pots for indoor plants

What Pots To Use For Indoor Plants: Types, Size & Drainage

Selecting appropriate pots for indoor plants is much more than just choosing a “pretty one.” Plant pots serve a more important function than just being a plant-holding vessel and using the right one makes the difference between a healthy houseplant and one that’s struggling.

What Pots To Use For Indoor Plants:  There’s a wide variety of choices in pot materials, sizes, styles, and what you use depends on the plant’s moisture preferences and size. In general, use clay and unglazed ceramic pots for drought-tolerant plants preferring fast-draining soil. Use plastic, metal or glazed ceramic for plants requiring a moist environment.

The most important thing about pots for houseplants is that you understand the impact your choice has on the growing conditions for your plant. You can adapt how you care for your houseplants to adapt to almost any choice of pot. Read on to find out everything you need to know about pots for indoor plants and discover some great tips for growing in them.

Different Types Of Pots For Indoor Plants

Just a walk down the plant pot aisle at your local garden center or home improvement store will highlight all your available choices in containers. You’ll most likely find pots made of various materials, colors, sizes and styles and sometimes choosing the right one can seem daunting.

To ensure you select the best pot for the plant you’re planning to grow in it, it’s always best to familiarize yourself with the plant’s preferred cultural conditions and characteristics first. This helps in choosing the best material, size, and style to ensure problem-free and vigorous growth.

Let’s look at pot materials first, the pros and cons of each, and how they impact conditions for your plants.

Common Houseplant Pot Materials

Terracotta

terracotta pots for indoor plants

In Italian, terracotta translates to “baked earth” and pots are manufactured from a variety of clay-based materials. Classic terracotta pots are typically unglazed and somewhat porous.

Pros: 

  • Terracotta’s warm reddish-brown color blends well with any plant.
    • Pots come in a wide range of sizes from several inches to those that accommodate larger plants like small trees.
    • The cost of terra cotta pots range from very inexpensive to expensive.
    • Good choice for plants that prefer a drier, well-drained soil.
    • Pots are heavier and more stable, making them less likely to tip over.

Cons:

  • Soil dries out faster in unlined terracotta pots so plants need to be watered more often than if planted in non-porous pots.
    • Terra cotta pots filled with soil, especially larger ones can be extremely heavy and hard to move. Place the pot on a stand with rollers to make moving easier.
    • The material is brittle and breaks easily if the pot is dropped or damaged.

Ceramic

ceramic pots for indoor plants

Compared to terracotta pots, ceramic pots are manufactured from earthen materials that are less porous and denser. The pots are glazed on the outside and inside.

Pros:

  • Ceramic pots come is a wide range of sizes, colors and styles, with some elaborately decorated.
  • The pots are more durable than terracotta and don’t break as easily, lasting for decades.
  • The soil in ceramic pots doesn’t dry as quickly as in terra cotta.
  • Suitable choice for plants that prefer more consistently moist conditions.
  • Pots are heavy and stable, and less likely to tip over.

Cons:

  • Similar to terracotta, larger ceramic pots filled with soil can be heavy to move. Place the pot on a stand with rollers to make moving easier.
  • Ceramic pots, especially large ones can come with a hefty price tag.
  • Some might not have bottom drain holes, leading to the possibility of soil remaining too soggy. You may have to drill a hole in the pot’s bottom.

Plastic

plastic pots for indoor plants

Plastic pots for indoor plants offer gardeners an almost endless selection in colors and styles and can be attractive plant partners highlighting their beauty, as well as complimenting indoor decor.

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Pros:

  • Of all the pot materials, plastic pots are the least expensive.
  • Plastic pots come in a vast array of colors and sizes.
  • Plastic pots are very lightweight and not as heavy as ceramic or terra cotta.
  • They stand up to damage better and won’t break if dropped.
  • Soil stays moist longer.
  • A good choice for plants that require a bit moister conditions.

Cons:

  • Cheaply made plastic pots left out in the sun can lose their vibrant color, turn brittle and break.
  • Since plastic pots aren’t porous, overwatering can create soil conditions that are too soggy and possibly cause health problems of the plant.

Wooden

wooden pots for indoor plants

For a natural look and building material, you can’t go wrong with wood and it can give a planting container a rich and expensive look. When manufactured properly from long-lasting woods like cedar or redwood and stainless steel hardware, wooden pots will last for years.

You can also make wooden pots from pine, but it doesn’t last as long unless pressure treated with chemicals that can be toxic to your plants. However, lining any type of wooden pot with plastic will extend the pot’s life, as it prevents extensive water damage.

Although more commonly seen in outdoor container gardening, indoor wooden planters can look fantastic.

