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Choosing a Pot Plant Container – The Pros and Cons

All Planters Aren’t Created Equal!

Looking at micro gardening in a pot?  If you are confused about what kind of pot or container to choose for your plants, you’re not alone!  There are the good, the bad and the ugly out there …

Choosing a pot - depending on your needs, values and budget, there are a range of choices.

Compare the different options before you decide on your plant container – it may save you time, money and help the environment.

 

A few points to consider:

  • Financial Cost: There are lots of options on the market if you are looking to buy – from cheap and cheerful to decorative and expensive.
  • Product Life: Think about the longevity of the pot you require. Is it for a short term project? If so, looks may not be important. Or is it something you’re prepared to invest in, as a design feature?  Extended durability can mean less consumption of resources.
  • Environmental Impact: Some planter materials and construction processes drain our natural resources. Others have a smaller environmental footprint using less resources. Processes used in manufacture and transport often require significant use of fossil fuels. As a ‘conscious consumer,’ is this important to you? If so, consider making your own pots where possible. Choose pots made from sustainable materials or reuse containers creatively to grow your plants.
  • Time & Energy: If you have limited time, you may want to buy a planter. However, making your own by repurposing a wide range of containers into practical planters, is much easier than you think.  See Repurposed Planters for loads of creative and inspiring low-cost ideas.

 

Basil growing in repurposed tin can planters. Photo: Dov Harrington

Basil growing in repurposed tin can planters.

  • Pros & Cons: You may want to consider some of the advantages and disadvantages of various types of containers before you put your hand in your pocket and go shopping!
  • Your particular situation – there are three key factors which may also influence your decision on which kind of pot to choose.

 

Pros & Cons of Containers Comparison Chart

Here’s a comparison tool I have put together that may help make your decision easier.

 

Pots & Containers Advantages & Disadvantages
Plastic pots (light coloured)

Relatively inexpensive plastic pots with fruit trees.

Lightweight plastic pots heat and cool quickly and minimise root damage in hot weather.

  • Generally cheap. Often available for very low cost from recycling centres or garage sales.
  • Heat and cool quickly so plant roots and microorganisms are not damaged as easily even when in a sunny location.
  • Generally have more drainage holes than terracotta, ceramic and concrete pots.
  • Easy to drill additional holes in base if needed.
  • Lightweight, so suitable for balconies and decks where weight is a consideration.
  • Come in all shapes, colours and sizes, are made from a variety of different plastics and can be spray painted if desired.
  • For younger children, they may be a safer alternative to the standard breakable clay pot.
  • They keep the moisture in but don’t store any reserve themselves, unlike ceramics and terracotta.
  • However, plastics are petroleum based products. They drain our natural resources so consider the environmental impact – there are other more sustainable choices.
  • There are also health issues associated with some plastics – if you are using plastic pots, try to use the least toxic ones (#2 HDPE, #4 LDPE, and #5 PP) and avoid #3 PVC, #6 PS, and #7 polycarbonate.
  • Current research seems to indicate the majority of plant pots are made from polypropylene (#5 or PP – currently one of the safer plastics) however it’s better to check than assume.
  • The Environmental Working Group (a very useful resource for those concerned about health and toxics in our environment) also recommends discarding scratched or worn plastic containers to avoid leaching of chemicals.
  • They do not tend to last more than a few seasons – as with most plastics, sunlight gradually degrades them and they become fragile. If using them, look for the thicker ones for durability. Keep them under cover when not in use – they’ll last longer.
  • Once broken down, it may be challenging to find a way of reusing them so consider the environmental impact at the end of their life if they have to end up in landfill also.
  • If you want to change your current plastic pots for another alternative, consider taking them to your local recycling centre; or donating them to a community garden or local nursery and perhaps swapping for some free plants or cuttings in exchange.
Black plastic pots
  • Heat up quickly and provide little insulation.
  • Avoid using in full sun but OK to use in shady positions.
White Polystyrene (foam) boxes

(Food grade) – also known as EP or expanded polystyrene boxes

Painted polystyrene box

White polystyrene boxes can be painted to make them more attractive as micro gardens

  • Provide great insulation – have excellent thermal properties.
  • White colour reflects light/heat so helps insulate plant roots – useful in hot climates.
  • Cheap (usually free) from greengrocers.
  • Easily available – most greengrocers, supermarkets and fish mongers are happy to offload them rather than pay for them to be taken away to landfill.
  • Useful for when visual appeal is not a priority – or just paint/decorate them!
  • Deep (like broccoli boxes) provide some level of insulation but shallow boxes can get hot.
  • Good drainage – most boxes (with the exception of a few sizes including the deeper broccoli boxes) also happen to have great drainage holes.  If not, you can easily make your own holes.
  • Lightweight – easy to transport and stack.
  • Durable – they are stable and last well even in hot sunny climates.
  • Easy to clean – just need a wipe down with a wet cloth or hose.
  • Come in a variety of sizes and depths – you have a great choice with polystyrene boxes so you can choose which best meets your particular needs.
  • Not particularly attractive – OK if this is not an issue although they can be painted to suit your tastes.
  • Reusing these boxes helps keep them out of landfill and is kinder to our environment.
  • If they start to degrade or become damaged, do not use them.
Terracotta, ceramic and concrete pots that usually only have one hole in the base.

Terracotta pots with herbs may need more watering as they lose moisture in hot weather.

Clay pots are porous but breakable and have a lot of pros and cons to consider.

