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How to Choose Pots for Your Container Garden

1 of 8 in Series: The Essentials of Container Gardening

Plant containers come in myriad styles and types. When choosing pots for your container garden, consider the ultimate size of the plants you'll be growing, what the pot is made of, and some critical features you can't do without.

Garden containers: How big? What's it made of?

Gardeners can choose from clay pots, glazed or not; plastic pots, pretty or ugly; or wood pots, big or small. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Here are some points to keep in mind when choosing a pot for growing vegetables:

  • Size: In most cases, pots that are bigger (in terms of width and volume) are better, especially for growing large plants like tomatoes. Lots of root space means that your vegetables are less likely to get cramped; they'll also be easier to water and fertilize.

    With some vegetables, the depth of a container is as important — if not more important — as its width. You can grow quite a few carrots or radishes in a narrow container, but the container must be deep enough to accommodate the length of the plant's mature roots.

    A half whiskey or wine barrel is a large, inexpensive container that can hold quite a few vegetables — ten heads of lettuce, ten bush bean plants, one or two small tomato plants, or four or five small cucumber varieties. You can purchase these containers at garden centers and nurseries.

  • Material: What a pot is made of can affect how often you have to water and how long the container lasts. Pots made of porous materials like clay dry out faster than those made of plastic or wood, so you must water the plants in them more frequently, especially in hot or windy climates. If you prefer wood containers, make sure they're made of rot-resistant materials like cedar or redwood; otherwise, they won't last very long.

    Keep in mind that using preservative-treated wood containers isn't a good idea for growing vegetables or other edibles because the chemicals may leach into the soil and then into your plants.

    Polypropylene bags are a recent innovation in vegetable gardening. Felt-like polypropylene is a breathable fabric that prevents overwatering and promotes good aeration. The bags come in various sizes and depths, and they fold flat for storage.

Must-have features for garden containers

No matter which style or type of pot you choose for your container garden, you can't ignore some key features:

  • Drainage: All the pots you use for growing vegetables should have drainage holes; fortunately, almost all do. But because a wooden half barrel often doesn't, you have to drill your own holes in the bottom of the container (eight to ten evenly spaced, 1-inch holes should be fine). If pots don't have drainage holes, the soil becomes a swampy mess, the roots drown, and the plants die. Bummer.

  • A saucer to place underneath your pot: A saucer collects water that runs out of the holes in the bottom of a pot and prevents the pot from staining whatever it's sitting on. You can find saucers made of the same or similar material as your pot or ones made of clear plastic. Plastic saucers are least likely to stain.

    Just make sure you don't let water stand more than a day in the saucer; water rots roots and wooden pots.

  • Wheels for mobility: Most nurseries sell wheeled platforms that you place under large pots to move them easily. Otherwise, you have to lift the heavy pots or cart them around on a hand truck.

Self-watering containers for gardening

An especially useful type of pot is a self-watering container. This type of pot is made of rubberized plastic and has a false bottom and reservoir under the soil that can be filled with water. You pour water into a pipe at the top of the pot or through a hole in the side of the pot to fill the reservoir. A wick draws water up from the reservoir and into the dry soil so you don't have to water as frequently. These pots allow you to get away during the heat of summer and not worry whether your plants are getting watered.

Use self-watering containers to simplify watering.
Use self-watering containers to simplify watering.
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The Essentials of Container Gardening

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