Plants in different types of containers.

How to Choose the Right Container for Your Plants

Most houseplants are grown at the nursery in plastic pots. While these are both prac­tical and convenient for growing and watering, they do not look attractive in the home. Fortunately, there are a great many decorative flowerpots and containers available to disguise, or replace, j’oui plastic pot.

Plastic pots have drainage holes in the bottom that allow excess water to drain away, and are therefore unsuitable for use indoors where water seeping from the pot can damage polished surfaces. The first consideration must be a saucer or drip tray under the pot to collect excess water.

Remember that your plant must not be allowed to sit in a saucer of water because this is when water­logging occurs, which can rot the roots and lead, eventually, to plant death. Although saucers are a practical method of collecting excess water, they are hardly decorative. Indeed, there is nothing worse than a sad-looking plant sitting on a windowsill with a chipped saucer underneath — this does not make the most attractive display.

One way to get around the pot and saucer prob­lem is to place the plastic pot in a pot holder or cachepot. These come in all shapes and sizes and can be made of pottery, china, wicker, tin, or metal. Before you rush out and buy new containers, take a look around the home and see if there are any suit­able receptacles that you could adapt for house- plants. Household items, such as enamel buckets, copper bowls, wastepaper cans, and log baskets, all make excellent and unusual containers, as do coffee mugs, casserole dishes, or a pretty vegetable dish that has lost its lid.

A set of matching ceramic pitchers with necks wide enough to accommodate a plastic pot makes a great way to display similar plants. The color of the container must complement the plants and not compete with them. A highly deco rated pot in bright colors, for example, would com­pletely overwhelm a delicate flowering plant. While a white container may seem like a safe option, this will contrast sharply with the foliage and draw attention away from the plant.

The container must be the right size for the plastic flowerpot, which should sit easily inside with the rim hidden. If the plastic surround is still visible, either repot your plant into a smaller container or cover the surface of the potting soil, including the rim of the container, with fresh moss, which will also conserve moisture and pro­vide humidity for the plant.

It is possible to create a really stylish container by painting an old basket or aluminum container to match the flowering plant you have chosen. The easiest method to transform containers is to use spray paints, which come in just about any color of the rainbow. A good tip to remember when spray­ing anything is to put the object inside a large card­board box to protect the surrounding area. Spray outdoors and wear a mask to protect your face and lungs.

Try planting a group of grape hyacinths (Muscari sp.) in a blue-painted aluminum bucket, or arrange a row of dwarf daffodils (such as Narcissus ‘Tete-a-tete’) on a kitchen windowsill in individual clay pots that have been painted yellow.

If you can’t find a container that will accommodate your plastic flowerpot, you can always grow the plant directly in its decorative container. However, you must make sure that this container is completely waterproof — if it is cracked or porous, you will need to line it first with heavy-duty plas­tic; a garbage bag is ideal.

If there are no drainage holes in the base of the container, or if it is lined with plastic, make sure you don’t overwater the plants because the soil mix will quickly become sodden and sour, causing the plant’s roots to rot. To encourage drainage, cover the base of the pot with pieces of crockery shards (from a broken clay pot) before you add the potting soil.

Repotting your plant into a clay pot and then painting the pot a single color, or stenciling i to match your interior, makes an attractive way to display your houseplants. The Victorian-style, straight-sided clay pots, known as “long Toms,’ make charming and simple plant containers. If you don’t like the bright reddish-brown of new clay, you can age or distress it. To speed up the aging- process, you can paint the outside with cultured yogurt and leave the pot outside in the garden for a couple of weeks. This technique will soon get rid of that newly bought look.

Miniature containers

top shelf Miniature plants that are popular in garden centers need attractive containers to set them off to their best advantage. Many household containers, such as china egg cups and small cups or mugs, make charming plant holders — especially ij the decoration matches the color of the plant — but it is also possible to find more unusual containers at flea markets or secondhand stores.

Glass vases and bottles

middle shelf Removing the plant from its plastic pot and planting it in a glass container is an unusual but very attractive way to display a plant. However, due to the transparent nature of most glass vases, it is important to disguise the root ball of the plant, by lining the pot first with either fresh moss, or clear glass marbles sold especially for the purpose.

If you are planting spring bulbs in this way, first remove as much soil as possible from around the root ball., then hold the bulb upright in the container while you add the moist gravel. The bulb will be hidden completely by the stones and the flowers will look as if they are growing directly out of the stones. An attractive method of displaying hyacinths is to place them in special glass pots filled with water. The neck of the pot supports the bulb and the roots draw up water from below.

Ceramic pots and dishes

bottom shelf China and ceramic cachepots are the most popular type of container, and there is a vast selection on display at garden centers. Bear in mind that a highly decorated china container will overwhelm most pot plants, so it is best to go for neutral blues, creams, or greens that harmonize with the display rather than contrast with it too sharply. Bold stripes and colors may enhance the strong lines of an architectural plant, but they will certainly distract the attention from delicate leaves or flowers.

Wicker baskets

The natural quality of wicker combines well with many houseplants. Baskets lined with plastic are widely available from garden centers and specialty stores, but if you have an old basket at home that you particularly like, it is easy to transform it into a suitable plant holder. Simply cut a piece of thick plastic from a garbage bag — black plastic is best because it does not show through the wicker — trim it to the correct size and put it inside the basket so that the plastic ends just below the rim. You can now either place the plastic plant pot inside the basket, or take the plants out of their pots and plant them directly in the basket, adding extra potting soil if necessary and finishing with a layer of fresh soil.

Metal buckets, baskets, and bowls

Metal containers range from metal buckets, cast-iron cooking pots, baking pans, enamel pitchers, and wire baskets to the humble tin can that can be covered with moss or painted a suitable color. An old-fashioned metal washtub makes an ideal container because it has a flat bottom that can accommodate lots of plants side by side to create a magnificent grouped display. A tall florists’ bucket, on the other hand, is useful for displaying a single bushy or trailing plant, whose leaves can cascade over the sides. If you don’t like the reflective quality of brand new tin, you could try painting it with turquoise acrylic paint to imitate the attractive patina of verdigris.

Clay pots

Clay is a very sympathetic material for plant pots and there are many different sizes and styles —from straight-sided pots known as “long Toms” to those with fluted edges or relief patterns. Basic clay pots are probably the cheapest kind of container you can buy to display your houseplants. However, most of them have drainage holes in the base, which means that you must place them on a saucer to collect excess water. In practical terms, plants displayed in clay pots will dry out rapidly, because moisture is lost through the sides of the container as well as through the soil mix. To cut down on moisture loss, soak new clay pots in water for at least an hour before use.

Wooden tubs, trays, and window boxes

Wood is a versatile material that suits both modern and. rustic settings. Containers range from large, ornate tubs that look attractive placed on either side of a doorway, to wooden garden baskets, window boxes, and even empty seed trays that can be filled with low-level plants for an informal display.

The main drawback of wooden containers is that, they are porous, which means you should either treat, them with a horticulturally safe wood preservative before using them, or line them with a strong plastic liner to collect excess water. Alternatively, you can simply place the plastic plant pot inside the container and use a drip tray underneath.