  • These materials generally offer more visually appealing options in terms of colour and design.
  • Provide inadequate drainage for most species of plants.
  • You have to drill additional holes in the base without breaking the pot!
  • Lightweight terracotta pots tend to be more breakable and chip easily.
  • Prone to cracking when soil freezes and expands in cold-weather zones.
  • These materials retain heat for long periods – whilst some species may benefit from this, the potting mix can become very hot in sunny positions, killing microorganisms and burning plant roots.
  • These materials are porous so draw moisture from the potting mix and dry out more quickly.  Plants require more frequent watering (higher maintenance).
  • Re-potting can be a major challenge to avoid breaking the pots.
  • Ceramic pots that are often curved in shape at the top make it difficult to repot or change the potting mix.
  • Glazed ceramic pots tend to be heavy and are waterproof so hold moisture better.
  • Terracotta is widely available, there are a large variety of shapes and sizes to choose from and the basic unglazed clay pots are not expensive.
  • Unglazed clay pots are perfect for children to paint.
  • They absorb mineral salts and may produce a white crusty build-up on the outside.
  • Clay pots are breakable, and the chards can have sharp edges, so not necessarily a good idea for very young children.
  • Plants put directly inside terracotta and cement pots can stain the outside from the salts and minerals in the soil and water.  This can be avoided by painting the inside and bottom with a coat of non-toxic waterproof paint.
  • They are bottom heavy (weight is generally at the base) so suitable for windy sites.
  • Concrete planters come in much larger sizes so are suitable for large shrubs and trees but their additional weight may be a consideration in some situations.  If this is the case, faux concrete products may be a better option as they are more lightweight.
  • There are a number of environmental issues associated with concrete products.
  • Concrete is a good insulator so suits climates with severe changes in weather because it helps buffer plants and soil from extremes in temperature.
  • Concrete is porous so may need sealing and should be properly cured to avoid impacting the soil alkalinity.
  • Concrete is high in lime which is toxic to many plants.  Prior to use, water the pot or trough thoroughly several times and allow the water to drain away each time so excess lime dissipates.  Alternatively, allow the concrete planter to sit outdoors in the rain for several weeks so lime can leach out before planting.
  • Clay has been used for thousands of years and is generally considered to be a sustainable resource.
Stone containers

Stone containers often suit feature plants that make a statement.

Stone containers are solid and stable.

  • Some old planters made of natural stone have loads of character, look attractive and very ornamental but tend to be very expensive and heavy.
  • Reconstructed or faux stone containers are cheaper and quite widely available in different sizes and styles.  They are also more lightweight.
  • They are solid, have good heat insulation and last a long, long time.
  • Given the embodied energy used to produce these containers and their long life, they are one of the more environmentally friendly choices.
  • Genuine stone ages beautifully with changes in colour.
  • Breakable and heavier to move around.
  • Many stone planters are made from a mix of limestone and lightweight fibreglass so they are more manoeuvrable, durable and waterproof.
  • Production processes for faux stone planters simulate textures and patterns on natural stone so they are very difficult to tell they are not the real thing!
Self-watering pots

Self watering pots cut down time spent watering

Self watering pots usually have a reservoir system in the base

  • Unsuitable for large plants like fruit trees or shrubs as roots work their way into the water reservoir at the bottom, leading to water logging and diseases.
  • More suitable for hanging basket situations that receive ventilation and are likely to dry out quickly.
  • Are usually lightweight so may be useful where pot weight is a consideration.
  • Plants that can cope with ‘wet feet’ may be suitable for these types of pots including indoor varieties like Spathiphillum (Peace Lily) and some ferns.
  • Be careful to remove the ‘plug’ at the bottom of the pot if using in an outdoor area that is open to rain or else the pot will fill up and drown.
  • Handy for people who are busy, away a lot or forgetful gardeners.
  • Contain a hidden reservoir that you fill with water and a wick or delivery system to filter it up to the plant.
  • Useful for smaller plants that may have to be watered more than once a day.
  • Helpful in situations where space is limited, hard to reach places, hanging baskets with higher maintenance needs or groups of plants where some pots are at the back and hard to water.
  • Can be more expensive for the initial outlay but benefits may outweigh this cost.
  • Help reduce the frequency of plant waterings but won’t eliminate them!
  • Again, these containers are most often made of plastic so consider the environmental impact of this choice.
Hanging & wall mounted baskets

Tiered hanging baskets make use of vertical space

Hanging baskets help make the most of vertical space and can provide shade and privacy.

  • Generally inexpensive to buy, the framework is usually made from plastic-coated wire which makes them light and rustproof.
  • When heavily exposed to the weather they can heat up and dry out quickly.  Keep away from windy positions to prevent rapid drying of the soil which can cause extreme damage to the plant’s root system resulting in a plant fatality or one that has poor foliage and flowers.
  • For long term rust prevention and to make them both attractive, some baskets are powder coated inside.
  • Available in a wide variety of materials including coconut fibre, synthetic, wrought iron, coated wire and metal that come with natural liners often made out of coir (coconut fibre) or sphagnum moss.
  • Consider the material they are made from – where possible choose natural fibres and sustainable resources which are not detrimental to our environment.
  • Some liners are made out of recycled plastic bottles and are porous with a looser weave – however if you are considering growing food, consider the safety of growing in recycled plastics which may leach toxic chemicals into the soil.
  • After watering, water may drip out the bottom onto another surface so need to be located above other plants to maximise watering or positioned over a surface that does not matter if it gets wet.
  • Available in self-watering designs with a water reservoir at the bottom, reducing the frequency of watering needed.
Wooden window and planter boxes and containers

Wooden tub of herbs

Wooden containers are usually attractive but have maintenance and environmental issues to consider.

