How to Pick the Perfect Pot for Indoor Plants
Put the fun in functional with the right container for each of your leafy friends.
You’ve picked out the plants that will grow best in your abode and are ready to create an Insta-worthy display. There’s just one problem: Those plastic pots your plants came home in aren’t exactly pretty, or sturdy for that matter. Before you rush to choose new containers, get to know some basic pot-picking principles so you can find the right indoor planters for all of your botanical buddies.
Start with these general tips and then dig into the specifics for potting up houseplants, succulents, veggies, and herbs.
While it’s tempting to select pots because of their appearance, containers that speak to a plant’s unique needs will help maximize growth. These pointers can help you find a planter that pleases both you and your leafy friend.
Size It Right
In terms of plant pot size, you should always go with the smallest container that can support your plant’s current stature. A too-big container holds too much soil, which in turn retains too much moisture for a new plant. Plus, it looks weird—a small plant in an oversized pot is, well, awkward. However, every good rule has its exceptions: If your plant is fragile or grows quickly, going up a size can be a good idea.
Match Up the Material
When it comes to the materials indoor containers are made of, not all pots are equal. Some play to a plant’s needs more than others. Here’s a primer on the 3 most common materials and their pros and cons.
- Glazed ceramic: These pots have a—wait for it—glaze that makes them shine. Available in a whole rainbow of colors and myriad patterns, glazed pots offer seemingly endless design choices. They restrict airflow more than some other materials but hold water longer than their unglazed counterparts.
- Terra cotta: If you develop decision fatigue after hours of online browsing, terra cotta is a safe bet. The clay’s porous surface allows excess water to evaporate and oxygen to move in and out. However, they break easily, so keep them clear of kids and pets. They can also become quite heavy and challenging to move as you go up in size.
- Plastic: Despite what you may have seen in the past, these aren’t your grandma’s plastic pots. Today’s plastic planters come in a plethora of colors and patterns that closely mimic ceramic. They’re comparatively lightweight and chip- and break-resistant. However, they’re less forgiving when it comes to overwatering than terra cotta, and if you’re growing herbs or veggies, make sure the plastic is food-safe.
Get Down with Drainage
If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this: Your. Pot. Needs. Drainage. Without it, water will sit at the bottom of the container which can lead to soggy roots, yellowing leaves, fungus gnats, and a host of other indoor plant problems.
- Start by making sure your pot has drainage holes. Not there? If you’re skilled with a drill, add your own.
- Or, try the pot-within-a-pot approach: Place a plant still in its nursery pot (with holes) down inside a larger pot that doesn’t have holes. (Just remember to dump any excess water when you give your plant a drink.)
- If you sink your plant down into well-draining Miracle-Gro® Indoor Potting Mix, you can further improve the setup, since the texture is designed to help water flow through.
- Don’t forget that with drainage, there is excess water—stick a saucer underneath to catch any H2O before it gets to your floors or furniture.
Evaluate the Weight
Keep in mind that you have to lug home the pot you purchase, and once it’s filled with potting mix and a plant, it will have added weight. You may need to move your plant to follow the sunlight (or your redecorating whims), so make sure you can flex those biceps to lift a floor plant or pop it on a stand with caster wheels, instead.
Picking Pots for Houseplants
Here’s the secret to selecting houseplant pots: Keep it simple. We’re not saying you can’t go wild with a colorful plastic planter or a ceramic container covered in chunky glazes. However, when it comes to sizing, less is more. Here are some examples to use as a benchmark.
- African violets: Pot up these purple cuties in a ceramic or plastic container about 4 to 5 inches in diameter, which will accommodate these smaller-sized houseplants. Bonus points if the pot is self-watering—that’s an easy way to keep these moisture-loving plants happy (or any variety that’s sensitive to watering).
- Fiddle leaf figs: While tropical plants can soar several stories tall in the wild, you can reasonably expect to get a few feet of growth from a fiddle leaf fig indoors. Make sure this plant is placed in a well-draining container that's 1/3 wider than the plant's root ball. The same goes for other medium-sized leafy varieties, such as bird of paradise, monstera, and money tree.
