Choose the Right Container for Your Plants

Plant cabbage in a container along with flowers and herbs.

A low, wide half-barrel planter holds one cabbage plant along with thyme and marigolds. Pots aren't just for porches or patios. This one looks pretty sitting right on the ground.

Container gardening is easy and rewarding if you have the right containers. When choosing pots, you need to consider size, style, material, and weight, as well as what will be planted in them.

Choose the Right Container Size

A larger garden pot is always better than a container that is too small.

If you aren't sure what size container to choose, it is best to err on the larger side.

Choosing a pot that is the right size for your plants will help ensure container gardening success. A pot that is too small means your plants will not produce as much, and you will need to work harder to keep them alive. If the pot is too large, you’ll have to spend more money on potting soil than is necessary. Here’s a guide to help you choose one that is just right.

A 24-inch diameter pot will hold one of the following:

  • large pepper
  • summer squash
  • indeterminate tomato and cage
  • cucumber
  • artichoke
  • combinations of vegetables and herbs

An 18-inch diameter pot will hold one of these:

Try growing eggplant in a container.

This small eggplant produced well in an 18-inch clay container. Note that clay dries out quickly, so be sure to water often.

  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • large cabbage
  • small eggplant
  • all greens in multiples
  • small pepper
  • determinate tomato and support
The right containers for tall tomato plants are at least 2 feet wide.

Indeterminate tomato plants need pots that are at least 24 inches in diameter. Be sure to choose a cage that fits inside the pot.

A 14-inch diameter pot works for one of these:

  • any herbs
  • cabbage
  • collards
  • spinach (3 to 4)
  • non-heading lettuce (3 to 4)
  • arugula (3)

A 10-inch diameter pot will hold one of these:

  • small herbs
  • strawberry
  • lettuce

Keep in mind that not all pots are round and tall. Shallow-rooted plants such as lettuce will be happy in a container that is wider than it is tall. However, most vegetables will need deeper pots. Broad plants such as a zucchini or pumpkin will benefit from a container that is both broad and deep. Half-barrels are perfect for bigger plants such as tomatoes and squash. Use your best judgment to give your plants plenty of room for optimum harvests. Sometimes experience provides the best advice for the future.

Choose the Right Container Type

Plant herbs in smaller pots and grow vegetables in larger containers.

Small clay pots suit individual herb plants well, while a large half-barrel planter holds a tomato plant with cage and a few more herbs.

Terracotta
Attractive and affordable, terracotta clay pots have been used for generations. This traditional choice can be heavy and costly in large sizes, and they will break if dropped or exposed to freezing temperatures. Clay also dries out more quickly than some other materials, but it’s still a favorite of many gardeners!

Glazed Ceramic
Durable ceramic containers offer a range of colors for added style in the garden. They are fairly winter-hardy, but can be costly and heavy to move.

Plastic
Plastic containers are affordable, durable, and lightweight. You may need to shop around the find a style that suits your design taste.

Wooden
Natural in appearance, wooden containers and half barrels make great containers. They will last several seasons. As they age, though, it becomes more difficult to move them.

Concrete
Of all the choices, concrete pots are the most durable — and the heaviest, so plan to place them in a permanent spot. Large sizes can be costly.