How to Choose The Perfect Pot or Container For Your Succulents
Although container choice may seem insignificant when growing succulents, the characteristics of the pot you choose play a big role in plant health and growth. This guide covers everything you should consider when choosing the perfect pot or container for your succulents.
Whether you’re growing succulents for the first time or starting an entire indoor garden, choosing the right container for your succulents is the most important decision you can make.
With the wide range of succulent types, shapes, and colors, container choice is probably the last thing on your mind. But the pot you choose impacts not only the look of your succulents but also how well they grow. Choosing the wrong container can make care far more difficult or even lead to the early death of your plants if you’re not careful.
Here, we will break down everything you need to consider when choosing a pot for your succulents to help you make the perfect choice for both you and your plants.
The first choice you’ll need to make involves container materials. With so many options to choose from, it can be tricky to decide which will suit your succulents best.
Aesthetics are not the only concern – your chosen materials will impact succulent growth and may change how you care for them. These are some of the most popular options for succulent plants, each with its own pros and cons.
Terracotta is one of the most popular choices and a personal favorite. Whenever I reach for new containers for almost any plant in my indoor or outdoor garden, I look to terracotta first for the overall aesthetic and its benefits for my plants.
These clay containers are breathable and porous, improving airflow around the roots and drawing away excess moisture from the soil. Instead of only one drainage hole at the bottom that water can leave from, the material helps prevent waterlogging around the roots. This is especially important for succulent plants that are much more sensitive to root rot.
Beyond these benefits, I believe they’re also one of the best-looking materials. The clay matches the desert feel of many succulent plants and makes green leaves instantly stand out. It also provides uniformity without looking boring or one-note.
These containers do come with a few downsides, particularly cost. They also crack easily when knocked over, so they aren’t suitable for high-traffic areas or interiors with rowdy pets. But if you only have a few small succulents to pot up, terracotta is a wonderful option.
Ceramic is another option that tends to be popular among succulent growers for its wide variety of design options to match the plant you’re growing perfectly.
I like to reserve larger ceramic pots for succulent features, where several species are combined in a single container as a focal point rather than for individual plants. This highlights the creative or artistic aspect of the container, too, rather than just the plants themselves. Ceramic pots also drain quickly and promote airflow for strong root health.
If you’re willing to manage the cost, as ceramic tends to have a higher price tag than other options, keep these pots away from ledges and high-traffic areas where they may be damaged. Like terra cotta, ceramic pots are prone to breaking and can even crack if temperatures dip too low.
Plastic doesn’t have the greatest reputation among gardeners. I have even sparked debate online by mentioning that I keep most of my houseplants in plastic pots due to the costs of decorative containers. With over 50 houseplants, new containers can take up a significant portion of your budget.
Plastic pots come with many benefits that make them worthwhile when you’re growing many plants. Firstly, they’re cheap or even free if you clean and reuse the containers plants come in from your local nursery. They also come in almost any color or design you can think of and can even be repainted to match your garden and extend the container’s lifespan.
Plastic containers don’t drain as well as materials like terra cotta, which can become a problem for succulents. But if you choose a pot with a few drainage holes, plant in the right soil mix, and ensure excess moisture can flow freely out of the container, you shouldn’t have any problems.
While it may seem unusual, concrete pots are becoming more popular thanks to their durability.
Concrete is another porous material that aids drainage, making it ideal for succulents. It’s also incredibly long-lasting, and you can even make your own using pot molds, building the perfect size and shape for the succulents you choose.
If you buy concrete pots from your local nursery or online, they can cost a little more than some other options on this list. They are also incredibly heavy and difficult to move around, so I would only choose these if your container will stay in the same place or if the succulents are small enough for weight not to be a factor.
Anyone who spends too much time on gardening Pinterest (I’m guilty of this!) will likely have seen viral images of succulents planted in wooden containers or, more popularly, in the gaps of decorative driftwood.
This natural material is packed with aesthetic benefits and complements succulents well but may not last as long as some other options. There are ways to preserve the wood to extend its lifespan, but you’ll need to choose sealers that are safe for plants to ensure the chemicals don’t negatively affect growth.
Planting in driftwood is particularly difficult. Gaps often don’t hold enough soil to keep succulents alive for extended periods, and these statement plantings are quite difficult to water. It works as a short-term feature piece but performs poorly over time.
The first succulent I purchased many years ago was planted in a hanging glass container. It had a shallow layer of pebbles, a small amount of soil, and a stunning Echeveria in the center. Those who have experienced growing succulents will probably guess what happened next – it died.
Glass containers are quite popular in stores, especially for succulents. They look good, sell well, and make great last-minute gifts for plant lovers. Unfortunately, none of those factors contribute to the plant’s health.
Without drainage holes, you will struggle to keep your succulents alive in glass containers long-term. You can add layers to stop extra moisture from reaching the soil or water very carefully, but finding the right balance that prevents root rot and stops bacteria from growing in stagnant water is difficult.
It’s best to skip glass altogether or replant your succulents into a more suitable container when they show signs of struggle.
If you want a unique container that saves your budget, you could always choose items from around your home or garden and turn them into pots.
This cheap and fun option allows you to get creative. I’ve seen many creative gardeners turn old teapots or shoes into succulent containers by drilling a few holes in the bottom.
