If you are thinking about starting a garden for the first time, you might be wondering which containers to choose for your plants. You might be wondering which containers to use for seed sowing and potting up prior to planting in a bed or border. Or you might be wondering about containers for a container garden: those in which plants will remain for a longer period of time.
In this article, we will talk you through a range of things to consider when it is time to choose containers for your plants.
Consider Which Plants You Will Be Growing
First and foremost, choosing containers involves thinking about which plants specifically you want to grow in them. It is important to understand that there are plants that will thrive in a particular container, and others that will suffer.
You need to think about:
The growing requirements of the plants in terms of sunlight and temperatures.
Whether the plants like wet or very free draining conditions, or something in between.
The grown habits of the plants in question. (Whether they are tall, short, compact or sprawling, for example.)
The root systems of the plants in question. (Whether they deep or shallow rooted, for example.)
Always start by developing a better understanding of the needs of the plants you wish to grow before you even begin to think about which containers to choose for them.
How Long Plants Will Be in the Containers For
In addition to thinking about the environmental needs and characteristics of the plants you wish to grow, you also need to think about how long they will remain in the containers.
The first thing to think about is whether the containers will be temporary homes for your plants. (ie. while they are seedlings or young plants before transplantation). The characteristics of container required will be different for short term container growing.
Of course, containers might also be used for longer term/ permanent growing. You might grow annual crops in containers throughout the spring and summer months. Or you might grow perennials or houseplants in containers year round. Again, the duration of the growing period can have a role to play in determining which containers are best for your needs and the needs of your plants.
If the containers are to be temporary ones, it is worthwhile considering whether you need containers at all. A soil blocker, for example, could be used to make soil blocks for seedlings and do away with the need for containers altogether.
You could also consider biodegradable containers, that will be transplanted into final growing positions along with your plants. Toilet roll tubes, newspaper pots, and coir pots, for example, are all options that you could consider.
For longer term container growing, durability and longevity will of course be things that you will want to consider.
Think About Where the Containers Will Be Placed
When choosing containers for your plants, location is also very important. Think about where your containers will be placed. Alongside the plants themselves, understanding place will also be very important.
You might place containers:
Indoors (on a sunny windowsill or in a suitable location inside your home).
In a greenhouse, polytunnel or other undercover growing area.
Outdoors (in your garden, or on a patio, balcony, or rooftop, for example).
Wherever you decide to place your containers it is very important to understand the characteristics, strengths and shortcomings of the locations.
Sunlight and shade.
Temperature. (Considering how this changes over time and throughout the year.)
Humidity. (And precipitation if outdoors.)
Wind/ ventilation. (Will the site have adequate ventilation if indoors or under cover? Is the site sheltered or exposed if outdoors?)
Space (Is this limited? If so, which containers will make the most of the space available?)
Consider the Material The Containers Are Made From
By now, you should have a better understanding of the plants you wish to grow. And have a good understanding also of the place you want to grow them. It’s time to turn your attention to the containers themselves.
Containers can be made from a wide range of different materials. And it is important to think about the characteristics of those different materials. Understanding the materials from which containers are made can be important in making the right container choices.
Materials commonly used for containers include, for example, terracotta, ceramic, plastic, stone, wood and metal. Each of these materials has its pros and cons. And each can be the best choice in certain situations and for certain plants.
When considering the material from which a container is made, you should think about:
How well a material stores/ retains or releases water/ moisture.
The speed at which a material will heat up and cool down, how well it retains or dissipates heat.
How heavy or lightweight it will be. (Consider whether you need to be able to move the containers. And whether it will tip/ blow over easily.)
Whether it is a durable and long-lasting material.
The environment: the true cost of manufacturing a container and what will happen to it when it reaches the end of its useful life.
Remember, you do not necessarily have to by ready made containers or pots for your plants. You could also consider making your own from reclaimed materials. Bear this in mind as you consider the different options available to you.
Understand How The Colour of the Container Makes a Difference
In addition to thinking about the material from which a container is made, you should also consider its colour. The colour of a container can make a big difference when it comes to its characteristics. It can make a different to how suited a container will be to growing different plants.
Light coloured or white containers will reflect light, while darker or black ones will absorb light and heat up more quickly.
Think About How Big the Container Has to Be
Of course, another important consideration is how large a container should be. This will depend on the plants you are growing (and their stage of growth). When it comes to container growing there is definitely not ‘one size fits all’.
Some plants will prefer to be placed in a pot that keeps it snugly fitted, while others definitely need more space to spread out. It is important to recognise that plants will require containers of a minimum size – but bigger is not always better. A pot or planter can be too big as well as too small. To large an option may increase the chances of a plant that likes free-draining conditions becoming waterlogged, for example.
If we are talking about an edible garden, many common annual garden crops can thrive in 20 litre pots. But there are some that will do best in a larger container, and others that can be perfectly happy in a smaller one.
These are just designed to be a few simple tips for beginners. Of course, there are more things to consider when you choose containers. But the above considerations are a good place to start. They can help you move closer to choosing the right containers for your plants.
Do you have any tips for those who are new to growing plants in containers? Which plants do you grow in pots or planter, and which options did you choose? Share your experiences and ideas in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.