Thursday, September 26, 2013

What You Need to Know: Choosing Outdoor Plant Containers

Why in the world does anybody need to write (or read) an article about how to choose outdoor plant containers? I mean, come on, this isn't rocket science. Can't you just pick some pots, get some dirt, get some plants, add together in the pot, stir (so to speak) and, presto, you're done?

Yes, absolutely, you could do exactly that. You wouldn't be the first to do it that way and you won't be the last. And, by the way, good luck to you. No hard feelings.

If, however, you have already gone that route and are experiencing some difficulties, disappointment or outright failures as a result, there are a few tips, observations and tidbits of knowledge that might come in handy when you get ready to replace those not-so-successful choices with new plant containers and flower pots.

Here are a few of the basics that you'll want to keep in mind:

• Materials

• Drainage

• Size

• Color (really? color? yep!)

• Weight (yes, I know, almost everybody is concerned about weight, but this is a little different, so don't go away.)

What about materials is so gosh darn important? Well,

Wood looks really nice and retains water well and, alas, is also likely to rot over time; so just be sure you use cedar, redwood or teak and you'll nip that little problem in the bud.

Ceramic containers come in so many styles, colors and sizes (it's almost embarrassing) and, because of this, they are a favorite choice of many a gardener. Just remember, though, that they are made from porous, breathable clay and even the fired-on glazes can't guarantee that some moisture won't get trapped in the clay. Then, when those unforgiving freezing temperatures come along, the cracking that occurs will break not only the pot but also a little piece of either (a) your heart or (b) your budget. (Hint: if you have the space, move them indoors somewhere until temperatures warm up a bit.)

Clay is, more or less, the unglazed version of ceramics. Terra cotta is a popular example. It is breathable, which has its good side, but the soil also dries faster so you'll have to water more often. And, when those freezing temperatures show up, things could get very ugly: cracks, chips... too horrid to think about. Ditto what I said above about broken hearts and moving them indoors if space allows.

Concrete is reliable and also very heavy; however, the available styles are not to everyone's taste... just sayin'.

Plastic pots are usually less expensive than other materials and not prone to cracking; but (wouldn't you know there had to be a "but" coming!), they may also leach unhealthy chemicals into the soil... you decide.

Resin pots are lightweight, too, and can mimic the look of other materials. Because, like plastic, they also are efficient at retaining moisture, be sure these pots have good drainage holes that don't get clogged... otherwise, root rot.

To address the other basics mentioned above, let me just say this:

Drainage: be sure your containers have it. Drill holes if necessary to let that excess moisture out. Believe me, you do not want your plants to have wet feet... next thing you know, they'll have the sniffles, then a full-blown cold, and then they die.

Size: Containers that are on the small side, cute and precious as they are, will tend to dry out more quickly and, thus, require more watering. Also, the small size may not provide sufficient room for the plant to grow... so if you use these little guys, be prepared to transplant to larger pots before long.

Color: I have to throw this in because, otherwise, how would you know? Here's the thing: darker pots retain more heat and you can end up with cooked roots, roots that even your hairdresser can't do a thing with. So if you live in a hot climate, now you know what to do or, I should say, not do.

Weight:This is really not a mystery, but it needs to be said. If the pot weighs a lot, especially once it's full of dirt and plants, you can't move it. Well, maybe you can, but it won't be easy and it would be a good idea to have put it on a dolly of some kind before you fill it up or be sure you're really going to love it exactly where it sits.

Need I say more? I think not.

If you want to check out some great options for flower pots and plant containers (keeping in mind, of course, all the nifty tips from above), go on over to and take your pick.

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