Not all plant containers are equal

Growing a plant directly on the ground is a great pleasure, but not all of us have a garden to dig and love. Pots are sometimes the only option for us. But, never mind! The variety of forms, shapes, materials and colors and the possibility of easily moving the plants around gives us a lot of landscaping possibilites. Yes, your balcony is a landscape, too. Even your windowsill. However, it’s easy to get lost among the different options, so today I give you some hints to choose wisely.

Drainage holes

I’ll never get tired of saying this: you can only put plants in pots with drainage holes. No plant can thrive in the mucky terrain of a container without holes. Obviously you’ll need a small saucer under it, but the soil needs to drain. There are gorgeous pots without holes out there. Simple solution: place a smaller pot inside the ornamental one and you’re ready to go.

fancy pot


The moisture and temperature requirements of your plant will determine which material to choose. There are others, but the main are the following:

Terracotta or clay

Nice and cheap. It’s a porous material that allows air and water to come in and out. Thus, water evaporates quickly from this type of pot, being ideal for draught loving plants. However, any plant can grow healthily with proper watering. Besides, this material insulates the root ball from very cold or very hot temperatures. Problems? Clay is quite fragile and big pots are incredibly heavy.

Glazed clay

The glazing limits to a certain extent the porousness. Water stays in for a little longer.


Tons of shapes and colours. Also, it’s light and durable. But plastic doesn’t allow water and air to circulate, so flooding becomes more dangerous if we don’t act quickly. Neither is plastic a very good insulator. Be careful with the high peaks of temperature and frosts!



It’s useful to learn a bit about the biology and ecology of the plant before choosing a shape, as the root morphology will be different.

Types of root systems

There are slight differences, but basically it’s these two:

  • Taproot: Gymnosperms (coniferous plants mainly) and dycotiledonous (roses, daisies, sunflowers, potato plants, bean plants…) have this type. We can see a main root which is bigger. It is ramified into secondary, thinner roots.
  • Fibrous roots: Monocotyledonous (palm trees, lilies, orchids, grasses, bromeliads…) and pteridophytes (ferns) have this type. There isn’t a main root, the root system is a mass of advent similar sized roots.

types of root system

Ecological adaptations

Each plant has evolved in a different environment. This evolution will introduce some nuances into the categories already mentioned. For example, in the Mediterranean zones, plans generally grow deep roots to reach the water stored in the subsoil. We could think that cacti, which evolved in the desert, will also have deep roots. This isn’t true however, as there is no water in the desert soil (at least, not at a depth reachable by plants). Instead, cacti have a shallow and extensive root system aiming to catch water from dew. Moreover, big, ramified plants tend to have stronger and larger root systems to anchor them better. Do your research!

Pot shapes

Knowing all this, it’s easy to choose the best container:

  • Narrow and tall: Taproot with little ramification will fit better. Most plants will be pot bound in this container.
  • Proportional in width and depth: Your average plant pot. They are highly versatile and most plants will grow healthily in it. When in doubt, choose this type.
  • Broad and shallow, saucer-like: Plants with roots similar to the cacti’s.

cacti pot

Transparent pots, what for?

They are especially designed for plants that require sunlight on their roots. Wait, what? Yes. Some plans, such as orchids, grow attached to the trunks of trees and shrubs, so their roots benefit from a clear container that lets light in.

Choose well!

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