  • Usually light-mid weight depending on the dimensions of the planter and type of wood.
  • Add heaps of character and are available in a wide variety of timbers and colours.
  • Are very functional when combined with other garden features like bench seats, trellises and storage.
  • Can be painted or made with pressure-treated woods, for a longer useful life.
  • For food safety, you will need to check which chemical preservative treatments have been used or whether it needs sealing before being used as a container for growing edibles.
  • Not all preservatives are bio-friendly. Older wooden containers may have been treated with chemicals such as CCA which leaches arsenic into the soil, kills insects and is unsuitable for food crops.  There are safe alternative timber treatments available for DIY timber preservation but there is additional cost and time involved.
  • The timber used may not be from a sustainable resource.  Look for companies creating products from sustainable timber plantations or bamboo.
  • Can be bought both ready made and finished, or as DIY kits.
  • They are very attractive, provide good heat insulation for the soil and can be easy and cheap to make to the exact size you need.
  • Help insulate plant roots from the sun and too much heat.
  • Sometimes the wood can split, or the metal bands (in the case of a half-barrel) or nails can go rusty and weaken the structure.  Use rust proof nails if making your own container.
  • Timber is a natural resource so some pest insects may take up residence.
  • Container bottoms may rot if they get too moist so they need to be elevated and have adequate drainage.  Portable trolleys with castors are a good option for wooden pots and also help with mobility for heavy tubs when filled with soil and plants.
  • To avoid timber rotting, put another pot inside a wooden planter (use as a cache pot) and use only for external decoration or line with heavy duty black plastic with drainage holes.  If using black plastic, avoid planting edibles due to possible chemical leaching.
  • Relatively durable and unlikely to break, they stand up to the cold well.
  • Usually a good choice for larger container gardening projects, and one which is easy to paint and add that personal touch to.
  • Do require maintenance with a preservative treatment every year or so.  Treat wooden planters with a non-toxic stain, paint or a waterproofing agent.  Oil can also help preserve the timber and keep it from drying out.
  • Untreated wooden planters will lose their visual appeal and eventually rot in time.
  • Rot resistant timbers like redwood and cedar don’t require painting.
Metal containers

This metal tub of pansies is positioned in a sheltered spot so it won't cook the flowers!

Metal containers can add character but be aware they heat up too if in direct sun during hot weather.

  • Are usually attractive and very decorative.
  • Are durable – won’t chip, crack or break.
  • Provide little insulation and heat up rapidly which causes the soil to dry out and increase the possibility of root damage. Use some form of insulation such as a clay or plastic pot liner.
  • Avoid the old-fashioned toxic lead planters if you have small children or you want to grow vegetables.
  • Often used as ‘cache pots’— decorative containers which hold a plant in a plastic or less attractive pot inside – also prevents the heat from directly affecting the plant roots.
  • Most metal containers will age gracefully with an aged patina or beautiful colour, although depending on the type of metal, some will rust.
  • Metal is non-porous so drainage is a major consideration.  Make sure you are able to drill adequate holes in the container.
  • Weight may be a consideration depending on the type of metal.  Cast iron is particularly heavy and may not be suitable for balcony gardens or apartments – check the weight tolerance first or position around the perimeter of the balcony where there is more structural strength.
  • In wet regions such as humid sub-tropical or tropical areas where heavy rainfall is common, outside metal planters may require the addition of a non-toxic rust inhibitor to prevent deterioration in the weather.  Otherwise, to keep metal containers looking their best, consider locating them under cover.
Grow bags

Grow bags with potatoes

Grow bags are cheap and lightweight and easy for renters to pick up and move.

  • A relatively new concept for the domestic market, grow bags are strong and very cheap considering the volume they hold.
  • Are lightweight and many have handles so are easy to move.
  • Are UV resistant (usually made from woven UV treated polypropylene) which makes them quite durable.
  • Very compact – they fold up like a shopping bag so easy to transport and due to their flexibility, makes re-potting easy.
  • Have good drainage holes and are strong so can take a wide variety of plants from shallow veggies and herbs to trees.
  • Come in a variety of sizes, colours and shapes.  Generally green is the most popular colour but they can be put inside another decorative cache pot if desired for aesthetics.
  • Can lean a bit if the soil potting mix is not well watered in.
  • Generally regarded as a temporary home for plants.
  • Particularly suit renters who need a portable garden when they move house.
Upside-down grow bags

Tomatoes growing in an upside down tomato planter

Upside down planters are a popular space saving growing system particularly for edible plants like tomatoes.

