Planters and Container Gardens
Container gardens add a splash of color and greenery to your patio, deck or porch and make these outside areas of your home appear warm and inviting. Depending upon the variety of plants you choose and other factors such as drainage and location, you have several planter materials and styles to choose from. Each planter has distinct advantages and may be better suited to certain applications, so familiarize yourself with some facts before you go shopping. Knowing a few tips for the care and maintenance of container gardens is important to keep plants healthy. Before you decide which planters will work best, consider the following:
        • What is the mature size of the plant you have chosen?
        • Will the container receive full sun during the day?
        • Do you intend to leave your planters outside during the winter?
        • Will you need to move the planters or will they remain stationery?
        • Do you prefer the look of terra cotta, ceramic, wood or plastic planters?

Buying Considerations, Care and Selection

There are several factors to consider before choosing a planter, including the size and weight of your plant and its watering needs. Different planter materials perform better, depending upon the size of the plant and how porous the planter is. You should also consider whether the planters are winter-proof or not and if you will need to move them at the end of the growing season. In addition, a few care and maintenance tips will help you keep your plants thriving and looking healthy. It's also helpful to understand the features and benefits of each type of planter material.
Buying Considerations: A good planter allows enough room for a fair amount of soil and for root growth. A good rule of thumb is to choose a planter that shows twice as much of the plant or plants as it shows of the pot. Also, check to see if the planter has drainage holes or is made of material that you can drill holes into, so excess water can drain out, which will help prevent roots from getting waterlogged. Porosity, or how porous a material is, is also important as the soil must be able to breathe so roots receive oxygen. Make sure that the planter you select can withstand harsh weather conditions if you plan to leave it outside during extreme heat or cold. Some people prefer to move planters in during cold weather. If this is true for you, make sure you can easily move the planter once it is full of soil.
        • Dark-colored pots absorb more heat than lighter colors
        • For full sun, choose a pot made from nonporous material to prevent evaporation
        • If you are unable to water daily, make sure planters have a drip tray or reservoir
        • Colder climates require frost-safe containers like stone, cement or wood
        • Locate heavy planters in a protected area to prevent having to move them
Care and Maintenance: Caring for your container gardens will ensure they continue to look attractive and safeguard your plants. Since the roots of the plants are container-bound and cannot search out the nutrients they need, you must provide plenty of water and frequent fertilizer or plant food. Fertilize your planters according to the requirements of the type or types of plants it contains. Also, use purchased soil mixes formulated specifically for containers. Garden soil can contain diseases and drains poorly. Use fresh soil every year to provide good aeration and to avoid the accumulation of fertilizer salts, which inhibit healthy root growth.
        • Potted plants require more fertilizer and water than plants grown in the ground
        • Soil in pots freezes more quickly, so move tender plants before frost
        • During harsh weather, move terra cotta and ceramic planters inside to prevent breaking or cracking
        • Water planters frequently, especially on hot days during the summer
        • Make sure planters have drainage holes to avoid over watering
        • Plants prefer to be watered from the top down          
Selection: Selecting a type of planter depends upon several factors. You must choose a style and material that you find attractive and that meets the criteria of the plants you are growing. For example, if you want to locate a large planter outside on your deck and you plan to leave it there during winter, choose a material that will not crack or rot. And if you are unable to water your planters frequently, you may want to avoid terra cotta planters as they are porous and tend to dry out quickly. Pay attention to your budget as well -- some planters are more affordable than others.
                             Type Benefits Drawbacks
Ceramic • Attractive
• Available in a variety of colors  
  and designs
• Retains water better than clay
• Breakable
• Expensive
• Heavy
• Poor drainage*
• May crack if frozen
Metal • Affordable
• Acquires character with age
• Generally lightweight (especially
• Dents easily
• May overheat soil, damaging
• Rusts easily unless liner is
• Poor drainage*
Plastic/fiberglass • Available in a variety of styles
• Lightweight
• Long lasting
• Resists breakage
• Somewhat attractive -- some
  resemble terra cotta or other
  natural materials
• Does not weather well
• Looks artificial
• Poor drainage*
• Top-heavy plants may fall
  over if plastic is lightweight
Unglazed clay (terra cotta) • Attractive
• Easy to mix and match
• Excellent drainage
• Readily available
• Reasonably priced
• Breakable
• Heavy
• May crack if frozen
Wood • Acquires character with age
• Aesthetically pleasing
• Affordable
• Buy or build exactly what you
• Good drainage
• Heavy
• Rots unless liner is applied

* You can improve drainage in most cases simply by poking or drilling holes in the bottom of the planter.


Accessories: Many planters come with optional accessories such as water saucers to protect the surface under the plant and to keep water from completely draining away. Porous saucers, like clay, will not completely protect the surface beneath them, so depending on where you place them you may want to consider plastic or ceramic saucers.
Galvanized Metal, Copper and Lead Planters: These metal containers offer an attractive and distinctive style that provides a unique accent to outdoor areas. Materials may not weather well.
Half Whiskey Barrels: Large wooden planters for large plants or a large container garden, whiskey barrels are attractive additions to a yard or deck.

Hanging Baskets: You can buy plants and flowers in plastic white or green baskets accompanied by a hook for hanging. You can also buy the basket and make the container yourself. These baskets can be heavy when filled with soil and water so make sure you have sturdy hardware in place before you hang them.

Self-Watering Planters: These planters include a reservoir for water plus a mechanism, such as a wick, to provide the plant with a sustained water supply. Self-watering planters tend to be a bit more expensive than standard planters but they reduce the frequency of watering. They are also helpful when placing plants in locations that are difficult to access.

Window Boxes: Window boxes are available in plastic or wood and come in a variety of lengths. They provide an attractive accent to your home, displaying seasonal foliage, flowers and more.

Wire and Moss Baskets: Plants grow through spaces in the moss basket, creating a nice full look. These baskets, however, are not waterproof, so use them outdoors only where water drainage is not an issue.