Pots for Growing Vegetables: Plastic, Resin, Clay, or Terra Cotta? | Urban Backyard Farming (2024)

Pots for Growing Vegetables: Plastic, Resin, Clay, or Terra Cotta? | Urban Backyard Farming (1)

Contrary to popular belief, vegetable growing is not limited to large backyards or acres of land. Many gardeners with small yards—or even an apartment patio or balcony—can grow vegetable plants. As long as they care for and maintain the plants correctly with the right tools, they can successfully grow vegetables. One of the first consideration should be the container you’re going to be planting in.

What kind of pot is best for growing vegetables? Any container can be used to grow vegetable plants as long as it is the right size and provides adequate drainage. However, the ideal pots for vegetable growing are clay or terra cotta pots with a plastic lining.

Each type of planter has advantages and disadvantages. However, the best pot for growing vegetables will depend on the vegetables you are trying to grow, the container size and shape, whether it has drainage holes, and where the plant will be kept as you raise it. Read on to find all the information you need to know about planting pots for growing vegetables.

Types of Planting Containers

Planting containers are classified by the material they are made from. There are several kinds of pots. The most frequently used planting pots are made from plastic, resin, clay, and terra cotta.


Plastic pots are made from inert materials that are considered safe to use with plants. Most moisture-loving plants prefer growing in plastic containers due to how well they retain water.


  • Plastic pots are ideal for gardeners who tend to underwater or water their plants infrequently.
  • Plastic containers are very lightweight and easy to carry if you plan on relocating your plant to get access to sunlight often.
  • Plastic pots are the least expensive kind of container you can purchase on the market.
  • The material heats and cools quickly, ensuring soil does not have a chance to retain excessive heat that could damage plant roots.
  • They usually have more drainage holes compared to other types, and if more holes are needed, they are easier to make in a plastic pot.


  • Plants in plastic pots do not do as well outdoors because the thin material is not good at shielding the plant from extreme weather conditions, such as high heat, frost, or fast winds. Black plastic, in particular, can collect heat from the sun, heating the pot’s soil or dirt to almost plant-damaging levels.
  • Sunlight can be quite damaging to the pot itself, causing fading and brittleness with enough exposure.
  • Plastic containers do not last as long as other types of planters.
  • Some plastic pots are not recyclable, so they cannot be disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way if they are no longer usable. Besides, some gardeners fear that certain plastics may contain harmful chemicals that could hurt the plant or prevent vegetable plants from being safe for human consumption.

For more information about plastic containers, visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension website.


Resin pots are made using a unique composite blend, usually a low-density polyethylene. The composite is made with three durable layers, including a solid core, a center protective layer, and the outer shell.


  • Resin containers can withstand variations in temperature without cracking, making them suitable for outdoor use.
  • Resin is lightweight, but still heavy enough to prevent the wind from knocking the entire plant over.
  • Resin is stain-resistant, which makes the pots easy to clean when needed.
  • Resin containers do not fade as easily in color when exposed to sunlight compared to plastic pots.


  • Resin pots are not as environmentally friendly as other types of containers.
  • Because they can be made to look like any other type of pot, they can be expensive to purchase and even pricier to customize.


Clay pots are known to provide a very healthy environment for most types of plants—not just vegetables. Even well-drained, dry-soil plants like cacti prefer clay pots.


  • Because clay is porous in nature, more air and moisture can penetrate through the sides and bottom of the pot without issue.
  • Clay pots also help remove excess moisture from the potting soil by acting as a wick. This is especially beneficial for gardeners who tend to overwater their plants.
  • Clay containers are ideal if you plan on keeping your plant outdoors; their thick walls help protect the plant from rapid changes in temperature, while their weight prevents wind from easily knocking the plant over.
  • These containers are more visually appealing in container gardens.
  • Clay is considered a sustainable resource and, therefore, environmentally-friendly.


  • Clay tends to dry more quickly, which is not good for moisture-loving plants or when trying to germinate seeds.
  • Clay pots sometimes develop a white, crusty layer on the outside. This is the result of the mineral salts in water being wicked from the potting soil to the pot wall. The white outer layer can be scrubbed off, although it requires additional work from the gardener.
  • Clay pots are easier to break when mishandled or dropped.