  • They are specifically designed for food crops such as tomatoes and potatoes but can be adapted for other plants too.
  • Small amount of space required as they hang from a hook so no floor space is needed.
  • They are usually ornamental and attractive.
  • Because the soil system is open on the sides on a hanging planter, it can warm much quicker than with plants grown in the ground.
  • Less likely for weeds to grow and easy to mulch.
  • The chance of soil borne diseases is reduced as the soil does not splash up on the plants when they are watered.
  • Less likelihood of disease problem as there is better air circulation around the plants when hanging.
  • No support system such as cages, stakes or tying required – plants simply hang down with gravity.
  • Heavy weight due to the large volume of potting mix in these planters.  After water is added they can get too heavy to carry or hang.
  • The size of the bag has to be relatively small so it is light enough to carry and hang so the root system is smaller than a tomato plant grown in the ground. Smaller determinate varieties of tomatoes for example need to be selected rather than large ones that won’t grow well in these conditions.
  • The root system is exposed to evaporation on several sides so in the warmer summer months you may need to water daily to keep a large tomato plant going.
Cachepots or double pots (e.g. wicker baskets and decorative containers)

Attractive cache pots with pebble mulch

Cache pots are a popular way to use a decorative outer pot to hide an inner ugly one!

  • Decorative ornamental containers used for holding and concealing ordinary cheap or unattractive grow pot(s) – often flowers but can be used for any plant.
  • Slightly larger containers – Ideal for temporary displays of potted colour or for positioning plants in less than ideal locations e.g. sun-loving flowers in a shady spot or indoor table decorations.  This concept is suitable for rotating plants from indoors back outside for a short period and then returning them to the cachepot.  Cyclamen flowers are a good example.
  • Potted colour (e.g. flowering annuals like pansies) can even manage to flower for a short period in temporary shade.  Just rotate from sitting in a cachepot in a shady spot and move to a sunny position every few days.  Swap with a replacement pot of flowers and then reverse so flowers are not deprived of sun for too long.
  • Aesthetic value – cachepots give the plant a “finished look” – Plants can be replaced if you don’t like the look or the way the plant is performing.
  • Suitable for testing whether a plant will do well in a position without having to re-pot it permanently.
  • Plant and the roots are not disturbed, no mess to change the look and no heavy pots to move around.
  • Pots without drain holes can be used and cachepots can hold a saucer for excess water that drains out of the grow pot.
  • If the decorative cachepot is too tall for the interior grow pot, a piece of Styrofoam in the bottom of the cachepot will raise the plant and assist drainage.
  • Usually unsuitable plant containers such as lightweight, inexpensive and attractive woven baskets can be lined with plastic and become cachepots.

 

At the end of the day, all containers have pros and cons – next time you’re considering buying, repurposing or making your own container, hopefully these guidelines will help you make a better choice.

Still want more information on pots?  Check out some Tips for Growing a Garden in Pots, 5 Thrifty Recycling Ideas for making your own and consider the Benefits of Using Repurposed Planters.  You will also find a lot of tips in the Container Gardening category.

Did you find this information helpful?  Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences with containers you have used … the good, the bad and the ugly or leave a comment below.  Keep up to date with new posts by subscribing to my newsletter (and grab your free eBook) or click on the RSS feed below or to the right.

 

© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2010-2013 – http://www.themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.

61 responses so far

61 Responses to “Choosing a Pot Plant Container – The Pros and Cons”

  1. […] To help make the decision easier, you may also want to consider some of the pros and cons of various types of pots and containers. […]

  2. […] If you liked this article, you might also enjoy Three Factors to Consider when Choosing Pots, Container Ideas, Container Gardening and Choosing a Container – The Pros and Cons. […]

  3. […] away freely.  If your pots get waterlogged frequently, consider drilling more holes in the pot or transplanting into a more suitable container.  Adding gravel to the pot saucer will also help drainage or put the pot up on feet or a portable […]

  4. Gardens for Kids | The Micro Gardeneron 21 Feb 2011 at 3:05 pm

    […] them choose a container and get creative decorating their own pot. Kids can make creative pots from beads, shells and odd […]

  5. […] If you are wanting to get your children interested in growing – from edibles to ornamentals, multi-functional plants, flowers or habitat gardens – there are plenty of inspirational ideas to get started here.  If you don’t have room for an entire theme garden, take the ideas and miniaturise them for a container or pot. […]

  6. […] a limited space and budget, it’s not always possible to buy new plant containers or garden art but you can still achieve a dream look and great functional growing spaces by […]

  7. […] sure?  You can find out more about specific materials such as terracotta, concrete and plastic in Choosing A Container – the Pros and Cons or leave a comment and I’ll try and check it out for […]

  8. […] you are ready to get started growing in a pot, make sure you choose the right container and consider these three key factors before you spend any […]

  9. […] Choose Your Plant Container Carefully – Different materials heat up quickly or lose moisture due to porosity so think about your pot […]

  10. Make Use Of | AllGraphicsOnline.comon 22 May 2011 at 1:02 pm

    […] make use of vertical space themicrogardener.com […]

  11. […] your shoes have served their purpose, why not give them a new green life as a planter?  Add a few drainage holes with a screwdriver for soft soled shoes and use a drill for leather […]

  12. […] more than one variety of beans to grow at the same time in different containers or garden beds and compare how tall and fast they grow. Some of the climbing bean varieties are […]

  13. […] Windy weather:  In high-wind areas or exposed high rise apartment and balcony gardens, consider anchoring lightweight vertical garden structures down.  A-Frames and tepees can be secured by nailing stakes at the corners or drilling holes into the stakes and running string or wire to connect them to a stronger structure or heavy container. […]

  14. […] Like: A nice warm bed in a sunny position – either in either a pot or the garden and well-fertilised moist soil with good drainage.  I like mineral rich compost and […]

  15. […] treasure.  If you don’t want to fill the drawers with soil/potting mix, then use them as cachepots for smaller pots or […]

