What Size Container Do I Need for My Plant?

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Containers for Plants

Some people may find that they can successfully prune soil in their backyard to stick plants directly into the ground. Others prefer to have their plants grow on their own terms in specific containers and pots, whether they are indoors or outdoors. The problem arises when it is unclear what container will suit the needs of a certain plant correctly.

What size container do I need for my plant? A container should be large enough to accommodate the type of plant growing as well as the root system. A plant will be unable to thrive if enough room is not available. On the other hand, too much room can cause the roots to drown or dry up from lack of moisture balance and control.

God has instructed us, His people, to take care of the plants and animals He made for us. Providing plants with the right shape and size container will ensure it grows healthy and strong. We are going to discuss the different sizes of containers available to the public and how to pick the right size, style, and material for proper potting.

What is Container Gardening?

Some gardeners can get by with pruning their soil and planting their plants directly into the ground. However, this method isn’t for everyone. For instance, someone who lives in an area where the soil isn’t ideal or nutrient-dense will find it challenging to plant in the ground. Those who live in apartment homes typically don’t even have the option of creating a garden directly in the ground.

Whether space is limited or the hassle of a garden planted in the ground is just too much, the next best choice is to consider container gardening. This type of gardening will utilize a series of containers filled with soil that will hold the plants and allow them to grow.

All types of plants can be grown the container gardening way. Rows of fruits and vegetables, as well as beautiful flowers, can easily be planted in containers. The container is typically going to be on the smaller size and can be displayed outdoors or indoors with ease.

The biggest downside to container gardening is that the root system won’t have an endless ability to grow. In a container, the roots will eventually reach the bottom of the container and come to a halt. This isn’t an issue for the garden dug directly into the ground.

Does that mean that there is no hope for the container gardener? Of course, not! But it makes it all the more important to find the right size container for the type of plant gardeners are trying to grow. It is also important to pay attention to the type of material used to make the container, as this can cause quite an impact on a plant.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Colossians 4:5-6

Choosing the Right Size Container

Two things are important to consider when choosing the right sized container for a plant: how much soil the plant needs to survive, and how deep the roots will grow. These are both imperative. Not enough soil can lead to a plant dying from lack of nutrients, while not enough room for the roots can also have a harmful, deadly effect on a plant.

Plants can essentially be broken down into two distinct types: ornamental, which are plants that are grown for solely decorative purposes, and edibles, which are grown to produce an ingredient for consumption. Each has its own distinct needs in terms of the size of containers.

Ornamental Plants

Ornamental plants are used for decoration purposes. Some guidelines to keep in mind when choosing the right size for an ornamental plant is the following:


Impatiens in Pots

Annuals are a fun choice because they will complete their entire life cycle in just one year before dying. However, this also means that they will need to be replaced more often than other types of plants. A more vibrant and picturesque view is enjoyable, though, when these flowers are in full bloom.

Annuals consist of some truly mesmerizing plants, including the ever-popular marigold and impatiens. To keep an annual happy throughout their year-long journey, make sure they have at least 12 inches of depth in their container. A little more or a little less is fine but stay around the 12-inch mark for proper growth.


Astur in Pot

Looking for a vibrant, stunning plant that can decorate a home for longer than a year? Find good luck in the perennial department. Beauties like the Astur, Daylily, Peony, and Sedum are all part of the perennial classification. They are named ‘perennials’ due to the fact that they live longer than two years.

With perennials, gardeners may not need to worry as much about death after a single year, but that doesn’t make it impossible. Without the right amount of soil, things can go haywire. That being said, a perennial will do well in a larger container that can hold at least 12 to 18 inches of soil for proper root growth.


Shrub Containers

A shrub is essentially just a small bush. While they are more likely to be found in the ground surrounding a home, some people want their shrubs off the ground and hanging from their patios. For gardeners planning to raise a shrub in a container, be aware that shrubs need a large-sized container that can hold up to 2 feet of soil.