Terra Cotta

Terra cotta (also known as unglazed clay) pots can be recognized from their unique rusty-brown clay color. They are made from a specific soil that is fired in kilns during the manufacturing process.


  • Like plastic pots, terra cotta pots can be recycled if they are no longer usable.
  • Terra cotta pots have a visual appeal to gardeners; many claim their earthy tones complement plants very well.
  • Terra cotta containers are quite affordable and readily available.
  • They are ideal for large or tall plants where anchoring may be an issue.


  • Because terra cotta material has a clay base, it dries quickly compared to other pot types. You must water your plant regularly in this type of pot.
  • Terra cotta pots are heavier and more difficult to move. If you plan on rotating or moving a larger plant in a terra cotta pot to get better access to the sun, it is recommended that you place it on a dolly with casters to do so. Otherwise, most gardeners suggest finding a permanent location for your plant if you decide to use a terra-cotta pot.
  • They provide inadequate drainage for some plant types.

For more information about clay and terra cotta pots, visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension website.

Other Types of Planters

Of course, the container types listed above are not the only types of pots that can be used to grow vegetables. There are several less-popular containers you can use as well, such as:

  • Cast Cement
  • Hypertufa
  • Metal
  • Fiberglass
  • Nylon Stockings
  • Plastic Bags
  • Hanging Baskets
  • Peat Pots
  • Pottery (glazed or unglazed)
  • Stone or Stoneware
  • Wood
  • Wire

Consider the appearance you want for your potted plants—as well as the maintenance involved with each type of planting container—when choosing a container type.

Other Factors to Consider When Choosing Planting Pots

Of course, the material the pot is made of is not the only factor that gardeners should consider if they want to grow vegetable plants.

Other factors that should be considered when choosing your planting pots include:

  • The kind of vegetables you want to grow
  • The container’s size and shape
  • Whether the container has drainage holes
  • Where the pot will be placed

Vegetables to Grow in Pots

Almost any vegetable that can be grown in a traditional garden can also be grown in a pot. However, according to Texas A&M Agrilife Extension’s article “Easy Vegetables to Grow,” there are a few plants that grow better in containers compared to the rest:

  • Beans
  • Eggplant
  • Green Beans
  • Lettuce
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips

The plant variety selection is also important when choosing vegetables to grow in containers. Although most of a plant’s variety is likely to do well in a pot—especially for those plants mentioned above—there may be some species that are ideally suited for small gardens and container gardening.

Plant varieties that are best suited for containers and small gardens include the following:

  • Broccoli – Packman, Bonanza
  • Carrot – Scarlet Nantes, Gold Nugget, Little Finger, Baby Spike, Thumbelina
  • Cucumber – Burpless, Liberty, Early Pik, Crispy, Salty
  • Eggplant – Florida Market, Black Beauty, Long Tom
  • Green Beans – Top Crop, Greencrop, Contender, (Pole) Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder
  • Green Onion – Beltsville Bunching, Crystal Wax, Evergreen Bunching
  • Leaf Lettuce – Buttercrunch, Salad Bowl, Romaine, Dark Green Boston, Ruby, Bibb
  • Parsley – Evergreen, Moss Curled
  • Pepper – Yolo Wonder, Keystone Resistant Giant, Canape, Red Cherry (Hot), Jalapeno
  • Radish – Cherry Belle, Scarlet Globe, (White) Icicle
  • Squash – Dixie, Gold Neck, Early Prolific Straightneck, Zucco (Green), Diplomat, Senator
  • Tomato – Patio, Pixie, Tiny Tim, Saladette, Toy Boy, Spring Giant, Tumbling Tom, Small Fry

As a general rule, most miniature or “bush” type varieties of vegetables are more suited for container gardening. For a more extensive list of container-suited plants and pot sizes that you should consider for each type, visit Texas A&M University’s extension website.

Container Size & Shape

The article “Successful Container Gardens: How to Select, Plants, and Maintain” from the University of Illinois Extension, explains that, when determining the size pot you need, you must think about how big you expect your plants to grow. This starts with knowing which vegetables you want to raise.

