Rhoda Peacher
May 31, 2013

In patio gardens, the container’s material affects how you prepare it for planting, watering and winterizing. Regardless of what your plants’ container is made of, the most important feature is adequate drainage. A container plant without drainage allows water to pool, drowning the plant roots. If you find a container that you want to use for your patio garden but it lacks holes in the bottom, drill the holes in the container yourself.

Terra-cotta. One of the most traditional materials for planting containers is unglazed clay or terra-cotta. Terra-cotta is a natural earth color that generally won’t clash with any container plant. Terra-cotta pots are porous and allow plant roots to breathe; the downside of using terra-cotta in your container plant is that the pots will dry out quickly. If planting a moisture-loving plant like a fern, you likely will need to water several times a day.

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Ceramic. Ceramic has thick side walls, so the soil temperature changes slowly, making container plants less likely to overheat. 

Larger ceramic pots are heavy, so consider placing them on rolling plant stands. Ceramic pots will break if dropped and will chip and crack if left outside in moist, freezing conditions. Clay pots can become discolored with a white residue, the result of salts from the soil leaching through the porous pot and collecting on the outside. You can scrub the residue off of clay pots.

Fabric. Fabric pots are made from melted recycled plastic formed into fibers or from plastic fibers mixed with some natural fibers like jute or bamboo. The fibers are made into a mesh fabric that is then formed into a pot. Depending on the thickness of the fabric, containers might be freestanding or made into hanging plant pouches. Fabric containers are environmentally friendly and porous, so they must be watered often.

Plastic. Available in all shapes, sizes and colors, plastic containers are lightweight and won’t chip if left outside in freezing temperatures. Plastic containers might crack, however. Because they are lighter, plastic pots can blow over in the wind and should be weighted (with rocks of other heavy material) or placed in nonwindy spots.

Plastic pots aren’t porous and won’t dry out as fast as clay pots, making them a good choice if you have irregular watering habits. Plastic pots have thin walls, however, and absorb heat from the sun, warming the soul to plant-killing temperatures. Dark plastic pots might work better for plants that do well in a slightly shady environment.

Not every plastic pot is suitable for outdoor use. If you use a pot intended for indoor use outdoors, it will become brittle and crack with exposure direct sunlight. Many plastic pots are made from recycled materials and can be recycled when their usefulness ends. If your plastic pots start to look a little faded and old, give them a facelift by painting them with a spray paint design for painting plastic. 

Wood. Cedar, teak and redwood are often chosen for planter materials because they won’t rot as fast as other woods, and they’re safe for use around fruits “7 easy container fruits”, vegetables ” 10 easy container vegetables” and herbs http://www.urbanfarmonline.com/urban-gardening/urban-farm-crop-profiles/growing-herbs.aspx . Pressure-treated wood can be used to make containers for nonfood plants, but it lacks the natural beauty of untreated wood. Wood insulates soil and can withstand winter temperatures. It is long-lasting and can produce versatile shapes and sizes. You can purchase wooden planters at your local garden center or try making your own.

Concrete. Heavy and durable concrete planters are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. Concrete planters won’t chip in the winter or fade after years of use. Concrete can be stained or painted, and handy people can make them inexpensively. It requires making a form out of wood or plastic bowl, then mixing a bag of concrete and pouring it in.

Concrete containers are thick-walled and insulate the soil from fast temperature changes. Concrete also discourages the growth of mold or bacteria. Because of their weight, concrete containers offer a good choice for large plants like dwarf trees because they’re unlikely to blow over. Plan carefully where you want to place your concrete container. It won’t be easy to move once filled with soil and plants.

Hypertufa. Another formable material that can make a variety of sizes and styles of planting containers, hypertufa is a mixture of peat moss, perlite, water, cement and sometimes other additives. Hypertufa is not as heavy as concrete but has a rustic, natural stone look.

Hypertufa absorbs moisture when plants are watered and then lets the moisture leach into the soil, keeping the overall moisture level higher than some other types of containers. Hypertufa’s porous nature allows the plant roots to breathe, and its thick side walls insulate plant roots from temperature fluctuations. Hypertufa is long-lasting and withstands freezing temperatures if properly cured (covered loosely with plastic and kept moist to harden for a couple of weeks). Handy homemakers might try fashioning planters from hypertufa.

Click here to read more about growing container trees in your patio garden.

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