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All Pots Aren’t Created Equal!
Looking at micro gardening in a container? If you are confused about what kind of pot plant container to choose, you’re not alone! There are the good, the bad and the ugly out there. I’ve done the research for you and created a Comparison Chart to help you make the best decision on which is the best pot, planter or container for you. Dig in!
5 Points to Consider before Choosing a Pot
1. What is the Cost?
There are lots of options on the market if you are looking to buy. From cheap and cheerful to decorative and expensive. If you have a tight budget, you may want to consider upcycled containers rather than buying new ones. There are many clever plant container ideas to consider that use the embodied energy in items you may already have. Think outside the box!
Buy local if you can to save on delivery costs. Every choice has a financial and environmental cost!
2. How Long will the Pot Last?
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? Will it stay in one place for a long time?
Extended durability means less consumption of resources. e.g. While a foam box may be cheap it doesn’t last long in hot wet climates. A long-lasting pot is a more sustainable choice than replacing a cheap one that degrades quickly!
3. What is the Environmental Impact?
Some planter materials and construction processes drain our natural resources. Others have a smaller environmental footprint using fewer resources. Processes used in manufacture and transport often require the 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.
4. How much Time and Energy do you Have?
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.
5. Have you Weighed up all the Pros and 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! There’s a lot to think about and a little time comparing different pot materials can save you a lot of disappointment later.
Your particular situation – there are three key factors that may also influence your decision on which kind of pot to choose.
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Pros and Cons of Containers Comparison Chart
To save you time, I have put together this comparison tool to help make your decision easier. It’s a starting point to weigh up some of the advantages and disadvantages of different types of pots and planters. Dig in!
|Pots & Containers||Advantages & Disadvantages|
|Plastic pots (light coloured)|
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. 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 the base if needed.
- Lightweight. 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 or hand-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). Try to avoid #1, #3 PVC, #6 PS, and #7 polycarbonate especially for food gardens. These can leach chemicals over time.
- 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 is a very useful resource for those concerned about health and toxins in our environment. EWG recommends discarding scratched or worn plastic containers to avoid the leaching of chemicals.
- Plastic pots 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. Consider the environmental impact at the end of their life if they have to end up in a landfill.
- If you want to change your current plastic pots for another alternative, consider taking them to your local recycling centre. Or donate them to a community garden or local nursery. Perhaps swap for some free plants or cuttings in exchange.
|Black plastic pots|
- Heat up quickly and provide little insulation.
- Avoid using in full sun in hot climates with heat-sensitive plants.
- OK to use in shady positions or for plants that need soil warmth.
- Useful for creating a warm microclimate during cold months as the black colour tends to absorb heat and hold it better than light colours.
|White Polystyrene (foam) boxes – new & undamaged|
(Food grade) – also known as EP or expanded polystyrene boxes
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 and heat so helps insulate plant roots. Useful in hot climates.
- Cheap – often free or very low cost.
- Easily available – most greengrocers, supermarkets and fishmongers are happy to offload them rather than pay for them to be taken away to landfill.
- Not attractive. Useful for when visual appeal is not a priority. Paint or decorate them – just use non-toxic, no VOC paint.
- Deep ones (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 have great drainage holes.
- Lightweight, so easy to transport and stack.
- Durable – they are stable and last well although not so well 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 so you can choose which best meets your particular needs.
- Environmentally a better choice. Reusing these boxes helps keep them out of the landfill and is kinder to our environment.
- In terms of food safety, it is recommended to only use only new boxes when growing edibles. If they start to degrade or become damaged, it is not advisable to use polystyrene as this material can start to leach toxic chemicals once the moulding is compromised. For ornamentals, this may not be an issue.
|Terracotta, ceramic and concrete pots that usually only have one hole in the base.|
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.
- Unfired clay (terracotta) and concrete pots 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 are fired clay with a glaze coating. They are often curved in shape at the top making 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.
- Terracotta absorbs mineral salts and may produce a white crusty build-up on the outside.
- Clay pots are breakable. 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). Very 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 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 usually have a reservoir system in the base
- May be unsuitable for large plants like fruit trees or shrubs as roots can work their way into the water reservoir at the bottom, leading to waterlogging 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 Spathiphyllum (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|
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. If you are planting edibles, 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 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 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 are cheap and lightweight and easy for renters to pick up and move.
- Grow bags are strong and very cheap considering the volume they hold.
- Are lightweight and many have handles so are easy to move. Being portable is a very useful feature especially when they are planted. Especially for renters moving house or small balcony gardeners who need to move them to take advantage of sunlight.
