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POTS: Go Big Or Go Small?

Have pot questions? What size pot does my succulent need? What is the best type of pot for my succulents and cacti?


Scroll along with us as we weigh the pros and cons of pot materials and more!



Pot Size


So, with all these options in choosing a pot size, does sizing really matter?? Well, that answer depends on your environment, but size usually matters, and a good rule of thumb is to select a pot that is 1-2 sizes larger than the plants' current root size. However, you may totally opt for larger pots, if that is your preference, just be aware that growth can be slower.


Things to note:

  • When potting up a cutting with no roots, select the smallest pot that the plant can stably fit in or on top of.

  • While most cacti varieties have shallow root systems, it is a huge misconception that succulents also have shallow underground roots. This is just an over-generalization and old wives' tale that can lead to a lot of misinformation.

Our Tip: For beginner growers, we recommend using small pots and potting up frequently to reduce the likelihood of issues like over-watering, stunted growth, and root rot. Sticking with appropriate-sized pots that offer the plant's roots just enough room to develop in each direction is the safest approach when selecting a vessel. Give it not much more space than about twice its present root size.

 

What Makes A Pot?

Materials |

 


Assorted terra-cotta pots in different sized, stacked on top of each other
Assorted terra-cotta pots

Terra-cotta |


Succulents like fast-drying, well-aerated soil, right? For that reason, the top choice for pot material is terra-cotta and other unglazed clays. Unsealed clay breathes and wicks moisture out of the soil, often making it easier to tell whether the soil is dry by feeling the clay for dampness.


Our Tip: Because mineral build-up occurs on the outside surface, it is ultimately an aesthetic issue and poses no health risk to your plants. If you wish to reduce buildup, water with filtered, distilled, or rainwater to slow down this process.


 

Echeveria 'Dark Purple' planted in plastic nursery pot
Echeveria 'Dark Purple' planted in plastic nursery pot

Nursery Pots |


Nursery pots are plastic pots that have multiple large drainage holes in the bottom. These are the plastic pots that your plants come in when you buy them at the nursery/garden centers. Since they are flexible, they also make repot-ting easier!


Our Tip: Nursery pots are a great option for planting inside decorative containers that do not have drainage and that you don't want to drill holes in. Plant your plants in the nursery pot, then set the nursery pot in your container. Remove the nursery pot to water and replace it back once the excess has drained completely.



 

purple echeveria succulent in white glazed pot
Echeveria 'Silver Queen' succulent in glazed pot

Glazed Ceramics |


Smooth. Though they do not breathe the way unglazed options do, but we can still use them for succulents! Try to select pots that have at least one large hole for drainage, and if they don’t, consider widening the existing drainage hole, adding more holes, or choosing another option.

Our Tip: Create drainage in your pots without holes. Simply use a drill bit or ceramic drill bit and some water to drill holes in just about anything!




 

assorted mixed crassula succulents in white rectangle concrete planter
Crassula succulents in concrete planter

Concrete |


When using a concrete planter, remember that concrete has high pH levels and the alkaline material over time mixed with water will affect the soil’s pH balance. Since succulents prefer a lower, neutral, or acidic soil pH it is advisable to use a liner, seal them, or perform a periodic soil test and adjust as necessary.


Our Tip: These considerations may not be necessary with small concrete planters that plants will quickly outgrow. Don't forget a drainage hole!

 

Succulent planted in nursery pot, placed in aluminum pot

Aluminum cans & other metals |


Metals can oxidize and break down with time. As they do, they will leach into your substrate and are soaked up by the plant’s roots. Sometimes that is ok, as with iron, an important nutrient for plants. However, high exposure to aluminum is toxic to most living things. With plants, exposure to aluminum is associated with stunted root growth. It’s unlikely this would happen under normal conditions, but it is a definite possibility when up-cycling old metal containers. If you’re unsure about the metal, seal it, or consider using a nursery pot inside any questionable or unsuitable containers. It makes for easy removal and watering.





Our Tip: Don't use it if you don’t know what the container was previously used for. It’s not worth the risk of exposing your plants to unknown chemicals and losing them.

 

Homemade Planters/Recycled/Up-cycled Materials |

With a little imagination just about anything can be turned into a pot! Mugs, tea cups/pots, bowls, jars, colanders, disposable cups, yogurt tubs, and old logs. If you can think of it, you can probably put a plant in it hahaha. Let your creativity go wild!!


 

Creating Your Own Pot or Planter


There are a few considerations to keep in mind whilst doing so:

  1. Succulents need drainage!! Of course, with extremely careful watering, they can be grown in pots without a drainage hole, but it's a significant risk, especially if you are new to the succulent game. A single watering mistake, or extended heavy rainfall, can lead to plants sitting in standing water, and the potential for overwatering and rot increases.

  2. Clean it very well whatever you’ll be planting in!! Use hot, soapy water, rinse well, and let dry completely. The last thing we want to do is accidentally introduce mold spores or other pathogens to our plants.

Our Tip: Have an item you want to use as a pot but there are no holes. You are in luck, drainage holes are super easy to add! All you need is an electric drill, a drill bit, a little water to keep the drilling area cool and dust low, and a well-ventilated area. (diamond drill bits are recommended for drilling through hard and brittle materials but they are not required)



Did you make something?! We want to see them!!! Post your creations in Succulents & Propagation.




 

Drainage Layers In Pots, Should You Add Large Rocks? - To Do Or Not To Do?! The Big Question


Answer is... No! Please, do not do that! This is still very common advice that spreads, but unfortunately, it is quite a myth and will have the opposite effect, acting like a sponge and creating what’s known as a ‘perched water table’. Long story short: soil is absorbent, but rocks aren’t. Water isn’t leaving your soil and running into the rocks until it’s been completely saturated. All that adding a “drainage layer” accomplishes is raising the wet area closer to the root zone and keeping it wetter for longer, thus leading to rot.


If some water did manage to find its way down into the drainage zone, that’s not good either. That water has nowhere to go. It’s going to sit in the bottom, stagnant and festering, breeding bacteria and causing humidity in the base of the pot. Yucky! Other issues, like compaction and blockages, can also occur when finer particles settle into the cracks between the rocks and can’t dislodge. Even with drainage holes, the water may not be able to escape.


Rather than create layers with rocks, provide a way for water to escape and amend your potting mix evenly and with enough grit to promote drainage and airflow. For help with improving your succulent soil and its drainage, check out our segment on SUBSTRATE. If the pot is truly too deep and you wish to reduce substrate consumption or the overall weight, there are other options. Pot inserts called up-a-daisies are a great choice.

Our Tip: If you are worried about soil washing out the drainage hole, use a coffee filter on the bottom or a piece of screen/mesh to cover the drain hole, and soil should not spill out. pot inserts called up-a-daisies are a great choice.






Did You Learn Anything New Today?


Do you have questions? We would love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below!


 


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2 Comments


So if you want to use decorative mugs and you drill a hole in the bottom for drainage what can you use to set the mug on that doesn’t look awful so it doesn’t ruin the surface it’s sitting on?

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nicolebondoc
nicolebondoc
Aug 12, 2022

WHOA! i Learned a lot! All my life I was told to put rocks in the bottom of my pots...didn't matter if they were annuals or succulents. It all make sense now! Second, I learned about the PH of concrete pots....of which I have several. Wow, thanks for the lessons. Great blog!

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