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Plant Talk with Danae Horst: Understanding Plant P...

Plant Talk with Danae Horst: Understanding Plant Pot Options

To pot or not to pot? – it’s a question that comes up for many people just getting into keeping plants, and often brings up more questions. Is it bad to keep the plant in the plastic pot? Should I only use pots with drainage holes? Isn’t a pot with a hole going to make a mess? You might even be asking- “what are my options”?

The three main ways of keeping a plant in a decorative pot are:
1. Pot (or keep) the plant in the plastic nursery/grower pot that plants usually come in, then place the plastic pot inside a decorative pot; removing it to water so water can drain out- a method referred to as a ‘cachepot’
2. Pot the plant directly in a pot with a drainage hole
3. Pot the plant directly in any vessel- regardless of whether it has a hole

Each method has pros and cons…

CACHEPOT
PROS:
– Get the look of a single pot, while having the option to easily remove the plant to water and drain- which keeps the plant healthier
– No risk of water escaping the pot and damaging furniture, floors, etc
– The flexibility to change your mind about which plants are in which pots- just shuffle them around with no potting necessary
– Nursery pots are lighter weight – making it easier to carry lots of plants to the sink for those who prefer to bring the plant to the water
CONS:
– May not look as ‘finished’ since decorative pots don’t always perfectly fit nursery pots
– If you prefer to bring the water to the plant, you have to use the exact right amount of water otherwise you’ll have excess water sitting in the decorative pot which can cause root rot, and attract pests
– If you don’t allow the plant to drain thoroughly enough, excess water may drain into the decorative pot
– Some people may want to avoid having plastic in their homes

POTTING WITH DRAINAGE HOLES
PROS:
– Since excess water has somewhere to go, you’re less likely to ‘overwater’ and kill the roots of the plant
– The drainage hole gives you a way to check the soil moisture from the bottom, as well as monitor for any roots coming through the hole (a sign the plant needs repotting)
– Porous pots like terracotta allow more airflow into the soil and root system vs plastic

CONS:
– You need a glazed saucer under the pot to protect furniture and floors from water that drains out
– Can be messy – especially for people who prefer to bring the water to the plant- since the saucer can sometimes overflow; may also attract pests if you leave standing water in the saucer afterwards
– Plants potted in ceramic or clay pots are much heavier if you need to move them, or prefer to bring the plants to the water
– More work is needed to initially pot the plant, or if you decide you want to move the plant to a different vessel

POTTING WITHOUT DRAINAGE HOLES
PROS:
– Gives you a cleaner, streamlined look since you don’t need a saucer
– No risk of water escaping the pot and damaging furniture, floors, etc
– You can use any vessel- even things that aren’t meant to be pots

CONS:
– There’s no way for excess water to escape, which means you have to use the exact right amount of water needed to rehydrate the soil without keeping it too wet (which is tricky), and any excess water will suffocate roots and attract pests as it stagnates
– With no way to check on the roots from below, it’s harder to know when to water, repot, etc
– Plants potted in ceramic or clay pots are much heavier if you need to move them, or prefer to bring the plants to the water
– More work is needed to initially pot the plant, or if you decide you want to move a plant to a different vessel

No matter which method you choose, there are some tips and tricks you can employ to make each work a bit better for the health of your plants.

CACHEPOT
– If you notice any standing water at the bottom of your cachepots, empty that water out, then allow the plants to drain a bit longer before returning to the decorative pot next time you water. 
– If the decorative pot is too deep for the grower pot, reuse materials like jar lids, Styrofoam packaging, or pebbles to boost the plant up until it looks right in the pot. 
– If a grower pot isn’t quite the right diameter for the decorative pot, try going down a size with the plant, but select something full enough to disguise the gap between the grower pot and the decorative one.
– If you prefer to bring the water to the plant, try ‘bottom watering’ by pouring the water into the decorative pot and allowing the plant to soak the water up from below. Check back and empty any excess water out, making a note of how much is left so you can reduce how much water you use next time. One important note for bottom watering is that at least once a month, all plants should be watered from above so that the mineral salts from tap water that collect in the soil can be flushed out. 

POTTING WITH A DRAINAGE HOLE
– If saucers have standing water in them, be sure to empty that water out within a day of watering. If the pot is too heavy to move- use a turkey baster or a dry towel to suck the excess water out of the saucer. 
– If saucers tend to overflow, water the plant in stages, to allow smaller amounts of water to drain out (which the plant will sometimes draw back up into the soil) at a time. Just be sure to thoroughly and evenly saturate the entire root ball to keep all the roots healthy. 
– For saucers that aren’t glazed on the bottom, use a protective cork mat to prevent damage to furniture, floors, etc from water that may seep through unglazed clay.
– If the plant you’ve potted is large/heavy, consider placing it on a rolling plant stand that allows you to move it easily by rolling it. 

POTTING WITHOUT A DRAINAGE HOLE
I must preface this section by saying that potting a plant directly in a vessel without drainage holes is something I strongly discourage most people from- the negative effects this can have on the health of your plant often outweigh any benefits. You may have heard that adding a layer of pebbles to the bottom of a pot without drainage holes solves the problem, but science doesn’t really support this technique. That layer of pebbles is actually just pushing the wettest portion of soil up higher and closer to the roots of the plant so just skip it. If you must pot without a drainage hole, try these tricks that can help improve the odds for your plant:
– Add horticultural charcoal to your potting mix- this can act as a natural anti-microbial and absorb a small amount of excess water. 
– When watering, err on the side of smaller volumes of water at a time and apply it as evenly across the surface of the soil as possible. Use a moisture meter to check the soil moisture levels in a few places around the pot and if any areas still read as dry, apply a little more water until the soil reads evenly moist. 
– Take note of what volume of water seems to fully saturate the soil, without leaving extremely wet soil at the bottom- then use that measurement each time you water. 

Over time you might land on a favorite from these methods, or maybe you’ll go with some combination of all three; but now you have some techniques you can try that will help keep your plants healthier, no matter which you choose.  

Guest writer: Danae Horst, Folia Collective
Photography: Danae Horst and Jacob Fuentes-Navarro


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