- 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, make 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 potting mix is not well watered in or evenly distributed.
- Generally regarded as a temporary home for plants.
- Not particularly attractive but very practical.
- A very portable garden for a wide variety of plants.
|Upside-down grow bags|
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.
- Only a small amount of space is 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 of a hanging planter, it can warm up much faster than with plants grown in the ground. A useful feature in cold climates.
- 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 problems as there is better air circulation around the plants when hanging.
- No support system such as cages, stakes or tying is required – plants simply hang down with gravity.
- Heavy weight due to the large volume of potting mix in these planters. After the 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)|
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.
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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.
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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2016. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.
I’ve recently discovered vertical stackable planters for myself and I’m absolutely loving them! They’re such a space-saving and efficient way to grow plants, especially in limited spaces like balconies or small gardens.
I was wondering, have you tried using stackable planters too?
[…] Gibson, A. (2010, October 15). Choosing a Pot Plant Container – The Pros and Cons. The Micro Gardener. https://themicrogardener.com/choosing-a-container-the-pros-and-cons-2/ […]
I am jhon verma from USA. I have been searching for this information since a very long time. thank you for sharing such valuable information. I will definatly try it.
I am not sure if you are still keeping this chain alive, but I just came across it during a search for Coconut Liners. I have 2 metal containers that do get direct sun in the summer. We can get up to 106 on some summer days. I would hope to line with something that will keep the roots from touching the sides of the container and thought that coconut lining would be a good idea. However, I just want to make sure it doesn’t insulate the roots and heat them up further. Do you have any insight on using it as a lining inside of a metal container?
Coco fibre (coir peat) liners are easy to use and may help somewhat protect/insulate your plant roots from the heat in metal containers. They DO dry out quickly in hot temperatures though. So, I wouldn’t just rely on that as a solution. Personally, I would do things a little differently.
These are a few things to consider:
1. Choose your plants wisely. Only put sun/drought hardy species in metal pots that can handle the heat and drier soil. Metal heats up considerably and can fry tender leaves. Succulents may be one of the best choices.
2. Make your own potting mix blend with a higher proportion of moisture-holding ingredients. You can learn more in this article on Easy DIY Potting Mix Recipe. I make my own potting mix with several ingredients which means I water less frequently in a hot climate. You may also find this Laminated Guide a helpful tool.
3. Liners. You could line the pot with other materials like weed mat, fabric (old teatowels etc) or the coir peat liners.
4. Consider a cachepot. It may be even better to sit another plastic pot inside the metal one that is the same/similar shape. Plastic also holds moisture for longer and is less likely to wick to the outside and evaporate.
Anyway, a few thoughts I hope you find useful.
All the best, Anne
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[…] Pots and containers, seed raisers, plant labels, watering cans and sprayers are some of most commonly used garden supplies. There are many household items you may have been putting in your recycle or rubbish bin, without realizing their real value. You can start saving and repurposing many everyday items and turn them into useful supplies instead. Implementing even one or two of these tips will keep your money in your purse for longer, so dig in! […]
Hi! I just want to know if is it ok if I add some candy wrappers and junk food wrappers in making a concrete pot? Because I have a research study wherein I want to help maximize the amount of plastic waste (like plastic wrappers) by making a concrete pot mixing with some plastic wrappers. Thank you
I suggest you research if you can add plastics when making concrete as this is not my field of expertise! Alternately, perhaps look at plastic collection and recycling options in your local community. It’s great that you’re trying to avoid landfill. Perhaps also consider buying products without any wrappers in future and supporting businesses where you self-serve with bulk bins and paper bags. Being conscious consumers helps businesses also support these environmentally practices. It all starts with shifting our thinking about what we buy, limiting packaging or choosing eco-friendly options and treading lighter on our beautiful planet. Cheers Anne
If I use enamel spray to coat the inside of a metal can to make it rust-proof, is it safe to grow food in? I’m thinking along the lines of herbs, but I do have 2 coffee bean bonsais in their respective coffee cans and I’m afraid the cans are rusting inside. I’d like to upcycle cans to use for this purpose.
I appreciate this informative site! Thank you.
Hi Lucretia, it’s great to hear you’re recycling containers to use in your garden. Personally, I won’t grow food in chemically treated containers. However, you could use it as a decorative outer cachepot and sit a smaller safe container inside. See this article on Choose Safe Containers for Growing Food and the comments section. I hope this helps.