  16. […] farming’ might be a new thought to you or you might already be intensively cropping in containers or a backyard plot.  Whatever stage you are at, I urge you to keep at it. It doesn’t require […]

  17. […] over time all sorts of plants popping up in your garden that you didn’t plant!  Even in small pots!  How many times have you seen a tomato seedling appear miraculously from […]

  18. […] ‘frame’ like a camera often helps!  What can you see inside the ‘frame?’ Maybe a tall container is needed where everything else is low-growing.  Perhaps a vertical ladder with plants on the […]

  19. […] Looking: Want to make it prettier? Get creative and give the box a coat of paint or choose another container you like […]

  20. Benefits of Container Gardening |on 18 Sep 2012 at 2:43 pm

    […] Accents: Decorative pots and urns can act as focal points or statements in the home or […]

  21. pennyon 14 Oct 2012 at 3:15 pm

    I have some large containers with plastic inserts with taps on, they say they contained formaldehyde and phenol hydroxide the numbers 888 on and corrosive “something”. Friends using as veg planters which is what I wanted to do but the formaldehyde is a bit worrying? Was told to give good wash once & cut the tops out of them! Will this be ok?

  22. The Micro Gardeneron 15 Oct 2012 at 10:51 am

    Hi Penny
    It sounds like you are considering repurposing a plastic container for use as a planter – here are some guidelines that you might find helpful to consider when choosing planters for growing food. I personally would recommend only using food grade containers or materials you feel comfortable with after doing your due diligence. The label does sound concerning to me and I’d probably steer clear of growing food in anything that may contaminate the soil or food. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen (Class A = worst kind) and can leach from many everyday materials including plastics (they off gas or release toxic fumes particularly when they are new). You may want to do your own research on phenol hydroxide (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenol) and whether this poses any dangers in your particular plastic container. If it also contains a corrosive substance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrosive_substance) I would avoid it too. Hope this helps. 🙂

  23. Guide to Growing Spring Onions |on 27 Nov 2012 at 5:43 pm

    […] Container grown spring onions may need more frequent watering. Use a quality potting mix that retains moisture. […]

  24. […] along the edge of a garden bed or container as a border to highlight the shape and structure of the container.  White, silver or grey and blue work well when they are teamed up with most other […]

  25. 6 Easy DIY Container Garden Projects |on 31 Jan 2013 at 9:05 am

    […] 1: Choose your planter. [See Sensational Shoe Planters and Clever Plant Container Ideas for some […]

  26. Easy Guide to Growing Microgreens |on 10 Mar 2013 at 4:24 pm

    […] your microgreens have all been harvested, reuse your potting mix in your compost or another pot. As the plants have been grown so quickly the soil will still be full of nutrients to help raise […]

  27. Deitra Brunneron 01 May 2013 at 12:58 am

    I’ve only read two of your articles and I have concluded that this is probably the most informative and useful gardening site that I have yet to run across and I have been reading and trying to get up the nerve to try this for well over two years. One of my issues has been lack of supplies and the first article that I read stated how to go to the market and ask for the foam boxes. I don’t know yet if this is feasible here, but at least I have a viable starting point. I hope this works and I can mark off containers and proceed from there. I think I can afford the seed and will have to start saving to get the supplies for the mix, but I’m beginning to believe I can do this…with your help! lol
    I have gotten excited before after reading a website, but then when I wanted to purchase it was cost prohibitive. I think your website just may be what people like me need…
    Thank you very much; your work is highly appreciated!
    Stay Blessed and a Blessing

  28. The Micro Gardeneron 01 May 2013 at 8:14 am

    Hi Deitra
    Thank you so much for your lovely comment – it truly made my day! And certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of sharing what I do is hearing that this helps people around the world become more self-reliant to grow their own food without it costing an arm and a leg. Take little steps and NEVER give up on your goal to grow your own small garden. The rewards are SO worth it.
    Love and blessing to you too. 🙂

  29. Brianon 14 Jan 2014 at 2:51 am

    You briefly mention glazed pots. They certainly look nicer, especially where a person may have limited space for growing such as a patio, or interior use. However, I have concerns about toxic elements such as lead that may have been used in the glazing process. I have a few inexpensive containers that are only glazed on the outside but a few drops of water on the inside shows they are porous and I wonder what may come through? A number of web sites suggest various sealants but I am not sure if I trust any of these. Perhaps for decorative plants but not for containers producing edibles. I may end up buying plastic pots and putting them inside the ceramic ones.

  30. The Micro Gardeneron 15 Jan 2014 at 9:19 pm

    Hi Brian

    Yes I agree with you – glazed pots are decorative and can be long lasting if well cared for but you raise a valid point about possible leaching of toxic substances.

    According to Digitalfire Ceramics article Are Your Glazes Food Safe or are They Leachable?, “If a glaze is made from harmless materials like silica, dolomite, kaolin, feldspar, whiting, ball clay, etc. leaching is only a functional and aesthetic issue. But if the glaze employs metallic colorants (other than iron) or other minerals containing lithium, barium, lead, chrome, etc. then safety and legal liability becomes a concern.

    The likelihood of leaching is not just a matter of whether the ingredients used to make a glaze are dangerous. The issue is complex, involving the ways in which the materials are prepared and fired and the formulations that are used. It is possible to use toxic materials safely and it is possible to compromise an otherwise safe glaze by unbalanced mixtures.”

