choosing indoor plant containers

The right indoor plant containers can make or break plants.

That $100 exotic palm from the fancy nursery is going to look tacky in a green plastic pot. But the $10.99 palm from the discount home store will look elegant in a Chinese ceramic container.

Plants are the botanical equivalent of the basic black dress. And indoor plant containers are the accessories that can dress them up or dress them down.

But before we start accessorizing, let's talk about the basic requirements of a container. 

Indoor Plant Containers Basic Requirements

A container must be large enough to stabilize and nourish the plant; it must protect your floor from dirt and moisture, and it must provide adequate drainage for the plant.

Size: Generally, the taller the plant the larger the container it needs.

This is both an aesthetic and a physical requirement. A tall plant needs a broad base to stabilize it; plus it would look weird in a tiny pot.

You can often repot your new plant in a container one to two inches larger in diameter than the one it came in. 

Do not go any larger, or the plant could get root rot as the excess soil will hold too much moisture for the roots to absorb. 

If the plant still looks too large aesthetically for the pot, set the pot inside a larger decorative pot. 

Drainage: Your container must have drainage holes or the plant could get root rot. However, you don't want the plant draining on your cherry hardwood floor. 

If the pot you love has no drainage holes, fake it. Put the plant in a smaller, plastic container with drainage holes, then set the plant into the holeless container.

Cover the top of the pots with sphagnum moss and no one can tell the ugly container is there.

And, of course, if your container does have drainage holes, you must have a saucer underneath. Do not cover the drainage holes with gravel.

If you're concerned about the soil coming out, cover the holes with a coffee filter. But usually this is not a problem.

Matching the Decor

Containers come in many types of materials: clay, ceramic, plastic, wicker. Choose the materials that best complement your decor. 

Here's a brief look at each:

Plastic: Plastic containers have the double whammy of being ugly and nonporous, so air cannot get to the roots of your plants. They are, however, both light and cheap.

I often keep my plants in plastic containers set inside ceramic ones.

That makes moving the plant much easier because you can move the plant and the heavy container separately.

Clay: The primary advantage of clay containers is that they are porous, so over watering doesn't pose as much danger as with other containers.

However, since they are porous, you need a nonporous water barrier between them and your floor. Some clay pots have patterns embedded in the surface and can look quite elegant indoors. 

Most clay pots, however, are more appropriate on the porch or patio.

Ceramic: Ceramic containers are expensive, nonporous, and heavy. Their saving grace is that they are very attractive and mesh better with home interiors than plastic or clay. Since ceramic containers can be molded into any shape and decorated in any pattern, you can find pots that complement any decor from French provincial to Country Cottage.

Rattan: Rattan containers usually work best in more casual decor. Baskets are relatively inexpensive and lightweight. Since you can't put soil into them, use the pot within a pot trick (put a plastic saucer under the pot in the bottom of the basket.)

You can buy a huge basket for a fraction of the cost of a ceramic pot.

Reusing Pots

Pots can be reused but do take the precaution of cleaning it thoroughly first to remove any resident bacteria. Scrub the pot with a solution of one part bleach to 9 parts water. Then rinse thoroughly.

Don't be Afraid to Experiment with Container Materials

Don't be timid. Any container can contain a plant so don't be afraid to experiment. I've seen plants in copper watering cans, teapots, antique wash bowls. Use the pot within a pot method and you can switch containers every week if you like.

Now go potty!

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