After many hours of thinking, researching, and searching for that perfect plant to perk up your interior, or to add a little life to your exterior, now you think, what about the container? What options are there? Well, the most important consideration revolves around planter materials.
What are planters made out of?
There is a whole spectrum of planter materials on the market. Choosing the right material will make a big difference to the health of your plants and will also ADD to the visual appeal of your interior or exterior. The most common planter materials are:
- Concrete planters
- Fiberglass planters
- Plastic planters
- Ceramic planters
- Terracotta planters
Planters that use natural materials are less common but also have their pros, such as wood and metal planters. This guide will run the gamut, and with a little analysis, help you choose the best planter for you and your plants.
1. Concrete planters
Manufacturing concrete for any purpose consists of mixing cement paste with water, sand, and rock to create the final product. In industrial concrete production, a combination of chemicals such as calcium, silicon, aluminum, and iron are used to help bind and harden the mixture. Wet concrete is poured into the desired shape using a mold. When left unpainted, concrete is a light gray color. However, they can be jazzed up in any color you like using masonry paint.
Color – Concrete planters can be aesthetically neutral in a busy color scheme due to their natural light-gray color. They can also be painted easily at home with a variety of paints, though masonry paint is the best. This leads to endless DIY and customization fun.
Weight – Concrete is quite heavy and hardy. This makes it ideal as an outdoor planter for large plants where strong winds and weathering would otherwise do some destruction (not ideal for indoor use or if you want to rearrange your planters often).
Shapes and sizes – Due to the nature of the molding process, concrete containers can come in any shape and some very large sizes. It also means that manufacturers can offer bespoke designs for custom orders.
Environment – Concrete is environmentally damaging to produce along the supply chain. For example, manufacturing cement produces a lot of C02 which contributes to global warming.
Fragile – Though concrete is strong, it is also brittle. A few hard knocks during delivery and you need to order replacements. Remember to cover or move outdoor planters during winter so that water doesn’t pool in them and then freeze. Over time this can crack the concrete.
Plant health – Concrete contains lime which can leech into the potting soil. This creates an alkaline Ph balance that is great for succulents, but for many other plants, it can stunt growth. In addition, concrete is porous so pots can lose moisture quickly.
2. Fiberglass planters
Fiberglass is relatively new and modern material. To make it, glass is spun into a fiber and then mixed with a resin to create a very strong and flexible composite. This fiberglass and resin mixture is then put into a mold to create various shapes and sizes. A few rounds of sanding and a layer of primer gives the fiberglass planter a flawless and protective finish. Drainage holes can be drilled into the bottom to allow adequate drainage.
Durability – Fiberglass containers are extremely strong and flexible. They can be utilized both indoors and outdoors and can take quite a beating. Plus, any little scratches and wear-and-tear can be buffed out or painted over really easily.
Quality – Despite the low cost, Jay Scott’s attention to detail and high manufacturing standards create fiberglass pots with superior quality in regards to their strength and finish. Fiberglass pots are also really lightweight so they are an ideal material for large containers.
Plant health – Fiberglass is a material known for its plant-protection qualities. The health benefits of buying fiberglass include UV protection for hot climates, waterproofing, and because it’s not a porous material, it won’t leech chemicals into the soil and harm your plants, perfect for growing edibles!
Cost – Fiberglass pots are relatively cheap to produce compared to heavier materials such as wood and metal, but it is more expensive than plastic and terracotta. If you want a planter that stays as good as new for longer and is healthier for your plants, pay a little extra and buy fiberglass.
Manufacturer dependent – Some manufacturers cut corners when they produce this material. The way they do this is by adding more resin and fillers that don’t have any structural benefit but do add to the weight. So watch out for heavy fiberglass planters, this is a sign of an inferior product.
3. Plastic planters
Plastic is the wonder material that first entered the world stage in 1907. Since then, all kinds of containers have been manufactured using plastic. Plastic pots are made from crude oil which is a non-renewable resource. Nevertheless, huge industries exist to extract and then process the oil needed to create plastic containers. Nowadays, there are many different kinds of plastic for a range of purposes, such as uPVC which is considered safe to use for growing food.
Cheap – Plastic is possibly the most mass-produced material in human history. It is extremely cheap to make and mold into any shape or style. The standard supermarket plant pot is plastic.
Light – One reason why plastic is so popular the world over is that its strength-to-weight ratio is very high. Plastic pots can be very thin, shipped across the world, dropped a few times, and still do the job.
Environment – Plastic has many harmful effects on the environment. Just one example is that plastic is so durable that it takes thousands of years to degrade. During this time, toxins from the plastic container can leech into the groundwater, enter the food chain, and cause harm to whole ecosystems.
Plant health – As mentioned above, plastic releases chemicals that are organically harmful. This is why it is important to choose the right kind of plastic. If you want to grow vegetables. look for planters made with uPVC to minimize the number of chemicals that get sucked up by your poor plants.
Single-use – Though touted as durable, plastic can become very brittle and crack when exposed to sun and heat for extended periods. A plastic pot may only last one season before a crack renders it useless.