- Trailing philodendrons: Place foliage-filled philodendrons in a hanging basket 1 to 2 inches wider than its nursery pot so trailing vines can take center stage. Take the same approach with other trailing houseplants that are just as easy to care for, like peperomia, Tradescantia zebrina, and pothos.
Picking Pots for Succulents
Succulents are all about well-draining soil, and terra cotta pots help keep their lives on the dryer side. Given their resilient nature, succulents also grow well in upcycled containers. Here are more ways to pot up these funky plants.
- Burro’s tail: This trailing succulent and others like it, such as string of pearls and ruby necklace, are right at home in a hanging basket. These plants each work well in a pot that’s not much bigger than their current abode. However, because fragile burro’s tail stems are at risk of breaking when handled, consider planting it in a slightly larger pot (go up by 3 inches, max), and try to avoid relocating it.
- Hens and chicks: Spreading succulents, like hen and chicks, start with a primary plant (that would be the hen) that then produces smaller pups (AKA, the chicks). The roots don’t run very deep since the energy is focused on growing outwards, so a wide and shallow terra cotta pot will give these types of succulents—which includes echeveria, ghost plant, and sedum—plenty of room to spread out.
- Jade: For go-with-the-flow jade, use a terra cotta pot only a couple inches larger than the root ball. Mature jade plants can reach 2 to 3 feet wide, but most garden center varieties start around 4 to 6 inches, so aim for a 4- to 8-inch container if you’re beginning with a young plant.
Picking Pots for Herbs
When growing herbs indoors, virtually any type of pot will do as long as there’s adequate drainage. You can even go vertical and create an indoor hanging herb garden. Let your space and personal taste be your guide and follow these tips to pot up a couple of herb all-stars.
- Basil: Plant versatile basil in a ceramic, terra cotta, or plastic pot, or even a Mason jar with a DIY drainage hole. Basil and other easy-to-grow herbs, like mint and rosemary, need a container that's at least 1/3 as tall as the final height of the herb (check the plant tag or seed packet). If your basil plant will reach 18 inches, for example, your pot needs to be at least 6 inches high.
- Chives: A 10-inch bowl-type container works best for clump-forming chives (and spreading, shrub-like sage). While chives are happy in less direct light than other herbs, they are finicky about the amount of H20 they get, so a self-watering pot is also a great way to keep that herb newbie-proof.
- Lavender: Put aromatic lavender in a terra cotta pot that’s 1 to 2 inches larger than its root ball (try a 7-inch pot for most starter plants). Lavender gets cranky when sitting around in wet soil, so well-draining soil, a porous pot material, and the right container size all play an important role in lavender’s life indoors.
Picking Pots for Veggies
Most veggie varieties that grow indoors tend to fall on the smaller, “dwarf” side, so you won’t need the large containers you might use outdoors. Choose a well-draining ceramic or plastic container to help keep the soil consistently moist, or, eliminate the guesswork (and the soil) by using a hydroponic indoor growing system complete with a grow light.
Here are 3 common veggies to try, along with their container needs, so you can get a harvest without leaving the house.
- Leafy greens: Grow arugula, kale, lettuce, and other leafy greens in a well-draining ceramic or plastic pot. If you start from seed, scatter them across the top and then thin out seedlings once they emerge. For seedlings, divide the width of the container by the width of your full-grown plants (per the plant tag) to determine how many will fit or how large their new home should be. For example, if leaf lettuce’s comfort zone is 6 inches, you can grow 2 plants in a 12-inch container. Use this same basic equation any time you’re looking to plant veggies in containers.
- Radishes: When growing radishes or other root vegetables, you need a bucket, tub, or pot that’s deep enough to accommodate their downward growth. (Typically, 9 inches deep does the trick for radishes.) If you’re making your own setup, don’t forget to drill drainage holes in the bottom so the soil doesn’t become waterlogged.
- Peas: Growing peas indoors requires a larger vessel, one roughly the size of a 5-gallon bucket, as well as a large south-facing window or a strong grow light. Opt for a dwarf pea variety and provide a trellis for vines to climb, with a strong grow light.
You’re on your way to becoming a pot-picking expert, a skill your plants will surely appreciate. And now that you’ve narrowed in on what your plants need, you can start mixing and matching colors and patterns to create an arrangement that shows off your plants’ personalities as well as your own.