    The quality of the glazes, whether they have been tested or not, and their source of origin can all influence the safety of glazed pots. The University of Rochester Medical Center raises some interesting points in ‘Ceramics: Pretty, and Maybe Poisonous‘.

    If you are not certain the glazed pots you have are food safe, I agree with the solutions you suggest. Use the glazed pots as cachepots by inserting a smaller food grade pot inside; use for non-edibles/ornamentals or research sealants. See my post on Choosing Safe Containers for Growing Food for more information and tips including safe plastics.

    Hope this helps.

  31. Ginaon 22 Apr 2014 at 5:57 am

    I was wondering what you think are the pros and cons of using Fiberglass planters? As a sales rep for plantplanters.com I am constantly being asked about the durability of Fiberglass planters for planting trees, for instance. I always recommend to my customers to contact a gardening specialist for selecting plants and for recommendations for planting in a fiberglass planter so not to damage the planter, but I feel like it would benefit me to understand this too so I can help.

    I conducted a search on Google to try and locate this information and your article above is exactly what I was looking for, but there is no mention of fiberglass planters. Do you have an opinion on planting in these types of planters? Any insight would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  32. Anne Gibsonon 28 Apr 2014 at 2:47 pm

    I haven’t read any research studies on fibreglass planters Gina. Perhaps you should contact the manufacturer of the pots and ask if they are manufactured with a food-grade coating on their interior surface?

  33. David Allenon 23 Apr 2014 at 8:04 am

    Greetings Anne! I have a question that’s semi-related to what you’ve posted here. My wife is making Gourds and wants to plant edible plants inside of them. The kicker is we need something to insulate the Gourd so it doesn’t rot. Is there a “spray on plastic” or rubber that we can use to spray coat the interior of the Gourd, or is there a better approach? Also, what can we use that is guaranteed to NOT leak poisons and carcinogens into the soil and plant? Essentially we’re looking for a green solution to prevent the Gourds from rotting while we plant herbs and other things that we eat in them.

  34. Anne Gibsonon 28 Apr 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Hi David, if your gourds are properly cured/dried, do you need to line them with anything? It’s a great idea to use them as temporary container gardens – much like a coconut shell or other natural material. You could try lining one with pure beeswax to see if that helps preserve it somewhat. Or perhaps weed mat cut to size.

    In any case, you still need drainage holes to release any excess moisture. If you choose your herbs carefully and only plant those that prefer drier soil (e.g. thyme and rosemary), then perhaps it wouldn’t be too much of an issue? Or perhaps use them to grow succulents that need very little water.

    Or, depending on the shape and opening, perhaps you could use your gourds as cachepots? Outer decorative pots with smaller containers inside them.

    Alternatively, you could try emailing the American Gourd Society [rehmje@valkyrie.net] to see if their members have a solution to this!

    Hope this helps give you some ideas. Let me know what you decide to do – and what works! I’d love to see a pic if you’d like to send me one to share.

  35. Rhonaon 12 May 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Hi,

    i was looking to start a small indoor herb garden. i am really keen for this to be as organic as possible starting with using the most food safe pots! i was wondering if i could use glass jars, bigger versions though more like glass food storage jars? would that work?

    Rhona

  36. Anne Gibsonon 13 May 2014 at 7:54 am

    Hi Rhona
    There are a few things to know when considering what kind of containers to grow your food in. Here are 2 articles which will explain the basics and this should help you make more informed decisions.
    1. Choose Safe Containers for Growing Food
    2. 3 Key Factors to Consider When Choosing Pots.
    Glass, whilst clean and hygienic won’t offer you drainage holes and this is critical. I encourage you to think creatively about what you CAN repurpose as containers from your home – there are plenty of suggestions and inspiration on this site. See the Articles Category on Container Ideas.
    Hope this helps. 🙂

  37. […] Ever bought a plant and tossed out the plastic pot afterwards?  Think again!  Although these plastic pots are often not very attractive, depending on the size, they may be perfect to raise another plant in […]

  38. Kateon 30 Jun 2014 at 11:30 pm

    Hello,

    I am looking into what pots to use for our vegetable garden since at our current house we do not have space to put a garden in the ground. I heard somewhere that clay could be contaminated with heavy metals and pesticides depending on where they come from… Is this true? I was considering using clay/terracotta because I have some chemically sensitive people in my family and it seemed like a better option than plastic. Drainage/heat is not an issue, btw.

    Thank you.

  39. Anne Gibsonon 01 Jul 2014 at 11:15 am

    Hi Kate

    Clay/unfired terracotta has a porous surface, so can absorb chemicals and toxic heavy metals if present. In fact, bentonite clay is used to detox pesticides and heavy metals from the body. You don’t mention where you are concerned heavy metals or pesticides may contaminate your garden so I have addressed this below.

    As you have chemically sensitive family members, I suggest you consider not only the pot, but also what kind of soil and soil amendments you use i.e. try to use certified organic where possible and research the source of all other inputs. I would also recommend adding zeolite to your potting mix as it helps bind toxic metals and renders them inert. An insurance policy of sorts. I use this in my garden and add to my potting mix. It stays in the soil forever so is an economical investment in soil + human health.

    Another consideration is your yard/environment. If you are concerned about chemicals, then I assume you won’t be using them in any form e.g. fertilizers, herbicides etc. This also means thinking about each aspect of your garden – not just the pot. Source non-chemically treated seeds/seedlings, safe containers, make your own potting mix with ingredients you are happy with and add minerals to your soil for plant and human health. There are many on the market but look for OMRI on the packaging if in the US or certified organic in your country of origin.