Your shrub is going to be happiest with a large amount of soil. This will allow the root system to grow efficiently without being halted or losing moisture. That being said, 18 inches to 2 feet is generally sufficient for shrubs.

Small Trees

Tree in Pot

Whether a gardener is planning to grow a Holly tree, Boxwood, Dwarf Alberta Spruce, or an English Yew, one thing that is true about smaller trees that can fit in containers is that small trees have an ample root system and will require quite a bit of room and soil.

For any type of small tree, a very large container that can accommodate the roots of the tree and at least 2 to 3 feet of soil at a time is likely necessary.


Succulents in Pots

Succulents have become increasingly popular in recent years, and for good reason, too. They have a distinct, beautiful appearance, and they are very easy to take care of. The biggest thing to remember about succulents is that they have a very short root system and don’t require much room. A number of succulents can fit into a short, wide container and they will thrive.

Whether choosing a single container or multiple containers, a good rule of thumb is to keep the container short and only place a few inches of soil. As little as 2 to 3 inches will likely suffice, but you should never go beyond 6 inches with this type of plant.

Edible Plants

While ornamental plants are fairly simple to accommodate with a container, edible plants may be a bit more tricky. This is mostly because every edible plant has its own needs and expectations for growth, and trying to keep all of the information in line as a gardener, can be challenging. However, one thing is true for most edible plants: the more, the merrier.

Citrus and Fruit Trees

If you thought growing an apple tree in a container was impossible, think again! It’s completely possible- if you know what you are doing, of course.

As you would imagine, citrus and other fruit trees have larger roots that are going to need a large amount of space to grow. Make sure to place these types of trees into a very large container that has a 2 to 3 feet soil capacity. Anything smaller will inhibit tree growth and may even topple over as the container can’t handle the larger plant.


Herbs Indoors

Growing thyme, parsley, cilantro, basil, and chives can change dinner for good. Fresh, homegrown herbs will have a delicious taste, unlike anything bought from the grocery store. Growing herbs will also shorten the grocery bill, and we can all agree that’s a major benefit!

Since herbs are fairly small, they don’t need a very large container. Herbs can successfully grow in a small container with 6 to 12 inches of soil inside. It’s best if the indoor herb has around 6 inches, while the outdoor plant has around 12.

Crops with shallow roots

Lettuce in Containers

Lettuce, corn, strawberries, and radishes all fall under the category of having shallow root systems. And, knowing that shallow roots don’t require as much room in order to grow, crops with shallow roots can be placed in a fairly small container. As long as it is able to hold 6 to 12 inches of soil, the crop should have no issues with growth.

Crops with medium-sized roots

Cantaloupe, cucumbers, melons, and squash are all known to be medium-sized edibles that don’t require too much space in order to grow. However, they still need more than the shallow crop counterpart. For medium-sized rooted crops, you need a medium-sized container that will accommodate anywhere between 12 to 18 inches of soil.

Crops with deep root systems

Last but not least, we come to the realm of deep-rooted crops consisting of plants like tomatoes and potatoes. These types of edible plants require much more room to accommodate their overall size and root structure. A fairly large container is needed to allow for up to 2 feet of soil at a time. Keep in mind that larger edible plants should never have less than 18 inches of soil.

Note about Edibles: When it comes to edibles, it’s highly suggested that each plant has its own container. Trying to place multiple crops in one container, such as zucchini and peppers, will cause the roots to fight for nutrients. This will lead to a less abundant crop and one that probably won’t taste as great either.

This isn’t as big of a concern for smaller, short-rooted edibles. For instance, strawberries and radishes can find harmony in a container together without an impact on the growth or strength of either plant. Always err on the side of caution, though, and make sure plants always have plenty of room.

Choosing the Right Shape

It’s not all about the size when it comes to choosing the right container for a plant. What works for one plant won’t meet the needs of another, so it is important to know the difference between these container shapes and how they will react with your plant.

