Just like an Englishman’s home is his castle, a plant’s pot is its palace. The pot is a place of safe refuge, a room to call one’s own, and a space to not just live but to grow and flourish. Hence, matching your beloved plant to its pot is not something to gloss over but is worth careful deliberation.
Knowing that containers are an important consideration can be overwhelming when you realise the spectrum of available pots in different shapes, sizes materials, colours, styles, weights, etc.
How to Best Choose Pots for Plants
Fret not! Let us stalk at the beginning with our 6 tips on choosing the right pot and potting your plant right.
1. Choosing Pots: Shapes
Contain your excitement – the shape of the container affects how well your plants will grow too.
Tall Pots or Small Pots?
Based on the perched water table theory (more on that below), tall pots are clearly the superior choice as the air to water ratio is the largest. For a broad range of plants, a tall and wide, rather than a tall and narrow pot, will be the most suitable choice. This will accommodate most watering methods and needs.
However, there are exceptions. Succulents and cacti tend to thrive in shallow containers as they have one main taproot that goes deep into the pot and many thinner, shorter hair roots that stay close to the surface.
Round Pots or Square Pots?
A square pot gives more volume for the same height, as well as more surface area for planting, than a round pot. This means it is a more efficient space to pack in potting soil and nutrients. Getting the most of the space would be a factor if you want to grow rows of flowers or you are cultivating herbs for consumption. There is also an argument that round pots encourage the formation of circling roots, which cause absorption issues.
However, this is not a problem if you are repotting your plants to allow them to grow. The last thing to consider is if you are growing large shrubs or trees. In this case, stability of the pot is important, steer clear of round pots with tapered bases, while deep, square pots make a sturdy bet. Generally, when it comes to round or square pots, it boils down to a matter of taste.
The Perched Water Table
The phenomenon of the perched water table is key when deciding your planter shape. At the bottom of every pot, there is a layer of soil that will always be drenched in water, and will not be drained out by physical forces. This is because the perched table is saturation point, where the capillary action of the soil that pulls water up is cancelled out by the force of gravity that pulls water down.
This formation water can only be evaporated or used by the plant. The soil above this saturated area is the more useful part that allows for gas exchange. The perched water table level in pots filled with the same potting mix, regardless of whether it is a tall pot or short pot, will be the same.
Myth Busted – Pebbles at the Bottom of the Pot?
The idea that clay pebbles, wood pellets, or stones at the bottom of your pot assist with drainage has been debunked. As it is the growing medium, or potting mix, that holds the water, the clay pebbles have little impact on drainage. What happens is that the perched water table ends up on top of the pebbles. However, if the ground is cold, a layer of pebbles at the bottom of the container can serve an insulation purpose.
2. Pot Size
The big and small of it is that size matters when it comes to choosing your pots. If the planter is too minuscule for the plant, the plant could become root-bound and this can lead to slow or stunted growth. However, this does not mean you should place your plant into a large pot. If the container is too large for the plant, the soil will dry slowly causing the roots to stay excessively wet and increasing the chances of root rot. A large pot can also be waste of nutrients, water, and space.
What Does Plant Size Mean?
Plants are often described in sizes i.e., in inches or gallons. This does not refer to the actual plant, in inches it refers to the diameter of the pot that the plant came in and gallons is in reference to its container volume. Take for an example a 10” plant would be a plant that is growing in a pot that is 10” in diameter, or in a pot that is usually 2.5 to 3 gallons. Most pots fit loosely into a system that increase by 2” starting from 2”, then 4”, then 6” etc.
What Size Should I Choose?
Putting a plant into its first proper container or ‘transplanting’ from a smaller pot is called ‘potting up’. The general rule of thumb is to go up 1-2” in diameter if your plant is currently in a pot that is 10” and smaller. If it is bigger than that, then go for a larger pot that is 2-4” bigger than your current pot.
3. Hole-y Water – Drainage
Drainage is king for potted plants. Selecting a container with holes at the bottom is always preferable to one without, this allows you some room to experiment with the watering needs of each individual plant. So, it is best not to use a container without a drainage hole unless you are very familiar with the plant and the amount of water it requires.
The drainage holes allow for excess water to drain out and reduce the chances of root rot. Place a saucer underneath the planter to hold water that leaks out.