Have about 40 food grade plastic jugs – they were used to hold 12% sodium hypochlorite – aka bleach… They were free… We cut the tops off them & drilled holes for drainage & cleaned them thoroughly… We have turned them into 5 gallon plant pots… We have not put soil in them as of yet… After all this work we did – I am pretty sure that they are food safe – that it is safe to use them to plant tomatoes in… Can you help confirm this… I want to make sure that I haven’t made a mistake & I have my info correct that bleach isn’t going to leech into the soil & plants… Also what can be used as an inexpensive liner – can one use black plastic garbage bags as liners?
Your list of plastics to avoid includes #6 PS (polystyrene), but then two rows down you list expanded polystyrene as a usable plastic… Why the contradiction?
Thanks for your question regarding the section detailing pros and cons of White Polystyrene (foam) boxes – also known as EP or expanded polystyrene. According to the research I’ve done to date, if the polystyrene is contained in a new and undamaged food grade moulded box, the styrene is unlikely to leach for some time. The article states “In terms of food safety, it is recommended to only use only NEW EP boxes when growing edibles. If they start to degrade or become damaged, it is not advisable to use polystyrene as this material can start to leach toxic chemicals once the mould is compromised. For ornamentals, this may not be an issue.” So, it’s a matter of timing and also depends on your climate. In tropical and subtropical climates where there is heat and moisture, these boxes may degrade faster than in cooler, drier climates. These are all factors to weigh up! For some people where budget is a major issue, they may be the cheapest short-term solution. I hope this helps clarify the information for you.
what about airpots?
I haven’t addressed airpots because they are not universally available and are more commonly used by commercial growers rather than home gardeners. Pots that allow air pruning do have advantages for sure. Thanks for your suggestion.
Thank you, for making me decide which flower pot to use. Well I am going for the plastic ones thank you again.
Hello! I really enjoyed your article and it was quite helpful! Can you or anyone help???? I have been looking on the internet for ever trying to find inexpensive hand painted and/or Relief Porcelain Cachepots (5″ to 10″ diameter) to display my plants indoor to no avail. Everything that pops up is Vintage or Antique!!! Pricey!! Any leads to Online Stores?
Hi Geneva, sorry can’t help with that one. Just try Googling! Best of luck. Anne
Thanks so much for this article. I have a wide collection of varying material pots and am never sure what to use for new plants. I have a number of houseplants but they don’t seem to do well in plastic pots. Any thoughts? I’ve also picked up some bamboo pots. What is your experience with those? Many thanks.
I am guessing your houseplants may not be thriving because of the POTTING MIX you are using, rather than the plastic pots! If you are using a bagged potting mix, this quickly repels water. So your plants can’t access the moisture or nutrients they need, causing them to become weak and attract pests and diseases. This is a really common problem. Check out my article on Easy DIY Potting Mix for more information and tips that may help you if you think this could be a contributing factor.
Bamboo pots are a more sustainable alternative to plastic. I am not sure of the longevity of your particular pots as they are all made differently, but I’m all for supporting natural and sustainable products rather than petro-chemicals that are damaging to the environment. Hope this helps.
I like how you mentioned the importance of product life when choosing a container for planting things. I’ve been thinking it would be fun to have a small collection of planters in front of my house with various flowers in them. I think it would be fun to find a container that’s decorative, but I’ll make sure to consider the product life so I choose something that will last.
There’s a contradiction in this article – it says avoid plastic #6 (PS) but there’s a section on the benefits of using foam boxes which is #6 ….
Hi Shyam, thanks for pointing this out. I have updated this page to reflect more detailed information relating to #6 plastics including polystyrene. This material does have some advantages for food gardens IF the boxes are new and undamaged, based on extensive research I’ve done to date. To the best of my knowledge, the issue with leaching of styrene occurs when the molding is damaged and/or starts to breakdown. It is apparently rendered inert when contained within the original mold. The advantages of polystyrene boxes are listed in this comparison table for the benefit of readers to weigh up all the pros and cons in their own individual situations. The issues with PS may not be a negative factor for some gardeners, especially if they are growing ornamentals or only have access to that material where they live and have a limited budget. Thanks again for the feedback!
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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/
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?
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?
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
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.
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:
Hope this helps – would love you to email me a pic of your project when finished.
hai, please let me know any problem to put 2 vegetable plants in a container
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.
Excellent post. I definitely love this site.
Keep it up!
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.
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.
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!!!!
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.
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.
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
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?
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. 🙂
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.
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 [firstname.lastname@example.org] 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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. 🙂
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?
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. 🙂