Round and Square

Perhaps the most common shape for containers when it comes to indoor and outdoor plants is the round or square model. This is mostly due to the fact that they can handle just about any type of plant, but they seem to work especially well with perennials, shrubs and trees.

Remember that the larger the plant and the deeper the root system, the more space plants will need to thrive. The good thing about round and square containers is they are offered in a variety of sizes, some being especially large to accommodate small trees such as citrus or Holly.

The round and square-shaped containers can work for any plant, though. When choosing this style, what’s most important is how much soil the container can ultimately hold. Usually, round and square containers will start at 12 inches deep all the way up to 3 feet deep, which is critical for a small tree.

The shape of these containers offers a lot of depth, which is great for deep-rooted plants. However, their shape also comes into play with looks and functionality. Some may find the modern style of square containers to suit their unique style in their room, while others enjoy the beauty of the circular shape to set well on their porch.

A tree or larger plant or shrub falling over is less likely in a round or square container, too. This is why they are often chosen to be used with larger plants.

Shallow Containers

As the name suggests, a shallow container is a container that doesn’t offer too much depth. Most of the time, a shallow container can’t hold any more than 6 inches of soil. This makes the shallow container the ideal choice for succulents.

Keep in mind, though, that shallow containers are usually very short. They can range in sizes in terms of widths, but the overall height is low. If a gardener is concerned about placing a plant on the ground, options are available.

A shallow container can easily be placed on a dining room table, outdoor table, or even in a bathroom to create a zen-like area. On the other hand, consider purchasing a specialty planting stand that will bring succulents off the floor and back to eye level. These are nifty items that truly transform the way a garden or outdoor space looks.

Vase Containers

A vase-shaped container is ideal for anyone who is looking to blend different plants together. For instance, for a set of colorful perennials put on display, enough room is available at the top of a vase container to accept multiple plants. This type of container puts them on display beautifully, without the worry of overcrowding.

In terms of size, vases come in a wide selection of depths. Keep this in mind when choosing the vase style container. For gardeners working with perennials, something too shallow or too deep will not work. On the other hand, using a vase container for a small tree, will also not work because the vase will need to be muchlarger and deeper.

Urn Containers

Urns can be a little bit tricky. The urn shape has a wide design on the bottom, but it comes to a tight head at the top. The small opening is great for any plant that doesn’t have a deep root system. Deep roots can be a challenge to remove from this type of container, so it’s best to use shallow-rooted plants such as an annual.

However, if the plant will be kept in the urn for the entirety of its life, then deep roots shouldn’t be a factor. It would be smart to go a few sizes up, though, as the plant will continue to develop and will need more room in the future.

For related information, check out our article The 9 Best Containers for Growing Vegetables.

Do You Need to Repot?

When a plant is first bought in a container, it will need to be repotted. When purchasing a new plant from the gardening section or local nursery, the plant is likely at full capacity in its pot. Sure, the plant is flourishing and beautiful, but the tiny container it’s sold inside will cause the plant to become root-bound.

Before leaving the store, find the right container to accommodate the growing plant. When choosing the container, remember that size and shape matter. Decide on which container is right for the plant by determining how big it is at full growth and the depth of the root system.

Also, keep in mind that when purchasing a plant, it’s not at its full height – at least most of the time. Don’t get confused and buy a container that’s way too small without taking into consideration that the plant is going to get bigger – sometimes much bigger.

Are There Other Times You Should Repot?

Repotting a brand new plant from its original container to something more acceptable is crucial to the development of the plant. But is this a one time deal, or do plants need to be repotted regularly?

When it comes to repotting plants, the general rule of thumb is to repot every 12 to 18 months. This does not mean completely changing the pot, though. Repotting can also refer to switching out the soil or potting mix. This fresh dose of healthy, nutrient-rich soil will ensure that they continue to grow at their full potential.

