlight risk baking under the sun’s heat. You may need to provide some shelter or, at the very least, water more frequently.
  6. Watering: As mentioned, over-watering causes root rot. On the other hand, underwatering makes your plants wilt and die. You’ll need to find the right balance or invest in a self-watering planter. And remember, plants in containers dry out more quickly than in the ground.
  7. Fertilize: Nutrients diminish regardless of how large the planter is. This is because they’re used by the plants or drained from the container. So, it’s critical to fertilize any container plant regularly.
  8. Pests and Disease: Container plants can be more susceptible to disease and insects. So, keep an eye out for either concern and treat your plants accordingly with insecticides or fungal treatments.

With a little effort, you can grow any plant successfully in planters. All it takes is a little love and care.

Root & Vessel Offers a Range of Decorative Planters

Regardless of your style, we have planters that fit. From contemporary and rustic to modern and traditional, you can find pots and planters that suit your needs.

Our planters are made from premium plastic or resin. They offer UV protection, frost resistance, and shatter resistance. So, you’ll enjoy years of use even outdoors. And best of all, most of our planters are made in the USA.