Pros:

  • Constructing wooden pots to fit your specific needs on size and style is an easy DIY project that uses basic tools.
  • You can stain or paint the wood to fit your specific taste.
  • Wooden pots can cost considerably less than high-end pots made from ceramic or terracotta.
  • You can make a wooden pot out of various recycled materials like wooden boxes, crates, baskets or bark.

Cons:

  • To prolong the life of the wooden pot, it requires periodic resealing.
  • The wood can decay after a couple of years, especially if a plastic liner isn’t used and the wood remains wet or the pot is made from an inferior wood.
  • Depending on whether the pot’s wood is sealed, wooden containers can be porous and the soil will dry quicker.
  • More likely to leak, so you should use a good drip tray when using wooden pots or planters indoors.

Metal

metal pots for indoor plants

Metal pots for indoor plants offer a unique look and can add to the beauty of the houseplant they hold. No matter your design style, you can find a metal container that compliments it.

Pros:

  • You can repurpose a wealth of metal items to use as plant pots. Just be sure to create a bottom drainage hole.
  • With the addition of a plant, metal pots make attractive indoor accent pieces.
  • Metal containers used indoors are durable and long-lasting.
  • You can find metal containers in a wealth of different sizes and styles.

Cons:

  • Depending on the type of metal, some metals containers can rust.
  • Larger containers made out of a metal such as iron can be heavy to move once filled with soil.
  • The majority of solid metal containers require drain holes installed on the bottom.
  • If placed in a consistently hot and sunny location, the container can heat the soil making it dry out quicker.
  • Metal isn’t porous so the soil stays moist longer which can be problematic if you have a tendency to overwater.

Fiberglass

fiberglass pots for indoor plants

Fiberglass pots are made from mixing fiberglass fibers with resin, which ends up forming an extremely lightweight container. This allows pots to be formed into an almost endless variety of sizes and shapes. In fact, you may even mistake a fiberglass pot for plastic or even ceramic.

Pros:

  • Fiberglass pots are very durable and will last for years.
  • Fiberglass is extremely lightweight compared to ceramics or clay.
  • You have an almost endless selection of fiberglass pot sizes, shapes and designs.
  • Non-porous, holding soil moisture for longer.

Cons:

  • Fiberglass pots can be expensive.
  • After years of use, the outside of the pot can become frayed.
  • More brittle than plastic pots.
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Houseplant Pot Size And Drainage

Pot material is one factor to consider when choosing pots for indoor plants, but pot size and drainage also play important roles in regulating the environment for your plants.

Pot Size

The size of a plant pot compared to the specific houseplant’s size might not seem that important, but it’s actually hugely important. The size of the pot can make the difference between a robust plant and one that’s in critical condition.

Small Pots

It’s probably obvious that you want to choose a pot that complements the size of your plant. Using pots for indoor plants that are small compared to the size of the plant means that the soil is going to dry out much quicker after being watered. This can be a good thing for drought-tolerant plants but will make it much more difficult to manage a plant that needs consistently moist soil.

Additionally, a pot that is small relative to the plant’s size means it will become root-bound quicker than if it was growing in a pot with several inches of room to grow. Some plants don’t mind being rootbound, some even prefer it, but others will dislike crowded conditions and this will negatively affect the growth and health of the plant.

  • Plants such as African violets, Hoya plants, and phalaenopsis orchids prefer to be rootbound, making a relatively small pot more suitable.
  • Succulents and most cacti don’t require a lot of space and prefer drier conditions that small pots offer.

Another consideration is that using a container that is too small can result in the plant being top-heavy and prone to falling over. Not only will you end up with a dirty mess on the floor but also run the risk of damaging your plant.

Large Pots

It goes to reason that the larger the plant is the larger pot you’ll need. Large pots are useful when growing indoor plants that are tall and will become too top-heavy to keep them from tipping over and possibly breaking the pot and damaging the plant.

Larger pots for indoor plants also come in handy if you are creating a container garden and planting multiple different types of plants together. The larger soil area allows each plant to develop a proper root system.

However, there are things you need to consider when using a pot that is quite a bit larger than the plant growing in it.

  • If you have a tendency to overwater, the excess soil in large pots will remain wet for longer and can result in health problems such as root rot or other houseplant diseases.
  • Some plants like spider plants, African violets and peace lilies prefer being root-bound and won’t perform at their best when grown in a pot that is too large.

If you can answer the following questions, you’ll be able to select the most suitable pot for your houseplant.

  • Does the plant prefer moister or drier soil conditions?
  • Does the plant prefer being root bound?
  • Is the plant a succulent or cactus that prefers drier soil that drains fast?
  • How fast does the plant grow and will it quickly become top heavy

Expert Tip:  However, if you are unable to know the answers to the above, there are basic pot selection tips that will work for the majority of plants and have you using a suitably sized container.