Suggested planting container sizes for common vegetables are:

  • Green onions, parsley, and similar herbs grow best in pots ranging from six to ten inches in diameter.
  • Most vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, beans, onions, and eggplants prefer five-gallon containers.
  • One to two-gallon pots are ideal for smaller plants like chard and dwarf tomatoes.
  • Smaller containers are suitable for vegetables such as herbs, lettuce, and radishes.

You should also consider how much water your plants will need. Bigger containers can hold more water for longer periods, while shallow or smaller pots hold less water for shorter periods.

As a rule of thumb, all plants need sufficient room for their roots to grow. The plant should be able to fit inside of your chosen container without having to be squeezed in. In general, it is better to have a pot that is a little too big than a pot that is too small.

Note: In terms of size, pots are usually defined by their diameter in inches. You will also need to find out how deep a pot is and if its depth is sufficient for your plant’s roots to grow.


When it comes to the shape of the pot you choose, consider stability. For the most part, square-shaped pots tend to be more stable than traditional pots (sliced inverted cones) or other shaped containers. Pots with straight sides, such as cylinders, are also more durable and less likely to tip over from the wind.

If you do use a traditional pot, you should consider the weight. Containers made of a heavier material such as clay or terra cotta weigh more and are less likely to tip.

Drainage Holes

Drainage holes are an absolute necessity in pots for vegetable plants. Not only do they allow constant airflow to the plant roots, but they also allow excess water to drain, reducing the chances of your plant developing water saturation-related conditions such as root rot.

Pot Placement

You must also think about where you plan on placing the plant once it has been potted.

  • Will it be outdoors or indoors? A plant placed outdoors will need to be in a pot that can withstand the elements such as clay or terra cotta. An indoor plant can do well in a plastic container.
  • Will it have a lot of access to light? A durable container like resin, clay, or terra cotta will hold up under hours of direct sunlight but may retain much more heat than plastic.
  • Will it need to be rotated or moved with the sun? Plants that will need to be moved often are better off in lightweight containers such as plastic.
  • Will it be on a balcony on a higher floor? Some apartment complexes may not allow heavy planters made of clay or terra cotta pots to be placed on balconies because of their high weight. On the other hand, plastic containers may not be able to withstand the winds on higher balconies.


If you are repotting a vegetable plant, you will most likely need to use a larger pot than what you started with. When repotting, choose a pot that is at least one to two inches larger in diameter than the original one; this applies more to plants currently in a 10-inch pot or smaller. If the current pot size is greater than 10 inches in diameter, the new pot should be at least two to four inches larger.

Best Type of Pot for Growing Vegetables

All these different types of containers have pros and cons, but which is the best for growing vegetables? If you want to grow vegetables without lots of ongoing maintenance successfully, then using a clay or terra pot with a plastic lining is the way to go.

Clay and terra cotta pots are porous containers, so you will likely experience plant-soil drying up much quicker compared to other pots but adding a plastic lining with holes for drainage will help combat this.

Overall, clay or terra cotta pots provide an ideal environment for vegetable plants to thrive. If you want your plants to remain outside with access to the sun, clay and terra cotta containers also offer a safe shield against the elements.

These pots are visually appealing and can be decorated in any way you like on top of their natural, earthy tones. They are versatile, come in various sizes, are reasonably priced, and are easy to find online or at your local gardening center.


With the right type of planting pots, you can raise healthy vegetables—regardless of how much yard space you have. When it comes to planting containers, there are several types to choose from, including plastic, resin, clay, and terra cotta. However, the best container for growing vegetables is a clay or terra cotta pot with a plastic, drainable lining.

Remember that choosing an ideal container for your vegetable plant does not stop at its material. You should also consider the pot’s size, whether or not it has drainage holes, and if the vegetable you want to raise is one that will thrive in a pot.
Choosing the right pot for your vegetable plant is the first step toward raising a healthy plant during the growing season. From there, all you need to do is show it regular care and make sure it has access to its necessities, such as sunlight and water.

Pots for Growing Vegetables: Plastic, Resin, Clay, or Terra Cotta? | Urban Backyard Farming (2024)
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