When choosing a pot for your plant, you are often face with a lot of choices. Clay (terracotta) is often overlooked for more decorative options, but here’s the thing …. clay pots are a classic because they really are the ideal choice for the majority of house plants and succulents.
Clay pots, commonly referred to as terracotta, are the traditional, orange-toned, unglazed pots you have seen in most floral shops and garden supply stores. Super affordable, and the cutest little friends you could hope to accompany your new plant baby.
Why is Clay our Best Buddy?
An unglazed clay pot breathes; meaning it allows air and water movement through the sides of the pot. Yes, plants and oxygen are kind of a thing. Like peanut butter and chocolate, without the allergy alert.
Why is air flow important? Air movement stimulates root growth, which results in healthier plants.
A clay pot wicks moisture out of the soil, making them a better choice, especially if you tend to overwater or for plants that prefer dry soils, like succulents.
Important follow up to this; plants in clay pots require more water than plants in plastic pots.
Glazed/decorative ceramic pots do not dry out as quickly, rarely have a drainage hole, and can restrict air exchange. This can significantly affect the health of the plant, if you are not careful with your watering.
Like glazed pots, plastic pots do not allow air exchange and hold moisture longer, however, they often come with that super important drainage hole, so you are less likely to have roots sitting in water.
Plastic pots work best for moisture-loving houseplants and for people who forget to water regularly. If you like a more decorative pot, a plastic pot could be placed inside one, which would allow you to easily watch for overwatering and pour out any excess water. This would require a little more vigilance on your part, which is why we still go back to a standard clay pot as the preferred choice.
Clumsy people (or those with cats that knock things over for fun) should be cautious of clay.
One of the main disadvantages of clay pots is that they can break easily. If you knock over or drop a clay pot, it will likely shatter.
Clay is also easy to chip if bumped or tipped over. Many plant lovers will find a chip here and there charming, but a crack down one side will defeat the point of the pot.
Clay pots tend to stain and develop salt deposits on the outside. Again, most will agree that this is a beautiful, weathered look and exactly why they love clay in the first place. However, if you want that super modern, clean style, you might have to repot into a fresh clay pot to keep that look going. If you chose to do this, understand, that no one likes change, and your plant might not be pleased with moving to a new pot on a regular basis.
Winter is Coming.
Clay pots, if kept potted, will likely crack and break over the winter if left outside. The moisture in the soil will freeze, causing expansion, which will burst the sides of the pots. If you are going to keep your clay pots outdoors, please remember to empty them of soil, and turn them upside down during the cold months.
More often than not, there should be a drainage hole in the bottom of the pot, and a coordinating saucer, with a glazed finish. Drainage is our friend. No one wants to drown their plants, and clay is like that friend that holds your hair back after a night of tequila shots and tacos. “I got you girl”. Between him, and his saucer, he will keep your roots from flooding and your furniture from being ruined by a pool of water (we really stress the importance of using the saucer, by the way).
Whether you choose clay, decorative ceramic, or plastic pots, make sure the pot has drainage holes. Waterlogged soil can lead to root rot, so if the pots are sitting on a tray to catch water, remember to dump the tray after watering. If you have a decorative clay pot, without a drainage hole, it is possible to make one. You will need a special drill bit, intended for ceramics, and a power drill on a low setting. Move slowly, with only a little pressure to get the hole started. Being patient with this is key. If you move too quickly, or apply too much power/pressure, you are more likely to crack the pot. Also, that sense of accomplishment, knowing you have done your very best for your plant, which still staying sassy and stylish, is pretty awesome.
Rocking the Pebble Myth.
Your well-intention friend, mother or internet search, will tell you that putting rocks or pebbles at the bottom of a closed pot will help with drainage. Well, no. If there is nowhere for the water to drain, there is no drainage. The water will still sit around the bottom of the rocks, and remain inside the pots. If not monitored, you will still have too much water at the bottom of the pot, which can cause the roots to rot and your plant to die. Drainage is a real thing guys. You need a hole in the pot. It is that simple.
Yes, Size Does Matter.
Choosing the correct pot size is very important.
Do not move up quickly in size. Most houseplants prefer to be root bound. What does that mean? Basically, if you can restrict the room for the root structure, the plant will put more effort in producing leaves and flowers, and less on branching out below ground. If you move up to a larger pot too quickly, you might see a reduction in the size of the plant, as it decides that creating a larger root structure is more important than producing a showy set of leaves for you to enjoy.
For the most part, you don’t want to move up more than 1” in diameter at a time. Baby steps are important in the plant world.
Well, now you know a little more about potting houseplants. Aren’t you just a little smarty-pants, plant parent?