    I hope this helps! Cheers Anne

  40. Inside Edibleson 26 Jul 2014 at 2:21 am

    […] wood, plastic, or metal. For a detailed breakdown of the pros and cons of various planters, visit The Micro Gardener, who’s done a nice job talking it out for you. Protip: if you’re going to go the store-bought […]

  41. Taraon 04 Aug 2014 at 9:09 am

    I have some terracotta pots that my kids painted for me. They used a gluten free eco paint and I would like to seal this on the pot. I am planting aloe that we consume in it and want to know what I can use to seal the paint on that will not leach into the soil of the plant.
    I plan on using olive or coconut oil on the inside to help water from going through a little. But mostly I don’t want the paint to rinse off the outside when I water the plants.

    Thanks so MUCH!!!!

  42. Anne Gibsonon 04 Aug 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Hi Tara
    I haven’t used the GF eco paint so not sure exactly what sort of sealer would be suitable. Perhaps you could contact the manufacturer and find out if they also make a zero or low VOC sealer? Or use your painted pot as a cachepot (decorative outer pot) & actually plant the aloe vera into a smaller pot inside it so it won’t matter if you use a chemical-based sealer.
    Hope this helps with some options.

  43. How to Grow & Use Nasturtiums |on 26 Aug 2014 at 9:04 am

    […] Choose compact dwarf varieties like compact Alaska Variegated, Empress of India, Cherry Rose Jewel or Nasturtium Fiesta Blend for micro garden spaces like containers. […]

  44. Martin Phulchereon 04 Oct 2014 at 6:08 am

    Your site is very much informative and enlightening, however, i’ve a problem with your comparative analysis of concrete pots vs plastic pots in respect of environmental friendliness and other planting considerations. Your analysis sound more like one trying to promote plastic pots.

  45. Anne Gibsonon 10 Oct 2014 at 9:40 pm

    Hi Martin thanks for your feedback. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but just a starting point to help people consider some of their options. I encourage readers to do their own due diligence into what might be suitable for their personal choices and environmental values. I don’t promote one type of container material over another, and most certainly not plastic! These are just personal observations and research I’ve done to date. I’m happy to look into concrete further if you could provide more specific information regarding your comment.

  46. Wine onlineon 13 Oct 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Excellent post. I definitely love this site.
    Keep it up!

  47. safnaon 29 Oct 2014 at 12:11 am

    hai, please let me know any problem to put 2 vegetable plants in a container

  48. Anne Gibsonon 29 Oct 2014 at 8:51 am

    Hi Safna, it would depend on which vegetables you are planning to put together and in what size/type of container. Some vegies need more personal space to grow than others and do better if given their own large pot (e.g. tomatoes). Small shallow rooted leafy greens like lettuce though, can share a container. Check out my post on spacing common vegetables and herbs for more tips.

  49. […] heavy rain, hail damage or broken pots from wind, I can easily shift them to a protected spot. Heavy pots are best on castors so they can be moved […]

  50. christine eckardon 12 Jan 2015 at 11:06 am

    Could you please advise me what type of paint is the best to paint the outside of Styrofoam boxes. Do they need to be coated with some sort of paint sealer first?
    Thank you for a very informative site.

  51. Anne Gibsonon 16 Jan 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Hi Christine

    I use a non-toxic acrylic water-based craft paint for painting polystyrene boxes. You have to do your homework with the brand as many types of paints are solvent-based and will literally eat away at the polystyrene surface (as I found out the hard way!!)

    These are a couple of articles that may open up your options:

    http://www.ehow.com/info_8167483_paints-compatible-polystyrene.html
    http://www.ehow.com/how_6659019_paint-styrofoam.html

    Hope this helps – would love you to email me a pic of your project when finished.

  52. jpotson 22 Jan 2015 at 12:08 am

    Hi Anne,

    We have loved reading through the pros and cons for different plant containers and exploring your website.

    Maybe you should try our jpots (www.jpots.co.uk), they’re plant pots made entirely from bamboo and natural colourings.

    They can be purchased on Amazon and come in different colours (coloured with food standard dye).

    We hope you enjoy using them!

    The jpot team

  53. Jennifer Picketton 26 Jan 2015 at 1:42 am

    I’m looking into these planters and read the review saying it’s got materials known to cause cancer. Do you think that’s the basket itself or the coconut liner?
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B002YG8FLY/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?qid=1422200478&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SY200_QL40&dpPl=1&dpID=41VATiaTRnL&ref=plSrch

  54. Anne Gibsonon 26 Jan 2015 at 12:39 pm

    Hi Jennifer
    It’s hard to tell without contacting the manufacturer. Looks like it’s produced in China so I am guessing it is treated with chemicals during the quarantine/importing process. Here’s an example of New Zealand standards which require either heat treatment or with Ethylene oxide. This is because some coir peat products that have been imported have contained foreign weed seeds – See ‘Weed Biosecurity Breach Through Coco Peat Imports‘. In Australia, the approved treatments for imported coir products may include methyl bromide. Countries have strict import requirements to prevent such occurrences but the standards may include chemical treatments. According to EWG (Environmental Working Group), Ethylene oxide is a known carcinogen amongst other things.
    I can’t make any recommendations other than to suggest you do further due diligence if considering this product. Perhaps you can source a locally produced product instead?

