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Selecting the Perfect Pots for Your Container Garden

by Fern on January 29, 2009

in Uncategorized

If you’re still busy planning your balcony garden for next year, here are a few things to think about when it comes to the containers themselves.

Different Kinds of Pot Materials:


Photo by *Susie*

  • Terracotta is good for people who tend to over water, as the porous clay wicks the excess water out of the soil quickly. It’s also a good choice for gardeners with extremely hot summers as it can help shield roots from the heat. The downsides of terracotta are that it dries out quickly and can crack in the winter.
  • Plastic is the obvious choice for gardeners on a serious budget. They’re also good if you live on the top floor of a building with no elevator, or have weight restriction on your balcony.
  • Fiberglass and resin are great if you like the molded or carved look of ancient pottery but don’t want to lug a heavy pot out onto your balcony. They can also be more reasonably priced than their stone or clay counterparts.
  • Wood can lend a specific “feel” to a garden, be it asian, natural, or rustic, depending on the design. Hardwoods are sturdy and will last, but don’t let them sit directly on the ground or in sitting water, as that will just speed up the rotting process.
  • Metal can look really modern, and it won’t crack in the winter. But beware in the summer. Metal pots can get very hot, and if you don’t water your plants, they will cook the roots!

Color Considerations:


Photo by jurek d.

  • Do you want all your pots to match? A bunch of terracotta pots in different shapes and sizes would look classy without being too stuffy or boring. There are some really neat terracotta pots with quilted patterns or scalloped edges. You could do the same thing with other colors. All white could look very modern.
  • If you’re going to mix up your colors, either do it carefully or go totally crazy, don’t go halfway. For example, I noticed in Mexico that tiles and containers are a whole mix of bright colors. If you’re going for a Latin look, choose blue, yellow, orange and red glazed pots. But if you want a more sedate look, go with one or two colors.

Matching Plants to Pots (Or Pots to Plants):


Photo by brewbooks

  • A tall narrow pot will probably look best with a plant that is also tall and bushy. A small, rounded plant will likely look silly in such a pot, like a scoop of ice cream on a cone. Other small plants are likely to look out of proportion to the pot. It’s also not good for a plant’s health to grow it in a pot that is too big for it.
  • A squat pot (say that ten times fast!) will probably look good with a similarly sized plant. It might also look good with a plant that has a vertical habit, as the pot will help the plant look grounded, but be careful, a plant that is radically out of proportion to its pot often doesn’t looks good.
  • The easiest and safest bet is to chose a pot that has a similar visual “weight” as the plant. Medium sized plants with medium sized pots, plants with a wide horizontal spread in wider pots, and so on.
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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy Bond January 29, 2009 at 7:52 am

As always, really great tips for those of us gardening on the balcony. :)

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Genevieve January 29, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Wonderful tips! I love your consideration of a plant’s visual weight and the suggestion to balance that with the pot. I love the tips on color as well.

Thanks for the tip that terra cotta shields roots from heat! I didn’t know that but it makes sense.

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Julie January 29, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Nice, and as always, a very informative post, but…it is hard for me to concentrate on pots when you show me the gorgeous array of succulents!!! LOL!

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Fern January 29, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Nancy — Glad you found the tips useful!

Gen — Figuring out that plants and pots often look best when they’re the same visual weight was a real watershed moment for me. Before I read about it (or maybe someone told me? I can’t remember) I think I often chose pots that were too small.

Julie — :-D I thought about you when I found that last photo!

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Lazy Mom January 30, 2009 at 4:21 am

I love your site. I tried growing a garden last year and it was rather sad, but I loved doing. I going to keep on trying.

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Sarada January 30, 2009 at 7:14 am

Fern, Very informative post, reading all your recent posts for getting ready for the growing season, I am thrilled and cannot wait for spring :)

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Cindy January 30, 2009 at 1:40 pm

great blog! thanks for the ‘new start here’ option. even though i have a small urban lot, i LOVE container gardening, your site is a dream and your efforts are truly appreciated.
i received 3 rich brown glazed pots for Christmas to add to the existing and growing array, little self control and so many beautiful pots! this post is most helpful…

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Fern January 30, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Cindy — Welcome! Glad you’re finding my blog useful.

Sarada — Me neither! I’m rested and ready for Spring.

Lazy Mom — Gardening is definitely something that is worth sticking with, because I guarantee you that you’ll figure things out and get better at it if you stick with it!

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invisiblebees January 31, 2009 at 5:30 pm

First, I tried saying “a squat pot” 10x fast and I couldn’t even do it in my HEAD!

I fret about my containers every year. (They’re raw terracotta.) I always find myself admiring (and, yes, it’s true, stroking) all the glazed pots, modern metal pots and especially the “ancient” looking pots at my local nurseries, but I can never commit myself to any of them. When I’m ready to expand my pot collection, I always wind up with a new terracotta plant.

It seems funny (odd, not hilarious) to me that with all the choices I have for plant material, I never fret. I never hem and haw. I always commit. But with pots… all bets are off.

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invisiblebees January 31, 2009 at 5:31 pm

See what I mean? Even my typos are plant-driven and pot-fearful!

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Aminul Hassan August 9, 2009 at 1:29 am

Yous site my interest. While in europe (Belgium) I saw some small round pot holding tiny plants arranged in beatiful manners craeting atiny small world. as gift item, in flower shop. I tried this at home (Bangladesh) but I failed. Any clue, Any website. will be very helpful. I think You already forgiven my bad english.

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Garden pots March 1, 2011 at 2:26 am

I really like your post- I have just moved into a flat and I am an avid gardener- I find your posts really helpful.

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Peter D September 14, 2011 at 4:14 pm

I read your articles with interest. I own an interior plantscape business and we use “sub-irrigation”. Something that is rarely used by the home gardeners. It is a fool proof method of watering plants. No longer do you worry about over watering and we only water every two weeks. The plants never sit in water so there is always oxygen around the roots. We use a simple wick method.

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