Container and Soil Selection

Two of the decisions you make with your potted plants will affect their future more than almost anything else: the container and soil you plant them into. This five-part guide will lead you through the process of how to select soil and containers that will help your plants thrive.

Step 1: Pick a Container Size

The first thing to consider when choosing a plant container is the plant’s needs in terms of root volume and growth pattern. Will it send out deep roots, or does it root more superficially? Are you planting only one plant in a container or making a planting arrangement? Base the container size on the size of a plant’s roots. For multiple plants in one container, choose something that is wide and deep enough for them all.

Container and Soil Selection
Step 2: Choose a Container Material

From traditional terra cotta to repurposed decorative metal boxes, almost anything that holds soil can be used as a plant container. But different materials have different properties. Terra cotta is very porous, and soil will dry out more quickly in these pots than in glazed ceramics. It also doesn’t hold up well to weather and is better for indoor plants. Plastic and resin are light, durable, retain moisture well and come in many shapes and sizes. Metal containers are chic, but may be prone to rust and often lack drainage. For aesthetics, you can place one container inside another, such as a wicker basket or a vintage hatbox.

Container and Soil Selection
Step 3: Select a Container Type

Containers come in every shape and size, from tall and cylindrical to wide and bowl-like. You can find collections of succulents or cacti sold in wide, shallow containers — ideal for these shallow-rooted, drought-tolerant plants. Deeper containers are good for plants that need to stay moist, and self-watering pots are even better. Hanging pots are stylish but dry out quickly.

Container and Soil Selection
Step 4: Ensure Drainage

Good drainage is critical to plant health, because roots need access to oxygen. Any repurposed container that lacks drain holes needs to be either drilled, or the bottom needs to be filled with several inches of activated charcoal beneath the soil to assist with drainage. Ideally, plant roots will get the oxygen they need through a combination of well-drained soil, sensible watering techniques, and adequate bottom-of-the-container drainage.

Container and Soil Selection
Step 5: Decide on a Soil Type

Plants need soil that can hold high levels of nutrients in the root zone, retaining sufficient moisture while allowing roots to breathe. There are many different commercial mixes designed for specific types of plants; using a soil mix that is suited to the plant you are potting is important. Pay attention to a plant’s ideal PH range and specific drainage needs when choosing soil. You can also make your own tailored soil blend, using a combination of peat moss, perlite, sand, vermiculite, and an organic compost. Coconut coir can also be used instead of peat moss. It might seem like a lot of fuss, but taking the time to select or create the right type of soil for your plant will pay off in the end.

Container and Soil Selection

These five simple steps are an easy way to give potted plants the best start in life. A little work in the beginning can ensure a long, beautiful relationship with your plants.