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To Terracotta or Terra Notta: Why Your Planter Material Matters

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

If you’re here, you’ve seen the planters I make. You know that rainbow is my favorite color (well, purple, but still) and louder is better when it comes to my palette. It may surprise you, then, that there’s a special place on my plant shelves for terracotta. You know, terracotta: the most flower pot-looking flower pots. The dusty orange clay pots that make your spine tingle when you rub your fingernail against them. I have a small surplus of them from my early days of plant parenthood, when I was broke and terracotta pots were $0.98 at Lowe’s.

When I branched out from succulents and started getting into tropicals, I found out that choosing the right planter is about more than looks. I had received a monstera cutting from a friend and planted it in terracotta, where it sat amongst a few other tropical friends in plastic nursery pots. I soon found that same monstera cutting looking poorly compared to its leafmates. After begging the little plant to use its human words and tell me what it needed, I figured out the mystery: the terracotta was more absorbent than the plastic. Since I was watering them all on the same schedule, the poor monstera cutting was drying out before watering day.

Side note: do as I say, not as I do, RE: watering schedule. 99% of the time, it’s better to check your soil moisture by hand to determine when to water than to water on a set schedule.

Anyway, it turns out that each planter material has its benefits and its bummers! Here’s what I’ve learned through experimentation and much frustration:

Terracotta: Great for succulents

As I said, terracotta is a very absorbent material, making it perfect for plants that need to avoid any standing water and soggy soil. Succulents thrive in terracotta since it helps wick away water fairly quickly. It’s also porous, so it helps prevent root rot. And don’t get me wrong -- they’re also great for leafy plants like monstera and pothos. You’ll just need to be vigilant about checking their moisture levels more frequently so they don’t wind up getting crispy.

Plastic: A versatile planter

The planters you see at all of your favorite nurseries are all plastic. They’re a popular choice because they’re cheap, lightweight, and easy to work with. PLA, the material I use for my planters, is much more rigid than plastic nursery pots, but it shares their other characteristics. One thing that’s important to keep in mind with plastic pots is that it should not be subjected to extreme temperatures or direct sunlight. Sunlight can cause plastic to break down and become brittle. That’s why it’s the perfect choice for indoor houseplants.

Glass: An Aquatic Plant’s Dream

Glass is an interesting choice for planters. Generally speaking, plant parents are discouraged from using clear planters, because roots that sense sunlight think they’ve emerged aboveground and send out shoots. Additionally, algae needs light and moisture to live, so allowing light to hit the bottom of your planter may cause an algae bloom that will smother your plant’s roots. However, treated/opaque glass seems to be ok. Also, glass is the best choice for aquatic plants. Since it’s nonporous, it’s easy to clean so you can provide it with a constant source of fresh water.

As is often the case with all things houseplants, experiment! Find the environment that your favorite plant loves the most and keep adjusting until it’s completely happy. What experiences have you had with different planter materials? Tell me in the comments!

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