As an Amazon Associate, GrowJourney earns from qualifying purchases. Read more: terms of service.
Which option is best: ceramic pots, plastic pots, or fabric pots? In this article, you’ll learn how to pick the perfect indoor or outdoor garden pots/containers to match your budget and needs.
Not everyone has the ability to have an outdoor garden. However, pretty much anyone with a roof over their heads and a sunny window has the ability to grow indoor or outdoor potted plants.
And if you’re gardening nuts like we are, then you have both a giant garden AND tons of potted plants as well. (Including a huge collection of potted citrus trees that wouldn’t normally grow in your climate zone.)
Choice overload: too many garden pot options
We’re not sure what the numbers are, but our guess is that Americans buy hundreds of millions of pots each year. If you’re one of those folks who is in the market for buying pots for your plants, you might be wondering: which type of pot is best for me?
After all, the giant wall of pots at the typical garden center can be overwhelming. And trying to choose from amongst the 18 trillion online garden pot options is enough to render you despondent. Sooo many choices!
We’re here to help you cut through the clutter and narrow down your options BEFORE you go shopping for your perfect plant pot. The primary questions that you need to consider:
- What size pot do you need for the plant you’ll be putting in them and what do the different pot sizes mean? (Answers to those garden pot questions here!)
- How long will one type of pot last compared to others?
- Is one type of pot better for root health than others?
- If necessary, will you be able to move the pot once it’s full of potting soil and plants?
- Which type of pot gives you the most bang for your buck?
Now let’s get our hands dirty so we can figure out which type of pot is best for you!
Type of plant pots available
For context, there are three general types of pots, with some sub-variations under each category. Each type of pot has pros and cons:
Type 1. Ceramic pots (glazed and terra cotta)
GLAZED ceramic pot PROS:
- hold up to freezes well compared to terra cotta ceramic pots (but not compared to plastic or fabric pots);
- very attractive;
- longest-lasting option of all pots IF they’re not dropped, accidentally broken, or left outdoors in very cold weather (far below freezing).
GLAZED ceramic pot CONS:
- most expensive option;
- break/chip easily if dropped or hit;
- not easy to move, especially when full of potting soil.
TERRA COTTA ceramic pot PROS:
- attractive, neutral color;
- less expensive than glazed ceramic pots.
TERRA COTTA ceramic pot CONS:
- not freeze/winter tolerant;
- break/chip if dropped or hit;
- generally more expensive than fabric and plastic pots.
Type 2. Plastic pots (thicker decorative styles)
*we’re referring to higher quality plastic decorative pots, not flimsy temporary nursery pots
Plastic decorative pots PROS:
- hold up to freezes well;
- very attractive;
- long-lasting and don’t break.
Plastic decorative pots CONS:
- If left outdoors, the decorative paint often begins to flake off within 3-5 years.
Type 3. Fabric pots
*Fabric pots are often referred to as “grow bags.”
Fabric pot PROS:
- most affordable pot option;
- very lightweight making them easy to set up, move, and store for the winter (without soil in them, they squish down to very small storage size);
- best option for root health due to “air pruning.”
Fabric pot CONS:
- not very attractive for edible landscapes or front yards;
Decision time: choosing the right plant pot to match your needs
We’ve got years of experience growing various types of plants in all three types of pots listed above. What we can tell you right up front is that there is not one clear “best choice” of pot type for EVERY situation. The best choice is context-dependent.
We use decorative plastic pots for our large citrus pots because:
- We need the largest, lightest weight pots possible to grow healthy citrus trees.
- The pots have to be able to hold up to a lot of weight without breaking.
- 20 nice plastic pots cost a lot less than 20 nice ceramic pots.
We use fabric grow bags for a lot of the fast-growing summer annuals on our back porch (like tomatoes, eggplants, basil, etc) because:
- Grow bags allow for the healthiest possible root systems due to “air-pruning,” which is important for fruit production in fast-growing summer annuals.
- They aren’t very attractive, but they’re fine for a backyard garden or back porch.
- Grow bags are super lightweight and can be easily moved around in the garden or stored for the winter.
We use glazed ceramic pots in permanent positions in our front yard edible landscape (moderate Zone 7b climate) because:
- Glazed ceramic pots are very attractive and provide bright colors that contrast with the plants in them.
- We don’t have to move them so the heavy weight doesn’t matter.
- They hold up much better to winter freezes than terra cotta ceramic pots.
We hope you now have a better idea of what type of pot (or pots) you should get based on your specific needs and resources!
A few final plant pot tips
1. Be careful selecting pots for INDOOR plants.
If you’re looking for a pot for your indoor plants, will it sit directly on your floor?
If you have carpet, vinyl, or hardwood floors, you need to seriously consider how to protect those floors from moisture and spills. Two tools that can help:
- short plant stands that keep the pots off the floors,
- plant pot saucers that go under your pots.
2. Ensure proper drainage holes in your pots.
Some people make the mistake of buying pots that don’t have drainage holes. This almost inevitably leads to anaerobic soil, root rot, and sick/dead plants due to poor drainage.
You’ll generally want to avoid these pots UNLESS you plan to drill holes in the bottom of the pots to allow for proper drainage.
3. What are the most eco-friendly pots?
Terra cotta pots are made from clay, so you’d think they’d be the most eco-friendly pots on the list, right? So long as you don’t break them the answer is probably yes.
However, after breaking a seemingly infinite number of terra cotta or glazed ceramic pots that we initially grew our citrus plants in, we had second thoughts…
If we break four ceramic pots to grow a Meyer lemon tree over 5 years or we just use one single decorative plastic pot over the same time period, which choice is more eco-friendly? It would probably take a detailed supply chain and life cycle analysis to say for certain, but we ultimately switched to decorative plastic because we got tired of constantly replacing our broken ceramic pots.
4. Shop for big pots out of season.
Pro tip: if you shop fall sale at Lowes and Home Depot (or most garden centers), you can get big sales on large, plastic plant pots. We typically get them for 50% or more off their regular price.
5. Use potting soil, NOT garden soil.
As we’ve written about in detail previously, potting soil is NOT the same thing as garden soil is not the same thing as seed starting mix. Potting soil is formulated to be light and fluffy so it doesn’t become an impenetrable root-killing brick inside of a pot like regular garden soil will.
However, most potting soil has too many large chunks of not-quite-decomposed bark or wood chips to make it less than ideal for seed starting.
What’s the best potting soil? Our personal favorite organic potting soil and the one we recommend is Fox Farm’s Happy Frog potting soil.
Do you have any plant/garden pot questions that we haven’t answered? Please ask away in the comments below.
Related articles you’ll want to read:
- Finally! Garden pot sizes decoded
- Potting soil vs seed starting mix vs garden soil
- Patio and container gardening with sub-irrigated planters
- Container gardening questions answered (on our sister site, Tyrant Farms)
- Root pouches: a helpful new tool for patio and container gardening (on our sister site, Tyrant Farms)