  • Use a pot that is approximately 1 to 2 inches larger than the current pot where the plant is growing. This helps prevent the possibility of soil conditions that are too wet.
  • Make sure the selected pot has plenty of drainage holes so you don’t end up with waterlogged soil.
  • Use a well-draining potting mix to ensure good aeration and drainage.
different pot sizes for indoor plants

Using Cachepots For Indoor Plants

The term “cachepot” is French and in English, translates to “planter,” which refers to a decorative pot, usually without bottom drainage that is used to hold another pot holding the plant.

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Cachepots are selected for their decorative appearance and allow you to use an inner pot that is most suited for the plant while having much more freedom to choose whatever style or appearance you like for the outer cachepot.

I normally use a cachepot for the majority of my indoor plants, as I love to match the outer pot with the decor of my home, while still being able to pot my houseplants in the most suitable container. In addition, using a cachepot ensures no drips or leaks that can ruin floors or windowsills. I’ve experienced the occasional overflowing drip tray in the past, and decided that cachepots provide greater safeguards for the surfaces in my home.

There is one downside to using cachepots to hold your indoor plants. If you water your plants while they are in the cachepot, the water will run through and pool at the bottom of the pot. If you forget to empty the cachepot after a few minutes, you can leave the roots of your plant sitting in water. This can spell disaster, as it doesn’t take too long before root rot sets in, and you have a very sick plant on your hands.

I prefer to take my plants to the sink when watering them. I water them thoroughly while in their cachepots, let them sit for a few minutes, and then make sure to empty the cachepot of any excess water before replacing them to their normal locations in my home.

It is a little more work to move my plants to the sink every time they need to be watered, but it means I always remember to empty the cachepot and avoid any major problems.

The Importance Of Proper Drainage

For the vast majority of indoor plants, growing in soil with good drainage is imperative for good health and problem-free growth. Part of the solution lies in using appropriate potting soil (see this article for more details) and part of the solution is ensuring your chosen container has bottom drain holes.

When using containers that don’t drain the soil stays moist for longer periods because there’s no place for the extra water to escape. This can lead to soggy soil conditions, which many indoor plants cannot tolerate, especially for long periods.

When drainage holes are present and you thoroughly water the plant, the water runs through the soil adding moisture and the leftover water drains through the pot’s bottom. This allows the root system to become watered, the soil stays moist, not saturated and soggy, which results in a thriving plant.

People who have a tendency to overwater are most likely to experience problems growing in pots without bottom drainage. Possible problems associated with non-draining pots include:

  • Root rot that often leads to plant death.
  • Wet soil conditions encourage disease and some pests.
  • Fertilizer salts cannot be flushed from the soil resulting in foliage burns.
  • The soggy soil conditions reduce soil and root oxygenation, which is essential for healthy root and plant growth.

Generally, avoid growing indoor plants in containers without drainage holes at all costs. There are certain situations where it is possible, but it is always a careful balancing act.

Terrariums are one notable exception, where a lack of drainage holes is normal. Making and caring for both open and closed terrariums is great fun, and they can make wonderful visual displays in your home. I’ve written separate articles about open terrariums and closed terrariums that you may like to read.

Expert Tip:

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If your desired pot doesn’t have bottom drain holes, you can still safely utilize the container by adding the holes yourself. Depending on the pot’s material, you can drill holes in the bottom of the pot, create them by carefully punching through the bottom with a can opener or screwdriver.

Protecting Surfaces From Water Damage

Potted plants can add beauty and interest to your indoor spaces but water leaking from the bottom of the pot can damage surfaces like wood. Even if the particular surface won’t suffer damage from the leaking pot, you’re stuck with cleaning up a wet mess every time you water.

However, numerous options will catch the draining water and solve the problem. There are options you can purchase that are specifically designed to catch the water, as well as creative things you most likely will find around the house that solves the problem.

Some of the items you can utilize to prevent the draining water from causing damage or creating a mess include:

  • Many types of pots for indoor plants come with a bottom catch or drip tray either attached to the pot or separate.
  • Use a cachepot to hold your potted plant. Just be sure to empty the accumulated water out of the cachepot once your potted plant stops draining.
  • Use a water-absorbing mat to set the pot on.
  • Reuse the lids from plastic containers to sit under the potted plant to catch water.
  • Sit the potted plant on top of a colorful plastic picnic plate.
how to choose pots for indoor plants

Basic Tips For Planting Houseplants In Pots

Next comes the fun part of actually planting your plant or plants in the appropriate container you’ve selected. Some basic tips to remember include:

  • Use pots for indoor plants that are only an inch or two larger than the present container the plant is growing in. This helps to reduce the risk of overwatering.
  • Plant your plant only as deep as it was originally growing in its nursery container. Planting too deep puts undue stress on the plant affecting its growth.
  • Potting mixes are lighter weight than most potting soils, which can remain too heavy and not drain properly resulting in soggy soil.

