Plants and flowers planted in different types of containers.

How to Use Containers in Your Garden

When choosing a container, check out the pros and cons of different materials and designs to find one that suits both your style and the plants you plan to pot up. You can then create exciting displays with easy-to-grow summer flower seeds, inexpensive plug plants, or mature shrubs and trees that will add height to your patio. Just remember that all plants in containers require regular watering and feeding to keep them in peak condition, especially during summer.

Choosing Containers

Almost any vessel can be used as a planter, as long as it has holes for drainage, and will last one growing season, but take time to decide what type would best suit your design, and your plants.

Size matters

When choosing a pot, remember that large containers hold more soil and water, and therefore dry out more slowly than small planters. So, if you can tend to your pots only a couple of times a week, avoid tiny terracotta pots that will need watering up to twice a day in summer. Also think about the shape of the pot. If you plant a shrub in an urnlike container with a slim neck, as the roots spread within the pot, the plant effectively becomes locked in. When the shrub needs repotting, you will almost certainly have to break the pot.


To create a pleasing display using a selection of pots, consider each for its size, shape, and the material it is made from. An easy rule of thumb is to opt for pots made from the same material. You can then either choose a number of identical planters for an elegant, modern display, or group a collection of pots of different shapes and sizes to create an informal but harmonious arrangement.

Selecting Materials

From bright plastics to traditional clay and wood, containers come in a vast choice of colors and materials. Some may obviously suit your garden style and budget, but also be aware that the material a pot is made from affects its durability, and the maintenance it requires.


Versatile and relatively inexpensive, terracotta pots come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and even colors, if you choose glazed containers. Terracotta is porous and allows air to pass through to plant roots, but this is also a disadvantage, since it absorbs water from the soil, drying it out. It is also prone to frost damage, unless fired to very high temperatures, which makes it much more expensive.

Wood and baskets

When buying wooden containers, check that the label carries the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo, indicating that the timber has come from a sustainable forest. Although frost-proof, porous, and a good insulator for plant roots, wood decays, and must be painted or treated with a preservative to prolong its life. Baskets offer a similarly natural look, but are less durable, lasting just a few years before deteriorating.


This is a popular choice of material because it’s so versatile. Metal containers come in a wide array of shapes and styles; choose from rustic utilitarian planters for a cottage-style garden, or try modern galvanized, or powder-coated metal containers in an urban, minimalist scheme. Beware that thin metal containers afford plant roots little insulation, making them prone to overheating and frost damage. Steel containers also corrode, and can leave rusty stains on light-colored paving. Even galvanized and powdercoated metal containers will rust if their surfaces are damaged.

Stone and concrete

Strong, frost-proof, insulating and extremely durable, stone and concrete pots make perfect partners for plants. Both materials are less porous than terracotta, so will not dry out potting compost too quickly, but they are extremely heavy. While this makes them very stable, and suitable for growing tall, top-heavy plants like trees, they cannot be moved easily once planted up. While concrete pots tend to be inexpensive, you will pay a high price for stone. If you want the look of stone for a lower price, buy containers made from synthetic stone compounds.


Plastics, polymers, fiberglass, and resins all fall under the umbrella of synthetics. These man-made materials are used to produce pots large and small, plain and decorative, and they come in the widest range of colors, from natural shades to vibrant neon pinks and blues. Synthetic pots are frost-proof and not easily broken, so they are ideal if you have children or pets who may knock them over.