From teacups to oil drums, there is nothing you can’t use as an outdoor plant container. Your choice of plants, your decorative style, your budget, and your creative imagination will all influence your plant container choices. However, there are several things to consider before you start adding plants to your outdoor pots.
Very small containers will dry out quickly, and they offer limited growing room, so that teacup is probably not a wise choice. Very slow growing plants, such as sedum or cactus, will grow well in a restricted environment. However, keep water needs in mind. Some succulents do need a fair amount of moisture.
Be certain that any container you choose has good drainage. With the exception of pond plants, decorative plants do not like to have their feet constantly wet. If you are concerned that your potting soil will be drained out along with excess water, cover the holes with a single layer of newspaper or a coffee filter before adding your planting soil.
Clay or Terra Cotta Planters
Available in just about any size and shape, clay plant containers are traditional garden standbys. Their look is especially attractive in warm and sunny southern or Mediterranean garden designs.
Un-glazed clay pots are porous, which means that water in the soil will evaporate through the sides of the container. They will have to be watered more frequently than less porous containers. Painted or glazed clay pots will retain more moisture through a hot day.
These pots are heavy for their size. If you are planting a large pot, moving it will be difficult. If you anticipate having to move a large terra cotta pot, place it on a decorative wheeled dolly before filling it with your planting mixture. This way you will be able to move it even when the soil within is moist and heavy.
If you line these containers with plastic before planting you can reduce water loss through the sides. The easiest thing to use is a plastic bag large enough to touch the sides of the pot all around. Remember to punch drainage holes in the bottom. When you add your planting mix, hide the sides of the bag by pushing them down into the mix before you plant.
Because all clay pots are porous, they do not do well outside during cold winters. Moisture in the pot will expand if it freezes, often cracking the pot. Cement and other stone containers will also often crack in freezing temperatures for the same reason. Consider whether you will be able to bring your pots into warmer shelter during the winter. If this will not be possible, and you want to keep your plantings, choose another kind of container.
Wooden Plant Containers
Whiskey barrels and other wooden patio containers are popular. Because wood will eventually deteriorate when exposed to water and sunlight, lining wooden plant containers with heavy plastic will extend their life and reduce water stains on the outside.
Cedar, redwood and teak are naturally resistant to water decay. Containers made of treated wood or lumber will usually last quite a bit longer than untreated wood. However, some chemicals used to treat wood are not suitable for edible plants, and may pose a health risk. Always check the materials used to treat any wooden planter for safety.
Metal Pots, Tubs and Wagons
So long as there is drainage at the bottom you can use any metal container to hold garden plants. Be aware that any large metal container will be heavy, so place it where you want it to remain unless it has wheels.
Plastic and Resin Containers
Plastic plant containers are the most lightweight and often the most inexpensive containers for the garden. Of course, this is why your plant nursery uses plain plastic pots.
You can find resin containers that mimic the look of cement or glazed pottery. These pots are handy if you don’t want to worry about freezing and cracking or excess weight. Most are quite handsome, as well.
Plastic and resin pots are not porous, so they will not lose moisture as quickly as un-glazed pottery. Because they don’t lose moisture, it is especially important to be sure that they have sufficient drainage at the bottom so that plant roots do not become waterlogged. Many resin containers have holes that must be opened by the end user. Be sure that you do this before you begin planting.
Thin plastic pots will have a short lifespan, as they will eventually crack in the sun. However, because they are inexpensive, they will be less costly to replace every few years.
Color Makes a Difference
Dark plant containers will absorb summer heat. If the roots of your plants get too hot they will be damaged or even killed. In hot climates choose lighter colored containers to reduce heat buildup.
Avoid Outdoor Pot Saucers
Many planting containers come with saucers to hold water outflow. Avoid saucers under your outdoor plants as these are great places for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. Your plants may wick up a little extra water between watering, although this is not always the case. However, your yard and patio will be overrun with mosquitoes.
Whatever container you choose as a planter, the three main things to remember are: 1) choose the correct size for your plants. A too-small container will not have growing room, and a too-large container will overwhelm and dwarf your plants; 2) make sure your container drains well; 3) monitor soil moisture regularly and maintain the kind of moisture that your plants require. Don’t plant a cactus and a rose in the same container – their water needs are vastly different.