Choice of containers is largely a matter of personal taste,
but if you’re committed to old-fashioned clay, you might want to try plastic
containers instead of clay. Plastic containers have evolved over the last
couple of decades and offer a number of advantages, at least for Mary, over
old-fashioned clay pots. As a lifelong plant freak, Bonnie has experience with
containers for plants too.
While many of our new plants will come to us in plastic
containers from a nursery or big box store, should you keep them in those pots?
There is more than aesthetics at stake here. The health of your plant could be
in jeopardy if you keep it in that convenient plastic container. Let’s see
which side of the question you are on and if either of our writers can change
Pros of Clay Pots vs. Plastic Containers
(Bonnie’s viewpoint) One of my favorite plant
groups are cacti
and succulents. Their amazing variety of form, adaptability, and ease of
care make them a no brainer for houseplant enthusiasts. The type of container
you keep these in, however, is a subject up for debate. Are there benefits of
clay pots vs. plastic? I have a very definite opinion and several reasons why
you should use clay over plastic.
Plastic isn’t very eco-friendly. Plastic containers
may be lighter and readily available, but they aren’t environmentally friendly.
Conversely, clay or natural terra cotta containers are made from a special soil
that will eventually break back down into its original components should the
pot break. Those pot shards are also excellent used in the bottom of larger
pots to increase drainage.
Among the problems with plastic containers are their
contribution to litter and health problems in humans and animals. Many
municipalities do not offer recycling of plastics and those used items just go
into the landfill where they release petrochemicals and other bi-products of
their construction. We are literally drowning in plastic items that don’t break
down easily and when they eventually do, only release tiny particulates that
clog our soil and oceans. Just look at the plastic bag and straw debates
already raging and see if using a plastic container fits into our ecological
Clay is more adaptable. While not a long-term
solution, when I do purchase plants, I try to buy ones that come in compostable
pots. This doesn’t work to keep plants for the duration and are only meant for
quick transplant into the garden. One of the many pros of clay pots is their
reusability but there are other reasons to use this natural material to house
our plants. You can use glazed pots, but I prefer to avoid the chemicals in the
coating and use unglazed containers, which help remove excess moisture by
Plastic remains wet. The plastic has no porosity and
plants are prone to staying too wet. Clay allows movement of air and water. This
can mean more watering in certain plant species but is useful to prevent root
rot and soil fungus. This action helps prevent certain insect pests that like
moisture too. They’re perfect for cacti and succulents because the soil will
dry quicker and the walls are thick and protective.
Clay pots care heavier. The pros of clay pots over
plastic include their durability. Useful in households with active children or
pets because they are heavier and harder to tip over. Their weight makes them
good for hardening off seedlings outdoors where wind might topple lightweight
plastic. Sunlight also causes plastic to become brittle over time.
Clay is attractive with lots of variety. Other
benefits of clay over plastic are that they develop a lovely patina over time.
They’re relatively inexpensive and come in a variety of sizes.
Advantages of Plastic Pots Instead of Clay
(Mary’s viewpoint) Yes, there are many
benefits to clay but I feel the pros of plastic pots are far better
alternatives. And these are my reasons why.
Variety. One of the advantages of plastic pots is
that they, too, are available in a huge variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and
textures, including whimsical designs. But unlike terra cotta pots, you can
easily select plastic containers to harmonize with your décor, or to set off
the color of your home’s exterior.
Water retention. Yes, plastic pots hold more water
than clay, but this makes them an ideal choice for plants that thrive in moist
soil, or if you tend to forget to water. One of the downsides to clay pots is
that clay is porous. Clay pots wick water and potting mix dries out faster
which means you need to water plants more.
Durability. Newer plastic pots are tough, durable,
and virtually unbreakable. A major downside to clay is that the pots are easily
cracked or chipped, which rarely occurs with plastic pots. Clay pots are likely
to break during freezing weather, but plastic pots are more flexible and are
usually able to withstand repeated freeze/thaw cycles all winter long.
Lightweight. Do you like to move your plants from
place to place? The weight of the containers is one of the downsides to clay.
Plastic is lighter and even larger pots can be easily relocated.
Price. The pros of plastic pots include the
reasonable price. Clay pots are often hugely expensive, but high-quality
plastic pots can usually save you a few dollars. If you want to change pots
from time to time, using plastic pots instead of clay won’t break the bank.
Recyclability. As gardeners, we are concerned about
our impact on the environment, especially single-use plastic, but today’s
higher-quality plastic pots are often recyclable. Look at the bottom of the pot
for information about recyclability. Be sure the pot is clean before you take
it to the recycling center.
Clay Over Plastic or the Other Way Around?
Plastic and clay pots each have certain advantages and
disadvantages, but if you think plastic pots are flimsy or tacky, it’s time to
take a second look. Newer, higher grade plastic pots rival clay in terms of
variety, durability, and appearance. But for some people, like Bonnie, who’s a
clay pot girl, their view is different.
The versatility, availability, economical and reusable
nature of clay pots appeal to those with tree hugging sentiments and somewhat tight
with a dollar. Bonnie does add, “I do save my plastic pots when I purchase
plants that come in such containers and use them until they crack and crumble.
But when it comes to transplanting a new specimen or propagating from one that
is ready to have babies, I reach for my clay pots. Nothing looks as natural and
appealing to me as a nicely aged clay pot with a tumble of new plants, both
indoors and out.”