Planting Multiple Houseplants In One Pot

There’s no doubt about it, container gardens holding multiple plants can be a thing of beauty indoors, especially when it highlights different colors, textures, and habits of growth. They also give you options for designing the container to meet your particular tastes in design.

However, there are important factors you need to consider before you start mixing different plants together in your container. They could mean the difference in a container garden exhibiting robust growth and one that looks sickly. 

The number one rule in creating a thriving indoor container garden is being sure you mix plants together that have the same requirements for good growth. These similar requirements include:

  • Similar light requirements
  • Similar water requirements
  • Similar soil requirements
  • Similar temperature requirements

You will only end up with problems if you add a plant that likes it on the dry side, with one that prefers constantly moist soil. Likewise, you don’t want to mix a plant that grows best in a darker area of the home with one that prefers direct sunlight.

Additionally, don’t cram so many plants together there isn’t room for new growth. It’s best to leave several inches between each plant, which allows for new growth. Remember, as the plants grow, any bare areas inside the container garden fills in.

Expert Tip:  For the best appearance, when designing your indoor container garden place your tallest plants in the center and then work down from tallest to shortest. It gives the container a more balanced appearance.

For an eye-catching appeal, mix plants together with different leaf textures and shapes, as well as differing foliage colors.

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For hanging baskets, use a plant with upright growth in the container’s center and then add a plant that sprawls over the side near the edges.

Signs You Need To Repot Your Houseplant

All plants growing in a pot require repotting at one time or the other and usually for one or two reasons. You’ll need to refresh the old soil with fresh from time to time, which refreshes the soil nutrients that the plant requires for healthy growth.

Another reason and possibly a more important one is repotting a plant that’s outgrowing its container. Signs your plant is probably outgrowing its present container include:

  • Roots growing out of the bottom drain holes.
  • Water immediately runs out of the pot’s bottom drain holes.
  • Flexible containers like those made out of plastic may suddenly develop a bulging side.
  • When refreshing the soil, if you notice the root system starting to wrap and is taking up the majority of allotted space inside the container.

Unless the specific plant prefers a root bound environment, allowing the plant to remain growing root bound in its container can have negative effects.

Once the roots start extensively wrapping around each other, the plant might never exhibit normal growth even when repotted and the roots cut apart. It might never reach its potential in size.

Expert Tip:  If you are repotting a plant and notice the roots are extremely bound together or starting to wrap, you can gently tease the roots apart with your hands, or carefully cut them apart so they’ll grow straight.

When doing any type of plant pruning, always use sterilized tool blades so you don’t accidentally transfer a disease to it. This is easily accomplished by wiping off the tool’s blades with rubbing alcohol.

Read this article for more detail about how to repot houseplants.

Using Pots In Indoor Spaces

Your home is supposed to be your sanctuary where you find an environment that’s peaceful and relaxing. It’s also a place that reflects your taste in design and style. No matter what your design style is or if you don’t think you have one at all, the addition of indoor plants can have a positive impact in your home, creating an interesting and peaceful environment.

You have a wealth of choices where you can display your greenery inside the home from tables, shelves, bookcases, and plant stands, wall planters to hanging pots from the ceiling or rafters. 

Whether you are going for a lush and green tropical look or a more bohemian style, potted plants can fulfill your desires and aspirations. Some design ideas using your potted plants include:

  • Filling an indoor space with multiple hanging plants hung from decorative hangers will add a natural feel to any room.
  • Compliment your design style by using decorated cachepots for your houseplants.
  • Using a combination of cachepots, plant stands or tables, place your potted plants by a stairway.
  • Fill spaces on bookshelves, windowsills, and tables with appropriately sized houseplants, to create an organic feel within your home.
  • Use taller plants and raised planters to highlight your plants and compliment your decor and furniture.
  • Use various sizes and styles of containers mixed together in one location, placing the taller ones to the back and smaller ones in the front.

Whatever your taste in design or plants, there’s something by the way of pots and plants that will fill your indoor space with living beauty. As long as you know your specific plant’s likes and dislikes, you’ll easily be able to select a container best suited for good growth.

With so many choices of pots for indoor plants from the plain to elaborately decorated, just adding a few filled with plants to your indoor space is guaranteed to bring a natural and relaxing vibe.