Plastic, ceramic, terracotta, metal, glass.. the list goes on, plant people have loads of options to choose from! But which pot is the best for your plant family, and are they any different apart from the look and style?
We’ve put together a handy guide to picking the right pots for plants with different needs! We’ve also included how the different materials can be recycled or reused to help you make responsible choices.
The classic one: Terracotta pots
Ceramic pots made from terracotta are porous and absorb water, which makes the potting mix dry out faster. They need to be used with a saucer or waterproof outer pot not damage the surface below.
As they're breathable, they are widely considered a fail-proof option for most plants. Terracotta is ideal for plants that thrive in an arid environment (cacti, succulents). People with a tendency to over water their plants, wont have to worry about a soggy potting mix, which means less risk of root rot. Terracotta is however not the best option for plants that prefer to stay consistently moist.
The decorative one: Other ceramic pots
Ceramic pots come in a variety of cool designs! You can also find a great selection of handmade and unique pots. A nice option, the plants look good and you can support local artisans. Ceramics come in either stoneware or earthenware, glazed or unglazed which we'll dive into now!
Earthenware such as dolomite is porous and has similar breathing properties as terracotta. Dolomite clay can be colored with pigments more easily than terracotta, so it's a popular option for matte colored pots.
Stoneware comes in many colours and is a popular option among ceramicists. Unlike terracotta and dolomite, stoneware generally holds water even when it’s not glazed. It’s easy to keep control over the moisture levels if it has a drainage hole or if combined with an inner pot.
Glazed ceramics are covered in minerals similar to the raw materials used for making glass. This means they hold water and retain moisture. And the glaze adds colors and texture! Both earthenware and stoneware can be glazed.
🤓 Side note: Sealed ceramics
The difference between glazed and sealed ceramics is that the sealant is often polymer-based (plastic) and applied like paint. A glaze is mineral-based and fired at a high temperature onto the ceramic object, which melts them together. The sealant makes sure the pot holds water.
Can ceramic objects be recycled?
In theory, ceramics are biodegradable as they are made from natural materials, however, this process takes many years. Ceramics are difficult to recycle as many local recycling centres can’t process them. This is because local centres don’t have machines capable of grinding up strong materials like ceramics. If your local centre doesn't accept them, a potential option could be to find a commercial centre that has machines able to process ceramics.
Another option could be (if the pot is already broken that is) to smash it up and put it in the potting mix instead of leca. If it’s in good condition but you don’t want it anymore, consider giving it to a friend, donating to charity or holding a pot swapping party!
The problematic one: Plastic pots
Plastic pots are often included when buying a plant. They retain water, thus prevent your plant from drying out as quick, and they're lightweight. They can also be designed in many colourful ways.
While plastic may be one of the most flexible options, it’s a petroleum-based product which gives it a bad score in the sustainability ranking. Plastic is made using non-renewable resources and can remain in the environment for years slowly leaching toxic chemicals into the earth. Plastic pots are also not as durable as other types as they’re more susceptible to weather damage.
Can plastic pots be recycled?
The ones you really need to avoid are pots made from black plastic. Black plastic is hard to recycle, as it can’t be sorted by most recycling machines. Paler coloured pots are easier than darker coloured ones to recycle. Although this can vary, the best option is to check with your local garden centre and see if they have a take-back system.
Plastic pots have to be thoroughly cleaned before they can be recycled to prevent contamination. Worth keeping in mind that, unlike metal which can be recycled many times, plastic can only be recycled once.
The trendy one: Transparent glass pots
Before jumping on this trend, it’s worth considering that it’s unnatural for most plants to see their roots exposed to sunlight, even though some plants are much more sensitive than others. Try and see what works for you! On the flip side, roots look so cool! 🥲 Glass pots also prevents the potting mix from drying out quickly, which saves water if you have plants that need a lot of water.
Can glass pots be recycled?
Glassware can be recycled or upcycled. Glass products can however not always be recycled together with household glassware at your local centre because of varying melting temperatures for different glass types. Non-standard household wares (like decorative glass) can even contaminate the recycling process, so make sure you leave them at the right container.
Photo by Mery Khachatryan on Unsplash
The mixed one: Composite pots
The term is often used to describe a material that consists of two or more different raw materials, without necessarily specifying which ones. For household objects such as pots, saucers and trays, a polymer (plastic) is often mixed with wood pulp, mineral particles or other plastic particles. The best part is that used materials that can’t be traditionally recycled can be upcycled! As they're primarily made of plastic, these pots retain moisture well.
Can composite pots be recycled?
Traditional recycling systems are not designed to break-down or separate mixed materials, which can make recycling tricky.
Photo by Nanda Green on Unsplash
The shiny reflective one: Metal pots
Household and decorative items are often made from iron or aluminium, or a mix of different metals such as brass. They can come with or without a coating of other metals or colors. Metal pots retain moisture well.
Can metal pots be recycled?
The great thing about metal is that it can be recycled, upcycled, repurposed and reused. To recycle, ask your local recycling station and follow their instructions.
🤓 Lets talk about patina!
The patina on iron items is orange to brown and is commonly known as rust. The patina on aluminium is invisible and doesn't have a common name other than aluminium oxide. The patina on brass turns from turquoise to black and can be polished away using an acidic household polish.
Only rust on iron is damaging and can eventually ruin the pot. All other forms of patina are harmless and only visible on the surface
Patina is natural and generally not considered harmful to the environment or plants. However high levels of copper oxide (which is also present at low levels in brass patina) can harm living organisms. So these items should not be discarded carelessly in nature. Ask your local recycling station about recycling options.