The Right Pot for Your Plant … and Your Decor

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Most of the time, gardeners just use any old pot or cachepot for their houseplants without thinking too much about it. However, it’s actually important for both the health of the plant and the aesthetics of your living space to properly choose one and the other.

Pots: Practical Requirements

A pot is above all a utilitarian object, so you have to consider that first when choosing one. So:

  • The pot must be large enough for the plant you want to put into it; never cut the roots to better fit a plant into its pot!
  • The pot must allow enough space the roots to grow for at least one year, which means you’d should leave a space of at least ½ inch (1.5 cm) all around the root ball; even more for plants whose roots grow rapidly.
  • Don’t consider using only one pot for the entire life of a small plant you purchase. That would be like wearing clothes of the same size from cradle to grave! If you buy a mature plant, though, yes, it’s sometimes possible to keep it for years in the same pot.
  • For both physical and aesthetic balance purposes, the size of the pot should be proportional to the size of the plant. Generally, that means about one third of the height of the plant. However, this is a rule you can break with dealing with a very heavy pot or a plant with a massive root system or again for decorative purposes.
  • A pot too big for the plant represents a significant risk for the roots. They’ll spend too much time in soil that never dries out and where water therefore stagnates, depriving the roots of oxygen, and that can lead to rot. 
  • All pots must have one or several drainage holes on the bottom. This will allow excess water to flow out. If they don’t, again, this can cause stagnation and root rot, ultimately leading to the death of the plant. And no, placing a layer of drainage of gravel or potshards at the bottom of a pot without a drainage hole will not change the situation: when water accumulates in this layer, it simply will rise into the soil above by capillarity, leading to rot.
  • One very popular technique is to grow your plant in an inexpensive, ordinary pot with drainage holes (called a grow pot), then place it inside a decorative planter without any drainage holes (the cachepot). In such a case, about 15 to 30 minutes after watering, remove the grow pot and empty the cachepot of any excess water, thus preventing any risk of rot.
  • If you don’t want to use a cachepot, place a saucer under the grow pot to collect excess water and protect the furniture. Again, empty any excess water 15 to 30 minutes after watering. 
  • Make sure the cachepot is at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) larger than the pot it holds, otherwise getting the grow pot in and out will be difficult.
  • To be effective, the saucer should also be 1 inch (2.5 cm) wider than the bottom of the pot; otherwise you’ll find yourself skimping on watering so the saucer won’t overflow… and you never want to skimp on watering. Be forewarned that many commercial pots come with an incorporated saucer much too small for the plant’s needs! You can’t always let aesthetic considerations override practical ones.
  • The weight of big pots is a factor to consider, because you’ll still have to move them around for cleaning purposes, rearranging furniture or for other reasons. That’s why it may be wise to choose, for large plants, a light-weight pot that won’t add to their already considerable weight. There are some beautiful ones in plastic or fiberglass that look just like hefty metal or ceramic pots. You’d only notice the difference if you have to lift them!
  • Self-watering pots with a water reservoir are certainly widely available, but, except for people who are regularly absent for long periods of time, really aren’t of much use, as they often leave the soil too wet for too long and that can lead to rot. 
Two Chinese money plants (Pilea peperomioides) in matching cachepots. Photo: Folia Design

The Aesthetics of Pots and Cachepots

A beautiful pot or cachepot can represent a significant investment, frequently costing more than the plant that will grow in it. So, it’s worthwhile having a bit of a think before spending on one.

  • The pot, cachepot and saucer should match both the aesthetics of the plant and the decor of the house:
  1. Traditional glass, porcelain and terracotta pots and cachepots with classical ornamentation are suitable for colonial and Victorian decors;
  2. Unpainted wood and terracotta pots and cachepots, as well as wicker or wicker baskets, are more appropriate for rustic and country-style decors;
  3. Sober, simple and unadorned pots and cachepots, especially gray metal, and those that are square or rectangular or very tall and narrow, are best for contemporary decors; 
  4. Pots that are very colorful or highly decorated are perfect for eclectic decors.
A beautiful pot can also constitute by itself a decorative element, even without a plant. Photo: Folia Design
  • Also take into consideration the color of the plant and the background along with your decorative intentions. Do you want to highlight the plant or the pot? If it’s the plant, you choose a rather sober pot and a color that will blend with the background (wall, curtain, etc.). If it’s the pot that you want to highlight (for example, if you consider it be a work of art), you should choose a rather simple plant and set pot and plant in front of a neutral decor that will highlight the pot. A beautiful pot can also constitute by itself, even without a plant, a decorative element and become a star in your decor.
  • The pinnacle of taste is when both the plant and the pot or the cachepot integrate perfectly, aesthetically matching your decor both in terms of color and shape.
  • The placement of the pot or cachepot and plant is equally important in enhancement and aesthetics. Check the appearance of the combination from all points of view, including from the top if you can see it from above. Plus, some plants are naturally best seen from above, others from the side and finally others from below and this will affect the choice of pot and cachepot. For example, an echeveria is best seen from above, so choose a pot whose decorative element is also at the top of the pot, such as an upper edge that curves slightly inwards, like an urn. On the contrary, a candelabra euphorbia will look its best when seen from the side.

Maintaining Pots and Cachepots

Earth tones and a neutral background highlight the exotic shape and huge leaves of the fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) huge leaves. Photo: Folia Design

The vast majority of pots and cachepots are almost maintenance-free and that includes porcelain, ceramic, painted terracotta, plastic and fiberglass. Just wipe the outside occasionally to remove dust and disinfect the interior when repotting or when you have to treat a sick or insect-infested plant.

However, some require a bit more maintenance and that includes unpainted terracotta, metal, wood and wickerwork.

  • Unpainted terracotta pots and cachepots pick up mineral salts and fertilizers that eventually stain them. You’ll therefore need to soak them occasionally in water to which you’ve added a bit of vinegar, then scrub them with a soft wire brush to remove the stain and restore their color.
  • Metal pots and cachepots can rust and may need sanding or even painting to remain shiny.
  • Wooden pots and cachepots need oiling or painting to remain beautiful.
  • Wicker pots and cachepots will discolor over time, but there isn’t much you can do about it.

There you go! The right pot for the plant and your decor, always a winning combination!

Article adapted from a press release by Folia Design.

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