Finding Just the Right Container for My New Plants

It takes time, sometimes, to find the right container for a new plant.

I recently rooted some orange-flowering Schlumbergera, given to me by a co-worker who got hers from the estate of an aunt who passed away last summer. No one would take the plant, so she did. (I love plants with a history). Then a stem broke off and she gave that stem to me to root.

I made six cuttings out of it, and now my cuttings are all rooted and are ready to be potted up into a nice new container.

These Schlumbergera, also known as Christmas cactus, are not the most attractive of house plants when they are not flowering, so I want to put them in a nice looking container to give them every advantage.

I would actually prefer something more oblong as I’ve had problems with other Christmas cactus getting too large and top heavy for their containers, which causes them to inexplicitly fall over. This causes stems to break off, which cry out to be rooted, and so you end up with more ugly plants that bloom just a week or so each year because you know you have to root those cuttings.

Anyway, I’ve not yet found a suitable container for these orange-flowerings Christmas cactus, though I have looked everywhere I can think of, in every store I’ve been in that might possibly have containers. And I’ve come up empty handed.

So I went out of my way to a greenhouse/garden center where they sell quite a few houseplants, thinking that they would have a container that would be perfect for my new plants.

When I arrived, I was promptly greeted by the friendly staff and I told them what I was looking for. They suggested a long rectangular shaped metal container, with no drainage holes.

I said, very nicely, “I’m going to put some live plants in it and that has no drainage holes.”

To which one of them replied, “You could still use it if you were careful not to overwater.”

At that point I might have inadvertently given them a look that allowed them to read what was on mind, which was something along the lines of, “Apparently you don’t need to know anything about growing plants to work in a greenhouse no one who knows about growing plants would suggest putting them in a container with no drainage holes what do you think that I am going to do just throw a few ice cubes on them every once in a while and besides that the container is all metal with sharp edged corners and I wouldn’t bring it anywhere near my plants and now I am turned off by this whole experience and I would like to leave because you are suggesting that I put a growing plant in a container without drainage holes.”

Then another customer came in to buy something and I was saved from them, and they from me, and I left.

I like it better, by the way, when the people I am buying plants or containers for plants from at least act like they know something about plants, don’t you?

I suppose now I will have to resort to looking through my stash of clay pots to find a suitable container for my newly rooted plants. I assure you, all of them have drainage holes.


Some commonly asked questions and answers about containers for indoor plants.

Are drainage holes essential for growing plants in containers? Yes, in my plant world they are. You might keep a plant alive for awhile in a container without drainage holes, but long-term, the soil will probably ‘sour’ or you’ll keep the plant too dry trying to avoid overwatering.

What if I get a planter that has plants and no drainage holes? You can keep the plants in there for awhile, but eventually, you should take the plants out and repot them in containers with drainage holes.

What if I have the cutest/prettiest/goes with my d├ęcor container for a plant, but it has no drainage holes? You could find a pot with drainage holes that will fit down inside your fancy container, and then put the plant in that pot. When you water, it is best to remove the plant from the fancy container, take it to a sink, water it thoroughly, and then let it stand for a bit so the excess water all drains out before you put it back in the fancy container. Or, if it won't damage the container, you could drill some drainage holes in the bottom of it.

Do you advocate watering with ice cubes? No. We’ve been through that already.

Any other questions on containers? Any suggestions on what to plant my new orange-flowering Christmas cactus in?


  1. Sounds like you have lots and lots of Christmas cacti to give away as gifts!

  2. I'm still not understanding why you can't find a nice container. Your nursery doesn't have a varied selection of glazed pots to choose from? Maybe it's a seasonal thing. You can always transplant from the clay pot when the right one comes along. Or you could have a blog contest and raffle these cuttings off. That would take care of (exacerbate) your propagation problem (addiction), and it would elongate the storied nature of these plants.

  3. It's like a book store employee who doesn't read. I have a lovely rectangular clay pot with beautiful patina that would work. If only you lived down the street . . .

  4. Somehow, I missed the earlier post on watering with icecubes, which truly marinated my mind! I don't figure I have to be that thrifty with water. (besides that, we hardly ever have ice cubes in the house...I keep losing the recipe for making them ;-)

    This post made me giggle (carefully, as I'm ill and just about every activity but reading hurts!) Even when you're ranting, you're gracious about it, though I'm not sure I would have been as diplomatic as you were with those clerks!
    Now, as to finding nice pots; you could just plant the schlums in a plastic or clay pot (with drainage holes, of course) and slip that one inside a more ornamental pot. I do that all the time. Another option is to use a masonry drill to put holes in pottery or metal containers that lack them. I've done this with some interesting metal planters I found, but less often with pottery/ceramic/clay containers because I have enough pots that fit inside them to make it all work. I just must remember to check that the outer pot isn't filling up with water.

  5. My solution to the quest for unusual shaped pots is usually potter's workshops. They usually have a shelf of seconds with minor flaws and casserole dishes, baking dishes, etc make great plant pots. The trick is finding something that'll make a good saucer underneath, particularly as some seconds have hairline fractures so will leak if used as a matching saucer.

    I have a masonry drill bill which does a great job of putting drainage holes into pottery containers. That said if you're buying seconds from a potter's home/workshop they'll often be happy to drill the holes for you.

  6. I am always sorry when I am lured by a pot with no holes. The plants almost always die. I think that I have learned my lesson.