  55. Lava Familyon 15 Feb 2015 at 12:56 am

    At the top of this page you have a bunch of purple clay pots. I need to get a note to the company who makes these. I need clay imported from France. I need shallow but very wide mouth pots. I am looking to have sets of two made and ten sets of each. I need them to have on one set hands, on one set feet and on one set teeth or mouths with teeth. Beautiful but cute their artist are free to design whatever they feel is attractive. If this company has contacts from around the world I would need green/purple from Italy, orange/red/yellow from Germany, Red from England, Purple/red from China, red from Scotland all with the same kind of design. My card is secured for this reason you will need to contact Master Card’s secured card department, asking for Jasmine seems to help. DEBIT ONLY There is a ten thousand dollar gift for all who help get this to us as soon as you can just let Jasmine know if your and your delivery staff make up 20 people till her the gift is times twenty. I do ask that their boxes note which nation they were imported form. Master Card 5114950005949951 security code 149 EX: There is none. Ship to 41Country Rte19 Hudson NY 12534.and90 N. Second St. Hudson NY 12534. I would like if they could to sun bake and glaze only the out side if they could and fill the inside with dirt to match the color clay. If they cannot I will take about 50 lbs. of clay and glaze and dirt but understand I am not artistic at all and need their artist help.The slow cooker uses a purple clay. Thank you and have a wonderful life 🙂 http://www.globalmarket.com/product-info/natural-purple-clay-slow-cooker-214243.html If you scroll down you will see a face the clay used is purple. http://www.binghamheritage.org.uk/history_of_bingham/roman/

  56. John B.on 23 Feb 2015 at 5:25 am

    Hi,
    Nice presentation. Are there affordable clay and other planters that do not contain lead (in the clay and/or the glaze)? Most of the beautiful planters I’ve seen lately are from China, Vietnam, etc. Have any of these suppliers been vetted for producing planters for indoor fruits and vegetables? If so, please pass a retail link along if possible. Thanks.

  57. Anne Gibsonon 25 Feb 2015 at 10:04 am

    Hi John

    I haven’t done recent research on ‘lead free’ pots but try a Google search using these terms or ‘safe for food’. These are a few links that may help:

    http://www.fda.gov/downloads/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/UCM234334.pdf
    http://www.emersoncreekpottery.com/go-green-ceramic-pottery.shtml

    You can test pottery for lead. Lead-testing kits are sold in hardware stores and online and often come with swabs and instructions. They won’t damage the pottery. With most, the swab will change colours if lead leaches onto the swab. If a test reveals a positive result for leachable lead, obviously it won’t be suitable for cooking, serving, or storing food or drinks, or growing food. Unfortunately, no amount of washing, boiling, or other process can remove lead from pottery. This is one lead testing kit I’m aware of that is suitable for testing many surfaces including pottery.

  58. Louiseon 13 Mar 2015 at 10:25 am

    Hi again Anne
    After discovering the potential hazards of leaching benzene etc from planting veggies in polystyrene boxes (which are painted on the outside with Dulux Weatherguard but uncoated on the inside), I have found a product which can be used to seal the inside of the polystyrene boxes.

    The product is made by a company called Crommelin, and is safe for use in potable water applications. The technical person I spoke with has assured me that if two coats are applied to the inside of the polystyrene box, and it is allowed to cure for 7 days before adding damp soil, then there will be no leaching of anything from the box into the soil. Coverage is 0.75 square metres per litre, and it can be purchased from Bunning, or direct from Crommelin if larger quantities are required.

    This is a huge relief for me as I have based my veggie garden on these boxes, and was loathe to have to start again…..

    I look forward to any comments you may have, and I hope this is helpful to someone else
    Thanks for a wonderfully informative and thought provoking site
    Cheers
    Louise

  59. Anne Gibsonon 13 Mar 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Hi again Louise

    See my last comment re the Crommelin product. You may want to consider looking at the other product suggested as an alternative. I haven’t done any research into it other than requesting the Material Safety Data Sheet which I haven’t yet received.

    It takes some ‘digging’ to find suitable safer alternatives, but that’s what I encourage on this site. Hopefully we can make more informed choices and grow a healthy garden as a result.

    All the best with your container gardens. Keep in touch with what you decide to use.

    Cheers Anne

  60. Chrison 27 May 2015 at 7:49 pm

    Hi Anna

    I build planters using a concrete base and bricks for the walls, topped off with limestone caps. They resemble a small chimney top. My question is regarding the safety of eating plants that are grown in them. I gave one to a friend and she is growing herbs in it. Will the cement used in the brick mortar leach out chemicals into the soil/plant?

  61. Anne Gibsonon 28 May 2015 at 7:19 am

    Hi Chris, cement or concrete has both advantages & disadvantages – you can check these out in the comparison table in this post: Choosing a Pot Plant Container – the Pros & Cons. You may want to weigh these up when making your planters. The table in this post may also give you some alternative ideas to consider if you choose not to use concrete.
    One of the main issues with concrete is that it’s high in lime which is toxic to many plants. The most practical thing is to water the planter thoroughly several times and allow the water to drain away each time, so excess lime dissipates (although this is not a very sustainable use of water).
    Or you could use recycled concrete blocks which may have already leached out the lime. Another alternative is to allow the concrete planters to sit empty in the rain for several weeks so lime can leach out before planting (assuming your climate has reasonable rainfall).
    You may also enjoy reading Choosing Safe Containers for Growing Food and the comments on that page.
    Hope this gives you a few points to consider.

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