After tackling the subject of soil, I have decided to write about another important topic which is: how to choose a pot for your houseplant.
Therefore, this article will be the second one in a series of what I’ll be calling: Basics.
My idea is to explain, as clearly as possible, what a beginner should know about growing houseplants.
When I first started growing plants (my first plant was a Hoya Krimson Queen), I had trouble understanding fundamental notions such as lighting, soil, or repotting.
But, the first difficult decisions I had to make were about potting mix and pots.
I knew close to nothing about the differences, pros & cons, or the importance of choosing the right pot.
Knowing the characteristics of the right pot for your plant can be the sole difference between failure and success.
Indeed, the right size, material, or shape will vary depending on the plant. So, it is vital to know what you’re looking for before heading out to the nearest shop.
Luckily for me, I was able to learn fast and, it was super easy too!
In this article, you will learn everything you need about pots and, therefore, how to choose them.
Here we go!
The first question you might be asking yourself (if you’re a beginner) is: why would I need to change my pot?
The answer is twofold.
Firstly, for your plant to grow, its roots need to grow as well. Consequently, it means that these roots will need more space. Therefore, a new larger pot is necessary for that purpose.
Furthermore, keeping the plant in the same pot for too long will cause it to get root-bound.
There are five ways to determine whether a plant needs a new pot.
- You can check the drainage hole for any roots poking out.
- Alternatively, look for any roots growing out of the edges of the pot.
- You notice that the plant isn’t growing anymore.
- The plant needs watering more frequently.
- Decrease in the quality of soil.
If your plant shows any of these signs, it is time to size up.
This is the most common case since most plants will need a repotting every other year for healthy growth.
Secondly, you might need to change the pot if you’re trying to save the plant from fungal disease. Although this case is less frequent, it still happens!
Also, there are other reasons to change the pot such as aesthetics, broken pots, the plant tipping over (because the pot is too small), and convenience (heavy pots).
Now, you cannot move the plant to just any larger pot. This is not how we do it.
When the pot is too large for your plant’s roots, it will take too long to suck up all the water from the soil. The roots will therefore sit in water which can lead to root rot.
Moreover, we will also see further below that the shape of the pot is as important as its size.
How to choose the size of your pot
The first thing I learned when I started researching “how to choose a pot” was this: pick a pot that’s one size up.
It is the most important thing you should keep in mind.
Indeed, if you put your plant in a new pot that’s too large, it will take too long for the roots to suck up all the moisture from the soil. Therefore, they will sit in water which will cause them to rot.
So, let’s say your plant is in a 4″ pot. You will have to choose a pot that is 6″, which is the next size.
When we say a 4″ pot, it means that the said pot has a diameter of 4″. Most pots are measured that way.
By following this simple rule, your plant will easily adjust to its new environment, and the roots will develop healthily.
Note that you can move your plant to a planter that’s 4″ larger if its previous one was at least 10″.
Always remember that your next pot’s size should be decided relative to the old one.
There is another rule that can help you choose the size of your next pot. You can measure the circumference of your plant’s rootball and pick a pot that’s 6″ larger than it. However, the previous rule is much simpler in my opinion.
Let’s now see another factor that can highly impact your plant’s growth: the shape of the pot.
Which shape to pick?
Most people will focus on the pot’s size and neglect its shape. This is because few of them know that a pot’s shape can heavily impact its water retention capabilities.
Indeed, given the same volumes and potting mix, a short pot will hold water at the same level as a tall one.
It means that in the short pot, the plant’s roots will be closer to water than in the tall one (see image below).
This is mainly because of gravity. The taller the pot, the more gravity will pull water down.
Here is a great article on this subject if you’d like to know the science of it all.
With that being said you should pick a tall, narrow pot for plants that like a lot of drainage such as succulents (such as Tiger Jade). On the other hand, choose a wide shallow planter for those that love water.
Now that you know how to pick the right size and shape of your new pot, let’s talk about materials.
What is the best material?
There is no right answer to that question. The best material will depend on your plant, your taste, your budget, and much more.
Below is a detailed list of materials with pros and cons.
Clay & Terracotta
These are by far the most used type of pots. Terracotta pots are relatively cheap depending on the size (cheaper than ceramic pots but more expensive than plastic pots).
They have the advantage of drying out quickly and evenly due to their porous nature. Therefore, you can use them for plants that don’t like sitting in water such as succulents (like the string of watermelons).
Additionally, terracotta pots are neutral in color and allow for a quick way to gauge the current moisture level. Indeed, the more it soaks up water the darker its color will be.
However, they are a bit heavy to handle and can crack in low temperatures. So, it is best to keep them indoors. Also, they’ll dry out even more quickly if left outside in high temperatures.
Furthermore, they will shatter if you mishandle them and drop them.
I love the ceramic pots just because they look so beautiful in my living room. These pots are quite expensive but come in different shapes and colors. Also, they are sturdy and a bit heavy.
They are good for small plants that like a lot of moisture. However, ceramic pots will crack in freezing temperatures just like terracotta and are best kept indoors.
Here is my pick, if you’re going with those.
The cheapest and most available pots since the majority of plants are sold in plastic pots. You can collect them and use them later for starting seeds or leaf propagation.
Also, plastic pots are lightweight, easy to wash, durable, and come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes.
Still, they don’t dry quickly and hold water for long periods. Therefore, they should have a drainage hole in the bottom (more on that later).
Moreover, if left outdoors, plastic pots will heat up during summer days and burn your plant’s roots. So, it is best to keep them indoors as well.
With their natural look, wooden pots are perfect for outdoor houseplants. They are, resistant, heavy, and dry up quickly (even faster than terracotta).
They can break over time but are resistant to heat and cold.
Wicker baskets/Woven grass
These beautiful pots will give a nice look to your home. However, they do not retain water.
So, I would suggest using them as a cachepot instead. Just put a plastic pot with a drainage hole inside a wicker basket and it should be perfect.
The importance of drainage
Drainage is important for most houseplants and especially succulents. So, when choosing a pot I would advise you to favor those with drainage holes.
It is better to have your plant in need of water, than sitting in it.
In case you have pots that lack a drainage hole, you can still drill your own. Indeed, you can use a masonry drill bit for your terracotta and ceramic pots, and any sharp drill for your plastic ones.
Alternatively, you can double pot. This is done by putting a practical pot with a drainage hole (terracotta or plastic pot) inside a larger but stylish pot (glazed ceramic for example). The glazed ceramic pot will serve as a cachepot.
You have to repot your plant to give it enough space for its roots to grow. Typically, you should move your plant to a pot that’s one size larger every two years.
The cheapest are plastic pots, while the most expensive are glazed ceramics.
I would suggest terracotta pots. You can also put them in a tall and narrow glazed ceramic pot with a drainage hole.
Always go for a pot with a drainage hole, that’s safer.
Pick a pot that’s 2″ larger than the current pot your plant is in.
To sum up, it is necessary to repot your houseplant for healthy growth. Therefore, you should pick the right size (2″ larger) and the right shape (tall or short) of your new pot.
In addition, the material will vary depending on many factors. However, choose a plastic pot for decor, plastic pots for propagation, and terracotta pots for your succulents.
You should keep in mind that a drainage hole is very important and choose a pot that has one. If not, you can still drill it on your own.
Also, keep in mind that springtime is the best time to repot. Indeed, your plant will be ready to resume its growth after a long period of dormancy.
However, you should avoid repotting on very hot days because your plant will be stressed enough by the heat.