  7. I like to find the old ceramic planters that were once used by a florist for occasions, like baby gifts, birthdays, etc...I recently found a ceramic doggy at the thrift store and I drilled a hole in the bottom, and used it for succulents. Good Luck!

  8. Zoey at Perennial Passion always has good ideas. Do you haunt garage sales? That would be the best place to find an unusual container. Otherwise you'll just have to patiently wait for serendipity.

  9. I must admit that I completely agree with those garden center people you were ranting about, Carol. (Sorry!) If I really liked the pot, I would buy it anyway and adjust my watering accordingly. (Especially if it were going to house something like Christmas cactus where you can judge whether they need water by the look of the leaves and only water them then.)

    Sure, I might say that I'm going to drill a hole in it, and I do have a ceramic bit, but chances are I wouldn't bother in this case. lol.

    I should post up a few pictures soon. I have Christmas cactus rootings in a small cast iron birdfeeder, and various succulents potted up in the cracked top of a birdbath that I had to bring in over the winter. (I plan to put it back out on its post, succulents and all, in the summer.)

  10. Katie, Yes I could give some away but instead I'm going to pot them all in one great big pot so I'll have a spectular display of orange flowers next December.

    Chuck B., Here in winter wonderland, the seasonal nature of gardening is quite evident and it is hard to find even good containers for indoors, or I'm just not shopping at the right places. Or it could be that I'm wanting an oval or oblong container and just being too picky. Love the ideas of giving away cuttings... maybe once these grow on I'll offer some cuttings.

    Dee/Reddirtrambling, I'd love to live near more garden bloggers, then I'd have neighbors I have something in common with. What a street that would be to live on!

    Jodi, good ideas, and I may have to expand my search to include *gulp* containers without drainage holes, but then I will either drill my own holes, or plant the cactus in a container with drainage holes and set it inside the decorative container.

    Anita, I hadn't thought of a potter's workshop, though I don't know if there is one near me. I also have a masonry bit. I found if you really soak the container (especially if it isn't glazed and is more porous), it makes it easier to drill the holes.

    Vonlafin, that can be a hard lesson to learn if you lose a plant or two in the process.

    Julie, I might just have to go to a thrift store to see what I can find. I'm not a terribly creative person when it comes to using "alternative" containers for plants.

    Kathy, Garage sales? I'd have to wait until spring. Zoey would have some good ideas. Maybe she'll wonder by here and give me some advice!

    Blackswamp_Girl, For shame! Just kidding, but really, I would have thought... just kidding, to each her own!

    Thanks all for the comments and helpful advice.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  11. I can't believe no one has suggested this yet. I use lots of very cool containers that have no drainage holes. Yet my plants have drainage. "How?" you ask. A long time ago, we used to have lava rock in our landscaping (*shudder*) and while we "let" the neighbor shovel it away, there still remains enough under the large boxwoods that anytime I need drainage in one of those pots with no holes, I go out and get a few to fill up the bottom inch or two of the pot. If it's a really small pot, I'll go get gravel from the driveway. I've been doing this for a couple of years now and so far, so good! Of course, you still need to be a bit careful not to flood the pot, but it's not too hard to regulate the moisture and if you're not sure, a water meter is a big help.

    Trust me on this! ;-)

  12. Carol: I've tried it both ways and I learned the hard way to always use containers with drainage. That doesn't mean I don't buy what I like even if it doesn't have holes-but my rule of thumb is that I have to be able add holes if the container doesn't come with them.

    Like Kylee --I use broken pieces of old clay pots or rocks in the bottom of all my containers - even though they have holes. It is just an extra bit of help for drainage.

    Good luck finding the 'just right' container for your new cuttings.

  13. Oh-h-h orange Christmas cactus ... I'll be looking forward to seeing photos of the blooms in the future. I won't say good luck with the cuttings, because I know you will have the best looking plants growing from those little cuttings.
    I like the idea of a long pot ... think I'll transplant mine in one. Do you think the varying colours of Christmas cactus that I have will co-habit nicely in one pot. I'll just have to try that, won't I.
    If I find a nice container with no drainage hole (and there is no hope of adding any) I will create my own pot out of thick plastic with drainage holes added. This allows you to lift the plant out carefully and drain away any unwanted water. Now plastic isn't the best thing to use but it will do the trick.

  14. I'm with you. Drainage holes, always.

    To complete my elegant new patio, I bought some wildly expensive Italian fiberglass pots and carefully drilled where I thought the holes were supposed to go in the bottom. Then I installed drip irrigation for Phyllostachys nigra, which needs a lot of water, and we went to California for a month. When I returned, one of the bamboos looked very sick. It subsequently died--drowned. Turns out the pots had hollow walls and I had drilled into the hollow wall, not all the way through it!

  15. Kylee, I always add something to the bottom of my pots, even with drainage holes. I still believe that it is always best to provide some means of drainage, though I agree, you can get by for awhile with some loose stones or pot shards in the bottom when there is no drainage hole. It is just not ideal.

    Meems, We are of like mind on this drainage hole issue!

    Crafty Gardener, I also thought of having at least one container with pink, orange, and white Christmas cactus combined in it. Wouldn't that be fun!

    Karen, A lesson learned, the hard way!

    Thanks all for the comments and ideas.
    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  16. Hello Carol,

    Good luck with finding just the right container for those cuttings. I like oblong containers and the comments have given me ideas - Philo has masonry bits, and there are lots of resale shops in Austin.

    I've been gone for awhile and will never catch up with all the posts - loved your gift to Sister with the Homestead, covet the "Life is a Garden- