The type of pot you choose can increase your chances of successfully growing your new houseplant!

This post will discuss my best tips on how to choose the best pot for your plant’s health.

Pick a Pot with Drainage Holes

Drainage holes allow excess water to quickly leave the soil your plant is living in. This is one of the easiest ways to prevent your plant from sitting in water, which is SUPER important!

Plants that are exposed to soil with too much water develop root rot, which kills the plant over time.

I have found that decorative pots with attached saucers look nice, but are more difficult to remove excess water because these pots often have only one small drainage hole.

As such, I always buy pots with removable saucers now. Then I can easily take the saucer where excess water has collected and dump it out.

Additionally, the holes on the bottom of pots with removable saucers tend to be much larger. This isn’t always true, but it is generally the case.

Bigger drainage holes or a larger number of drainage holes provide more opportunity for water to drain and less of a chance for the soil to stay wet for too long of a time.

Pick a Pot with the Material that Suits You and Your Plant’s Needs

The material the pot is made out of will affect how long the water will be retained in the pot.  Plastic pots, for example, retain moisture for a very long time compared to a terra cotta pot, which is made of a porous material that wicks moisture out of the soil. 

This is a very important consideration when determining what type of pot to choose for your plant.  The vast majority of plants do not want to be wet for long periods of time.  It can be advantageous to choose a type of pot that does not retain moisture for a lengthy amount of time.

General notes on pot types:

  • Terracotta pots – inexpensive, helps to wick moisture from soil, great drainage
  • Ceramic pots – ranges in price, retains moisture much longer, may or may not have drainage holes
  • Cement / Concrete pots – more expensive, heavier planters, does wick some moisture, may or may not have drainage holes
  • Plastic pots – often very inexpensive, retains a lot of moisture, may or may not have drainage holes, often is very light which can be problematic for top-heavy plants

I personally house 95% of my houseplants in terra cotta pots.  They are inexpensive, great for preventing overwatering, easy to replace if needed, and easy to match (for those who like to have pots that match).

Pick a Pot the Right Size for Your Plant

Typically the pot that you choose should be the same size or only an inch or two larger than the pot your plant came home in.

If the plant looks dwarfed by its pot, then the pot is probably much too large. If the plant’s roots are winding around the inside of the pot and there is very little soil left, then the pot is probably too small and an upgrade to an inch or two larger in diameter is in order.

Potting a plant in too large of a pot results in the plant having a very large and overwhelming body of soil. When that entire body of soil is watered, the plant is not large enough yet to be able to efficiently use that amount of water in a reasonable amount of time. As a result, the plant may develop root rot from sitting in wet soil for too long.

But What if You Want to Pick a Pot Without Drainage Holes?

Monstera Deliciosa in Black Ceramic Pot – Photo by Malte Michels, Unsplash

It is possible to use a pot without drainage holes as a cover pot (or cachepot).

In other words, the cover pot is only a decorative pot whose sole purpose is to look good. The plant will actually be living in a thin plastic pot or a nursery pot that you can slip inside the cachepot.  Often people use the pot the plant was in at the time they purchased it.

Doing this allows you to remove the plant from the decorative pot, water it thoroughly, and then return the plant to its decorative/cover pot. 

Some places will tell you that it is possible to plant in a pot without a drainage hole if you put gravel in the bottom.  The scientific research behind this method has proven that this is more likely to cause root rot. If you would like to understand why, keep reading about the Perched Water table.

The Perched Water Table and What it Means for Your Plant’s Pots

To understand why the Perched Water Table disproves using gravel in pots without drainage holes, we have to take a trip back to science class:

When we water a plant, the water is not evenly distributed throughout the soil as we might prefer or expect. Instead, gravity pulls the water down, and the majority of the water collects lower in the body of soil.

Putting Rocks in the Bottom of Pots

This phenomenon has led some plant care people to believe that if you add coarse material to the bottom of pots, like rocks or marbles, then gravity will pull the water down through the soil and collect the excess water into the coarse material.

The idea here is that you are saving the plant by keeping the excess water out of the soil where the plant’s roots will live.

Your Soil is Basically a Sponge

The Perched Water Table disproves this theory by showing that a soil medium has a saturation point regardless of the substrates it is surrounded by.

In other words, soil will retain a certain amount of water (as it is basically a sponge soaking up water) regardless of whether we add a layer of rocks below it.

So, if the bottom layer of gravel is full of water, then the soil layer above that will still be a wet, sopping sponge drowning the roots of your plant.

Try this experiment at home using clear containers! The only requirement is that you have to use the same potting soil in each container so the saturation point is the same.

Pot Size Doesn’t Matter!

To take this matter one step further, this saturation level is the same regardless of the size of the pot. So if the saturation level of potting soil is 2 inches, then half of a 4-inch pot will be saturated.

If you fill 1 inch of your 4-inch pot with rocks and 3 inches with soil, how much usable soil will the plant’s roots have? (Usable soil is defined here as soil that isn’t super wet.) The plant would only have 1 inch of usable soil. Why? 2 inches of soil would be saturated and 1 inch would be the rocks at the bottom.

If your plant is in a 2-inch pot and your potting mix has a saturation level of 2 inches, then the entire pot will be saturated. Your plant would effectively be drowning without drainage holes.

Big Takeaways:

  1. Buy pots with drainage holes to help prevent over-watering
  2. The material the pot is made out of effects the amount of time the soil retains moisture
  3. You can use pots without drainage holes. The best way is by using them as cover pots.
  4. Adding rocks in the bottom of pots without drainage doesn’t help; in fact, it does just the opposite!

Want to learn more about houseplant care? Check out these posts:

Lighting: How to Choose the Perfect Houseplant for the Lighting in Your Home!
Bright Indirect Light: Houseplant Care: What is Bright Indirect Light?
Watering: How to Water Your Houseplants Correctly Every Time
Passive Hydro: How to Propagate Houseplants Using Passive Hydro
Potting Mix: What Potting Mix Will Help Your Houseplant Grow and Thrive
Choosing a Pot: Pick the Right Pot For Your Houseplant
Exposing My Mistakes! Sharing My Biggest Houseplant Mistakes So You Can Avoid Them!
Propagation: How to Propagate a Hoya Lisa Cutting in Water
Fertilizer 101: Answers to the Most Common Questions About Fertilizer

Want to learn about botany for plant lovers? These posts are for you!

Why bother with Botanical Latin: Why You Need to Know Botanical Latin When Shopping for Houseplants
Botanical Latin 101: For People Who Want to Understand Botanical Latin
What Causes Leaf Variegation? What is the Cause and Controversy of Variegated Houseplants?
What is Tissue Culture?: Are Tissue-Cultured Houseplants of Poor Quality?

Want to learn about the benefits of nature-centered activities? Click on these posts:

Health Benefits: Why We Find Nature Therapeutic + Ways to Benefit Daily
Embracing Imperfection: Taking Care of Nature is NEVER Perfect + Why That’s Okay!
Growing Patience: When You Garden, You Grow Your Patience Alongside Your Plants
Building a Relationship with Nature: 6 Simple Reasons to Photograph Your Plants

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