I could go on and on about the intricacies of plant care and how to make your sweet houseplants thrive, but when it comes down to it, it’s the simple steps done correctly that make the biggest impact on your houseplant’s overall health. Selecting the correct pot based on your houseplant’s needs is one of those simple steps when done correctly, will drastically set your houseplant up for success. When this decision is thoughtfully made, it will also serve as a safety net when you accidentally care for your houseplant incorrectly. And couldn’t we all use a little extra backup?
The Rule of Thumb:
Choosing the correct size of a pot based on your houseplant’s needs is the most important step. If the pot size is too big for the needs of the houseplant (or even potted plants outdoors), then the soil will dry unevenly leaving the bottom of the pot wet and the top too dry. If the pot is too small those precious roots will wall up and become root bound which in turn suffocates plant growth. As a rule of thumb, I always suggest selecting a pot two inches bigger than the pot your plant has outgrown. Pots are typically measured in two-inch increments based upon diameter so a small 2 inches feels much bigger when you are looking at the pot in person.
Naturally, there are a few exceptions to this rule of thumb. The biggest exception is for cacti, succulents, and plants like peperomia and snake plants that are often referred to as semi-succulents. For these plants, plant in a shallow, tighter space. Cacti and succulents hold the majority of their water in their leaves rather than in their roots like most houseplants do. This leads to a much shallower and less complex root base. Those tiny roots planted in a pot too big can easily be susceptible to root rot from soil that is far too wet on the bottom and nice and dry on the top.
A good indicator if the houseplant in question needs a smaller or more shallow pot versus a standard pot size is how quickly the plant grows. Slower growing plants (like succulents and cacti) need small pots while faster growing plants (like most trees and foliage) usually require larger pots to grow into.
Terracotta and Clay:
The number one reason houseplants die is improper water management. Typically the cause is overwatering for the conditions in which the plant is in. For this reason, my go-to suggestion for pot material is terra cotta. Not only is terra cotta incredibly inexpensive and trendy, but it also best mimics being planted outdoors in terms of root breathability and moisture retention. Due to its incredibly porous nature, it helps to allow the soil to dry out much more evenly preventing things like root rot and pest infestations.
Though I typically suggest terracotta or clay, plastic pots have their value. I suggest using plastic pots for plants that need to remain constantly moist or don’t like to dry out fully. This is especially helpful for ferns and mint. No matter what you plant in a plastic pot, it is vital that you pay much closer attention to the watering needs, being certain to not overwater your plant. In addition, I strongly suggest selecting a plastic pot with a good drainage hole. If you don’t see any, drill a few of your own making certain they are big enough in diameter to allow any excess water to easily flow from the pot.
Plastic can also be a good choice for especially large plants or hanging plants simply because they weigh so much less. It is also a bit more difficult to water plants while they are hanging so retaining some of that moisture isn't a bad thing here, just be certain to keep a close eye on your watering habits and always feel the soil before you water it.
Thrifted, Ceramic, and Repurposed Vessels:
Using an old can or candle vessel adds such charm to houseplants. However, it is important to consider a few things.
Is there sufficient drainage? If not, can you add a few drainage holes? If the answer to both of those questions is no, then there are a few ways you can lift the soil from the base of the vessel to help increase drainage a bit.
You can either add a layer of small stones at the bottom of the pot before you fill it with soil or simply repurpose one or two smaller plastic nursery pots upside-down inside of the pot before you add soil.
A big, fat word of caution. Though adding a layer at the bottom of the pot to hold up the roots off the water will help, if the water levels get too high, root rot will likely take over. So water carefully!
With this in mind, I suggest potting a cactus or succulent or a plant that can stand drought in this container. The reason simply being that you will water it MUCH less. A cactus or succulent are good options to plant in pots without drainage holes as they all handle drought well, though not all prefer it. Take great care though, if you accidentally overwater it, your sweet little plant may be doomed! So when you get the feeling like it needs water, wait a good three weeks and then give it a sprinkle.
No matter the material of your new pot, be sure to wash it well before you put your new houseplant inside. This often overlooked step will help to prevent any diseases or pests that may have been left behind by previous plants.
How you pot your plant really does play a big part in how well your plant will thrive in your home and see, I told you it’s not all that complicated to figure out!
Watering issues and the pot your plant is planted in often go hand in hand so I suggest keeping a close eye on it to watch for any warning signs. Your houseplant will always communicate with you to tell you if something is may be wrong. I have created a free Houseplant Warning Signs Guide to help you identify these signs (and tell you how to fix the problem) so you can grow with confidence!
You can download it here: revivenursery.com/warning-signs
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