Here are a few signs that a plant needs to be completely repotted:

  • The roots are beginning to grow beyond the drain holes. The container in use should have a drainage system in one way or another to create a necessary moisture balance for growth. If a plants’ roots are growing beyond the drain holes, it’s definitely time for a new pot. It has outgrown this one and desperately needs a new home!
  • The roots have become so long that they are pushing the plant completely out of the container. Roots are strong- they’re supposed to be! A set of roots that have grown too long for their container will certainly let the gardener know. If the plant starts moving upwards and away from the container, it’s time for a much bigger home.
  • The plant is having trouble growing. Keep in mind that it’s normal for most plants to have a dormant or offseason. But if a plant is not growing as it should, it may be cause for concern. Perhaps the size and shape of the container simply aren’t working for the plant.
  • The plant keeps falling over. When dealing with bigger plants, such as a shrub or tree, in the incorrect sized container, it could end with the plant toppling over. That is why it’s crucial to find a large enough container to fit the overall size of the tree as well as the soil that is needed to keep it steady and healthy.
  • The plant is requiring frequent watering. For the most part, plants shouldn’t need to be watered too much, especially if they are in a container. The drainage system shouldn’t allow too much water to leave or stay put. But in the case of a plant becoming dried out and needing more water, it may have something to do with the container choice.
  • The plant is noticeably becoming too large for the container. So, a wrong container choice was made, not knowing that a plant would reach these proportions. No problem! The best thing to do is fix it right away. Grab a container that can handle the workload.
  • The plant is beginning to show signs of distress. Any plant that is starting to become yellowed should be switched immediately. It may be an issue with the container, the soil, or possibly both. The best thing to do is to switch things up a bit and see what happens.

How to Repot Your Plant

One thing that may be scary to the new gardener is repotting their first plant. After all, it is important to make sure that it is carried out correctly without damaging or killing the plant while repotting. So, what is the correct way to do it? These 5 easy steps to repotting will help:

  1. Start by choosing the right container. Remember, size is a huge factor. Always choose a container that is going to be big enough to handle the plant once it has reached its adult size. Sufficient room for the soil the plant requires is also important.
  2. Fill the new container with soil. Always choose nutrient-rich soil as this will help the plants to grow best. Pay close attention to how much soil is in the container. Remember, too little soil won’t give the plant the nutrients it craves, while too much can drown and ultimately kill some plants.
  3. Remove the plant from the old container. Be careful while doing so. We suggest digging about 3 to 4 inches deep before trying to scoop the plant out. It is important to try and keep as much of the root system intact as possible. Do not be overly rough with this step. Consider using a towel or pair of gloves for added support.
  4. Place the plant in the new container. The new container should have a 3 to 4-inch depth to accept the plant. Gently place the plant inside of the soil and scoop the soil over so it’s nice and smooth and generally blended. Pat down ever so slightly.
  5. Start taking care of the new plant! When all is said and done, begin taking care of the plant right away. Make sure to water the plant regularly. Make sure the soil is soaked so the plants can be hydrated. Once the soil begins drying out, it’s time to water once again.

See how to repot a household plant quickly and easily here.

We have written a few related articles preparing your containers for plants that may help you! Check them out below!

Good Drainage in Pots: DO NOT Use Rocks and Root Rot Explained

DIY Potting Soil and Seed Starting Mix to Save Money

Can Compost Be Used in Containers and Indoor House Plants?

Does Potting Soil Need Fertilizer?


The size of the container chosen for a plant will determine how well it grows. Ornamental and edible plants all require different sizes and shapes when it comes to containers. Remember that the size needed will depend on the adult size of the plant that is growing as well as how much soil is needed to protect and nurture the root system.

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Corey Leichty

Hi, I’m Corey and I love using gardening as a way to provide food for my family, learn life lessons alongside my wife, Andrea, and teach life lessons to my two sons. Do you have gardening questions? Not finding what you are looking for? Please feel free to Ask a Question (Click Here!) and I will get back with you as soon as I can!

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