Considerations in the clay vs. plastic pot debate:
- Porosity of unglazed clay pots allows air and moisture exchange through the pot’s sides, allowing roots along the root ball edges better access to oxygen as the clay breathes.
- Excess moisture can wick out through the sides of clay pots.
- If houseplant owners tend to overwater, keeping soil continually too soggy, clay pots are more forgiving than plastic. Clay pots will evaporate some moisture through the sides. Plastic pots are more likely to compound overwatering issues.
- If houseplant owners tend to neglect plants to the point of wilting, then plastic pots conserve moisture better.
- Plants that appreciate well-drained soil conditions, like cacti and succulents, are sometimes easier to grow in clay pots.
- Plants that favor moist conditions, such as ferns, might find moisture-retaining plastic pots more favorable, although clay work fine, too.
- Clay pots develop white salt residue on the sides over time, which can easily be wiped away, plant intact, at the kitchen sink with a pot scrubber and water.
- African violets are sensitive to the rim of clay pots, where leaf stems rest on the clay. Many growers choose plastic, or cover the clay pot rim with foil, tape, or dip in paraffin.
- Although either can be used successfully outdoors, keeping outdoor planters moist in summer is a priority. Plastic containers conserve moisture better outdoors. Clay pots must be monitored more closely to prevent excess summer drying.
- Clay vs. plastic can be a personal preference, as plants can grow beautifully in either, each with their own advantages.
Which do we prefer? Mary and I enjoy about 95 indoor houseplants, ranging in pot size from 3-inch diameter up to about 12-inch. (Excluding geraniums and others that are snowbirds spending the winter indoors before heading back outdoors. And not counting several plants I killed, but that’s a story for another day.) About 90 out of 95 of our houseplants are in clay pots. We like the simplicity of clay pots. Clay pots might be quiet and unassuming, but their no-frills nature means serious business.