4. Terra cotta and ceramic planters
Ceramic and terra cotta are essentially just slight variations on the same material, clay. Terra cotta is the name of the particular type of clay used, and it does have different properties. For example, it is iconically reddish-brown in color and sports a rustic look, whereas ceramic is a light-colored clay. Ceramic is often glazed on the outside while terra cotta is not.
Use glazed ceramic pots to keep your plants hydrated as the glazing seals the pot and stops leakage. On the other hand, unglazed terra cotta looks great and is well-suited for plants that like a lot of drainage.
Cost – Clay pots of either kind can range from very cheap and cheerful to outlandishly expensive and luxury. This material creates inexpensive containers that can be reused time after time, saving more money.
Durable – Ceramic planters which are glazed are extremely durable and can last decades of direct sun and cold climates. Both terra cotta and ceramic pots can be reused safely
Appearance – Terra cotta is usually left unglazed on the outside. The outside will flake and age over time with further baking and weathering. This gives it a natural look and is visually appealing both in the garden and inside.
Weight- Terra cotta and ceramic planters are quite heavy so are not the best planter to move around constantly. If you have large plant pots it becomes impossible to arrange them easily. This is not the greatest material for pots that need to come inside during the winter.
Brittle – Plant containers made of clay are prone to cracking if dropped and need a rather careful delivery especially for really large containers. The porous nature of clay is also something to worry about during winters when freezing and thawing can produce fissures and over time cracks and chips.
5. Metal planters
There are various kinds of metal containers on the market, but the most common materials used are steel, aluminum, zinc, and copper. As an outdoor planter, metal containers, especially steel, will rust over the years to become red in hue. This process is quickened by the outside elements. Metal materials are not porous and so to ensure good drainage, drill holes in the bottom to allow water to leave and create good airflow.
Strength – Metal containers are extremely strong and durable. They won’t chip, crack, or scratch, and can be left outside to age no problem. Galvanized steel is even stronger and will be more weather resistant compared to other planters in your container garden.
Appearance – Metal containers are a great addition to any decor, especially as they are available in a wide range of metals that can be used. Choose the right metal for your style. Galvanized steel, aluminum, and zinc have the industrial look that many interior designers chase. Copper and rusted steel on the other hand are very rustic and fit in well with a farm-kitchen decor.
Weight- Metal containers can be quite heavy in large sizes and are not ideal to move around very often. The benefit is that they won’t be blown around or knocked over very easily. This makes them a great choice for large corporate settings where a strong industrial look is sought-after.
Overheating – When left in direct sunlight, metal containers can get very hot and damage the roots of your plants. For this reason, it’s best to keep metal planters in the shade or bring the planters inside on a hot day.
6. Wood planters
Wooded containers are made with a variety of different natural materials. The most common varieties are rosewood, cedar, hemlock, fir, and pine. Other materials such as bamboo pots are extremely lightweight. Planks and beams are cut from these trees to make lumber. This is then cured and treated for several months to increase the waterproofing and strength of the pot.
Natural material – Wooden pots are made from natural materials and don’t pose a threat to plant health. Though you do need to give them extra attention to make sure there is no rot. This involves applying a coat of polyurethane, varnish, or lacquer to seal the wood from moisture and weathering, and it looks great too.
Appearance – One feature of wood is how natural and humble wooden pots look as an outdoor planter, and very ornamental when used indoors. Bamboo planters are ideal hanging baskets for their visual appeal. Wooden plant pots come in a wide range of styles that don’t work with other planter material. For example, a hollowed-out tree trunk looks rustic in wood but tacky in plastic.
Life span – The average wooden planter will last around 10 – 20 years with a bit of love and the occasional maintenance. This sounds like a long time but compared to fiberglass, which lasts forever, wooden planters are slightly on the short life span side.
Cost – Planters made from wood are a lot more expensive than mass-produced plastic pots for example. The most expensive woods are cedar and rosewood, though these are the most beautiful and are waterproof too.
What is the best material for outdoor planters?
This depends on a few things. First, think about the style that you want to follow, and what materials allow you to achieve this style. Fiberglass and plastic pots are very versatile and can be produced in near enough any size and shape. However, they will never be able to achieve the same rustic look as wood containers.
The next consideration is the application. Think about the kind of plant you want to grow. To grow plants such as flowers in a cheap plastic container is OK, but for growing edibles, fiberglass is a much safer option health-wise. Fiberglass is much stronger than plastic and is just as light.
Also, decide if you will be moving these pots inside during the winter. Concrete and metal are too heavy and wood will fall apart with too much back and forth. Plastic is an option because it is light, but it may also crack too easily. Again, fiberglass is ideal because it can withstand all the elements of the great outdoors, and it is strong and light enough to move inside when necessary.
Our favorite – fiberglass planters
Fiberglass is our favorite material, not only because the environmental impact of fiberglass is low, but also because our gardens and homes look great with it. On the downside, fiberglass pots are pricier than throwaway plastic ones, but consider the initial cost as an investment in a pot that will have years of use.
In addition, fiberglass is the easiest pot to arrange because it is lightweight and it won’t break. This makes fiberglass the best choice when you are container gardening and you want to clean, move, and tend to your pots often.
These advantages make fiberglass pots perfect as a pawn in your decor. If you want to know more about how to use plant pots to improve your interior or exterior then check out our guide on how to arrange plant pots.