Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Annuals

Getting Started with Container Gardening (page 2 of 3)

by National Gardening Association Editors

Choosing Containers

Almost anything can serve as a container! You may have seen plantings in barrels, buckets, bathtubs--even old shoes! Your primary consideration in choosing a container is drainage: the planter must have drainage holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain away.

Containers are available in a variety of materials. Let's look at the characteristics of a few of the most common.

Material Benefits Drawbacks
Unglazed clay

The most common clay pots are the familiar reddish-orange terra-cotta containers. These come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from inexpensive, unadorned flower pots to large, ornate urns and planters.

  • Readily available
  • Easy to mix and match
  • Generally reasonably priced
  • Excellent drainage
  • Acquires character with age; surface weathers, grows moss, etc.
  • Breakable
  • May crack if frozen; not suitable for overwintering plants
  • Porous; plants dry out quickly, especially small pots
  • Heavy
Glazed clay

Pots come in a range of colors, sizes, shapes, and designs. Glazing reduces porosity, so soil retains water longer. Glazed saucers protect surfaces from moisture.

  • Available in a variety of colors and designs
  • Retains water better than unglazed clay
  • Breakable
  • May crack if frozen; not suitable for overwintering plants
  • Heavy
Wood

Includes half whiskey barrels, window boxes, and other purchased containers, plus homemade boxes and raised beds.

Acquires character with age; surface weathers, grows moss, etc.
  • Will decay; longevity depends on type of wood and exposure to elements
  • Heavy
Metal

Common types included galvanized metal, copper, and lead.

Acquires character with age
  • May rust, decay, or dent
  • May cause soil to overheat, damaging roots
Plastic

Includes inexpensive nursery pots and hanging baskets, as well as more ornate containers. Often crafted to resemble natural materials.

  • Lightweight
  • Resists breakage
  • Long-lasting
  • Available in a wide variety of styles
  • May resemble natural materials like clay and wood
  • Does not weather
  • Can look artificial
  • Top-heavy plants may topple in lightweight containers

With a little ingenuity, you can overcome some containers' shortcomings. For example, you may like the look of unglazed clay, but find that your plants dry out too quickly because of the high porosity. Here are two solutions:

  • Grow plants in plastic pots, then place these into a decorative clay pot. Fill in the space between the pots with mulch.
  • Paint the inside of new containers with several coats of latex paint to waterproof them.
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