Take a look around your home (or that neglected back corner of your garage) for any items you are no longer using that could be turned into containers. You could also stroll through your local thrift store for a few objects or inspiration.
This does come with a few caveats. You need to ensure whatever material you’re using will be safe to plant in and that you can drill drainage holes without breaking the container. It must also be the right size and depth for your growing plants. But if you can meet those requirements, making your own containers is always an exciting adventure.
Once you’ve decided on materials, you must choose the right size container. Getting this step right is crucial to keeping your succulents happy and healthy.
Not Too Big
You may think a larger container will promote quicker growth. But there is a reason succulents are sold in such tight planters. Extra soil in the container can hold onto excess moisture in areas where the roots don’t quite reach, leading to fungal growth and potentially root rot.
The extra space also encourages the roots to expand further than needed, pushing the plant to focus on root growth rather than leaf and stem growth. If growth appears stunted after potting into a large container, the container itself may be the cause.
Not Too Small
A pot that is too small will also negatively impact growth. Although succulents love to be confined to their containers and grow well in tight spaces, they will eventually struggle without room to move. Crowded containers also increase your chances of problems with fungal diseases due to a lack of airflow.
The Perfect Size
I aim for around an inch of space between the succulent and the edge of the container. Another common rule is using a pot around 10% larger than the size of the plant.
The same applies when you’re planting multiple species in the same container. Leave an inch or two of space between each plant to give them space to grow. The pot may look sparse initially, but the plants will quickly grow to fill in the gaps.
I once had a new gardener ask me for help regarding her new succulent garden. She had planted several succulents in a wheelbarrow outdoors and couldn’t figure out why they had all died. My first question was – did the wheelbarrow have holes in the bottom? I’m sure you can guess that the answer was no.
Drainage is essential for all plants in containers, but especially for succulent plants. They don’t like sitting in soggy or even moist soil and typically prefer the dry, sandy conditions of their native habitats. Each succulent is different, but they all share the characteristic of storing water in their leaves; they are very sensitive to root rot.
Whatever container you choose must have drainage holes in the bottom if you want your succulents to be happy. There are ways to manage containers without drainage holes, but as this comes with many risks, it’s always better to be safe and focus on drainage from the beginning.
How To Drill Drainage Holes In Containers
If the container you want to plant in doesn’t come with drainage holes, you can usually create your own, depending on your chosen material. Some pots are more prone to cracking than others, so you must be careful when drilling. Follow these steps to get it right.
Regular drill bits are not ideal for making holes in decorative containers, especially if you want to avoid cracking. The quickest way to drill a drainage hole with limited damage is by using a diamond-tipped hole saw bit. Don’t be afraid of the ‘diamond’ in the name – the bits are not too pricey and are incredibly useful if you use them often.
You can also try a glass and tile bit for ceramic pots, but these typically take longer to use are require more care than the diamond-tipped bit.
Next, turn the container upside down and mark the center of the pot. One hole is suitable for smaller containers, or you can drill three holes equal distances apart for larger containers. Use a marker to identify the spot and make drilling more accurate.
When you’re ready to drill, add a splash of water to the bottom of the container to prevent overheating before you start.
Diamond hole saw bits can slide around the bottom of the container without a point of reference to start. To avoid slipping, start drilling slowly at a 45° angle until a small notch has been made. This will provide the grip the bit needs to stay in place, allowing you to drill further down.
Finally, move the drill over the container to drill straight down, creating an easy drainage hole in the base. Clear off any debris with water before planting.
Although aesthetics aren’t the only concern when choosing pots, they still play a role. After all, we want our succulents to shine in their pots and not be brought down by the look of a container.
Luckily, the options when it comes to design are almost endless. Across the different materials, there are various colors, patterns, and shapes to choose from, allowing you to match the pot to your chosen plant and your garden as a whole.
Muted tones always work well with succulents, especially those with a green-gray sheen. I like to use white pots for a clean and modern look, but natural colors like beige and brown are on trend and always work well in gardens. If you prefer a pop of color, opt for bright tones that contrast with the green without overwhelming the plant.
You can also play with different shapes as long as the size suits your chosen succulents. This is a great time to get creative and craft your own containers or look to local suppliers for something a little more unique than a standard rounded container.
Ultimately, design is a personal choice. Choose what matches your home and garden and what stands out to you while keeping the health of your succulents in mind.
With your perfect container curated, all there is left to do is fill it. This step is just as essential as the choice of the container itself. Even with an ideal container, your succulents may still struggle if you’ve chosen the wrong soil.
The easiest way to keep succulents happy is to look for a specialized succulent and cacti potting mix. These mixes are formulated with the proper ratios of ingredients perfect for succulent plants. They are designed to hold onto enough moisture to satisfy the roots while draining quickly to prevent root rot.
Those that prefer to make their own soil mixes can experiment with recipes as long as the soil drains well and has a gritty texture. I like to start with equal parts potting mix and sand, adding more drainage or organic matter as necessary.
Fill the container with a bit of soil mix and add water to test how quickly it will drain. If the drainage holes are blocked or if water pools at the top, add more sand or perlite to improve conditions before planting.
With so many steps to consider, choosing the right container can seem complex. But as long as you’ve considered the essentials like drainage and soil, much of your choice comes down to personal taste. Use the chance to get creative and design your ideal succulent garden feature.