Choose the Best Containers for Your Plants

How to choose the best container for the job, whether it's terra-cotta or glazed.

Clay Pot Planter on Stone Walkway

Clay Pot Planter on Stone Walkway

The sheer number and variety of shapes, sizes and styles of terra-cotta pots available these days is truly staggering, if not a little bewildering to gardeners who aren't sure which pot or pots to buy. Master gardener Paul James gives a primer on pots:

If you grow a lot of annuals in containers and you're on a budget, it's hard to beat the standard terra-cotta pot. They're functional, lightweight and inexpensive. They're great for growing plants that won't need to be overwintered, especially herbs.

But these pots have two basic flaws: they'll crack if left outdoors in areas of the country where temperatures drop below freezing, especially if you leave soil in them, and they break easily. Thicker walled pots which are sometimes called double-wall are far more rugged and a good deal more expensive. They're also fairly heavy when filled with potting mix and a plant. In fact, large pots can be extremely heavy.

Paul James uses more double-wall pots than any other kind, especially for perennials that overwinter outdoors. However, Paul uses more of these pots than any other, especially for perennials that he overwinters outdoors. They will occasionally crack, but they can endure several years and several alternate periods of freezing and thawing without cracking.

So-called double-fired pots will stand up to the most severe winters without cracking. Yes, they're expensive, but they'll last for decades and that makes them a good value.

Glazed clay pots are becoming more and more popular, and they're ideal for plants that require nearly constant moisture because they aren't as porous as unglazed pots. For example, parsley in a terra-cot pot needs to be watered every day, whereas parsley growing in a glazed pot needs to be watered only once every three or four days. Glazed pots are also excellent for miniature water gardens.

The latest trend in clay pots these days is the faux terra cotta. Many "clay" pots are actually made of plastic. You have to touch it to realize that it isn't clay. This one is even more realistic because the finish has that dusty clay look that up until now you could only get with genuine terra cotta. It also has a planting shelf, so rather than fill the entire pot with potting mix, you need to fill only the upper third of the pot. That saves you money on mix, and it lightens the load considerably.

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