Wondering whether plastic pots can harm or kill plants is a legitimate concern. The dangers of plastic when it comes to food are well-documented. As such, any thoughtful plant owner should consider whether the plastic pots we place our plants in can harm them or stunt their growth in any way.
Plastic pots do not kill plants. Plastic has been shown to be an efficient, inexpensive, and safe way to grow plants, including fruits and vegetables. Only minimal levels of dangerous chemicals may leech into the soil, and most of those are washed away with regular watering.
As it turns out, plastic can actually be beneficial for plants. The plastic container can also act as an insulator to keep roots protected from unexpected cold temperatures, and it holds in moisture, which is especially beneficial for plants that thrive in wetter environments. To learn more about how plastic pots can affect plant growth, and which type of pot is ultimately the best for your plants, read on.
What type of pot is best for plants?
There are three types of pots that are the most popular for indoor or outdoor gardening. The first type, mentioned above, is the plastic pot.
Considering Plastic Pots
Pots made from plastic are the most common type you will find when you purchase your plants from a greenhouse or gardening shop. They are lightweight, inexpensive to produce, and they are very effective at holding the soil of the plant.
Plastic pots, like these indoor pots found on Amazon, are also typically manufactured with holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain out the bottom and help prevent your plants from forming root rot. At the same time, the plastic of the pot helps hold moisture in to allow the soil to remain moist.
One of the hazards of plastic pots is that they will rise in temperature and hold in heat when they are placed in the sun. If the plant in the plastic pot is not a hardy sun plant, you run the risk of drying out the plant and basically cooking it inside the plastic. Also, if you have a plant that thrives in drought, such as a cactus, plastic pots may not be the right choice for them as they hold in the moisture.
Another concern with the use of plastic pots is the seepage of hazardous chemicals from the plastic into the soil and then into the roots of the plant. If the plant is a fruit or vegetable, the concern is that the chemicals from the plastic pot will end up being consumed in the food. However, this fear is unfounded.
Gardening pots, like these good ones found on Amazon, are made from plastic that is “food safe,” meaning that the plastic does not contain high enough levels of harmful chemicals to be considered dangerous. The Food and Drug Administration has compiled an enormous database of all chemicals that can possibly leak into food from plastic containers. If the amount of chemical leaked from a substance, like a plastic container, is within an acceptable level, it is deemed to be “food safe.”
Further, it has been found that the majority of chemicals leaked from plastic pots are typically washed away by the watering process or absorbed into the soil, never even reaching the roots of the plant, let alone the person who eats the fruit.
What About Clay Pots?
Another type of commonly used pot is the clay or terracotta pot. These are typically orange in color and used more as a decorative gardening pot. Made from soil and glazed in a kiln before use, these pots are much heavier and more fragile than plastic pots.
Although these pots will definitely bring a more elegant look to your deck or porch, they are significantly more expensive than the plastic alternative. The added weight and bulk, however, come in handy when the weather turns windy. Heavier pots will not blow over in the wind like a lighter plastic pot will. However, clay pots do break down when left outside in colder weather.
If you have plants that need to be watered frequently, clay pots may not be the best choice. The clay will absorb some of the water and pull it away from the soil, leading to the plant drying out. As was stated above, plants that have a high tolerance to dehydration do well in clay pots.
And Ceramic Pots?
Ceramic pots are also commonly used in indoor and outdoor gardening. Like clay pots, they are heavy and easily broken. The thickness of the ceramic also keeps the plant and its roots insulated more than even a plastic pot does. Ceramic pots come in many colors and can be a beautiful addition to your container garden or windowsill.
When purchasing any pot, make sure it comes with holes in the bottom to allow for proper drainage, like these found on Amazon. Many inexpensive ceramic pots like those found in dollar stores do not have holes in the bottom. If the water sits in the soil too long and is not able to drain out the bottom, root rot can occur, which will kill the plant quickly.
There are a number of other materials from which pots are made. Resin, which resembles plastic but is actually much more durable and more organically sourced, is an excellent option.
If you want more information on this topic, HGTV offers an excellent description of the most popular types of gardening containers.
Best Outdoor Planter Material: Resin vs. Plastic Planters
When you display your beautiful plants outside, you want the planter to be equally as attractive. You will want to pick a planter that not only looks good but will maintain its good looks when it is subjected to weather and other elements.
There is a general misconception that resin and plastic are the same things. Many nurseries will say they are packaging their plants in resin planters, but the material is actually just molded plastic. True resin is made from low-density polyethylene and contains 3 basic parts:
- A thick inner core that gives the material its durability
- A center layer of polyurethane which is an artificial rubber
- An outer shell that is made from organically derived resin
Some plastic pots may have designs and details molded into them, and they may look like a true resin planter, but they are not. Plastic chips regularly crack, while resin is durable. Resin is also heavier, so it will withstand strong winds.
Resin also provides better insulation than plastic, and it will not fade with prolonged sun exposure like plastic or clay pots. Typically, if you can crack off a piece of the pot easily along the rim, it is made of plastic.
How Do You Sterilize Plastic Pots?
If you have decided that plastic pots are the best option you have for planting, it is important that you sterilize the pots before use to prevent the spread of any disease that may be present.
- Remove and rinse all residual dirt and debris from the container.
- Completely wash all sides of the pot with dish soap and water.
- Submerge the pot for ten minutes in a bucket consisting of 1 part bleach and 9 parts water.
- Thoroughly rinse all parts of the pot to remove all bleach residue.
- Let the pot dry in the sun.
Note: You should never use bleach to clean your plant pots. Bleach is phytotoxic, which means it can kill plant life quite easily. If the residue of any bleach-based cleaning agent remains on the side of the plant pot, it can seep into the soil and kill any plant it comes into contact with.
If you place a plant into a plastic pot, it will be perfectly fine. In fact, the superb insulation and moisture retainment that plastic pots offer can actually make it a beneficial way to store your plant. And if you don’t want to use a plastic pot for whatever reason, a resin pot is an excellent replacement.
Helpful Recommended Products
Here are a few recommended Amazon products that were mentioned in this article.