Root rot is exactly what it sounds like – your plant’s roots rotting away, which will result in the slow death of the poor plant. This can happen with too much watering and/ or too little drainage. The roots are responsible for absorbing water, minerals, and nutrients. When they are too wet, they start to suffocate.
Root rot can be identified by mushy, soft, brown in colour roots, as opposed to being firm and white. As rotting develops beneath the surface, the first signs are often missed by the gardener. It is difficult to save the plant, especially as pathogens and fungi thrive in wet soil, attacking the already weakened plant. Container plants are the most susceptible to root rot, in this regard, it is wise to choose containers with drainage holes.
4. Plants love Potting Mix
Soil or potting mix is often the most overlooked part of indoor gardening. Yet, the soil is integral to prepping the plant for survival. The soil is there to protect the plant’s roots, to provide stability by keeping the plants upright, to transfer water, minerals, and nutrients to the roots, and to act as a microclimate for air exchanges.
Now, that you are aware that soil is the secret weapon to plant health, do not use the soil from an easily accessible garden plot. Often such soil is a pandora’s pot, filled with things that could harm indoor plants, such as weeds, fungi, insects, and diseases. Plants that grow in planters have different needs than those that grow in the ground.
The large variety of potting mixes respond to the different needs. Speciality potting soil exists, such as succulent soil that works best to support succulents and cacti health. However, there is a one-size-fits-all solution, a general potting soil will suit the needs of most houseplants. More finnicky container plants like orchids might be fussier, be careful to keep the plant label to find the correct soil combination to fill your pot. A good potting soil will create an environment tailored for their health and happiness.
5. Time to Pot the Plant
Why is ‘Potting up’ necessary?
Repotting means fresh soil, and fresh soil means valuable nutrients. Oftentimes, the plant has outgrown its current pot, and its roots need more room, hence a larger pot. Even if the plant is happy with the size of its current container, repotting allows you to remove the depleted soil and refresh it. Sometimes, you simply detest the plain plastic pot that the plant came in from the nursery, and that is okay too.
When should a plant be repotted?
Most plants benefit from a repotting annually or once every 18 months, with faster growing species needing to be ‘potted up’ yearly. Repotting is stressful for the plant, so spring is the best time for transplanting. Plants are coming out of their dormant period and they benefit from the longer and brighter days.
Here are some signs that your plants need a repot
- Roots are poking out of the drainage holes
- Your plant has many yellow or shriveled leaves
- Your plant looks limp and is dropping a lot of leaves
- Your plant is getting too big for the planter
6. How to Pot the Plant
Steps to Repot
- Remove your plant gently sideways from the current pot
- Loosen the roots with your hands
- Remove about a third of the old soil from the pot
- Add new soil into the planter, making sure to pat it down
- Secure your plant back in
Hey There, Good Looking!
Happy plant parents need more than just the correct size, shape, and a good potting mixture for their pot. All that would be for naught if the container is not aesthetically pleasing to the gardener or if it sticks out like a sore thumb in its chosen spot.
Consider the Setting
Plant real estate essentially boils down to ‘location, location, location,’ as well as ‘light, light, light’! First, check that there is adequate light for your plants to thrive, most plants need a full day’s worth of indirect bright light. Be it for your living room or your patio, understand the flow of the spaces so that the pots you choose do not awkwardly stand out. A good starting point would be to consider the architecture of the space and the elements of the interior decoration and use that as a guide.
Style It – Create A Look
For the successful display of your garden, you need to ensure the planters highlight the qualities of your plants. Match the foliage of the plant to your pot. If you have a vividly colourful plant like an anthurium or an orchid, choose an understated pot shape, colour and style. If you have a monstera or a philodendron plant with a Swiss cheese look, perhaps avoid a container that is heavily patterned or has a lot textures. If you are the proud owner of a snake plant, a ponytail palm, or a mother’s-in-law tongue, you could go for a quirky pot with a face for a tongue in cheek vibe.
Keep the proportion of the plant to the pot in mind, you can mix and match this to pleasing visual effect. For example, tall trees kept indoors, like a Madagascar dragon tree, might go well with a taller, very narrow pot to exaggerate its height. While tiny flowers or aloe veras might be paired with squat, short pots that can be elevated on a stand. Or a collection of small plants can all be placed together into a sink-like shallow container.
Choosing the right containers for your plants will be a rewarding challenging. A thriving plant in a beautiful pot will shine in any garden, so make sure you take a look at some of the most interesting planter shapes first!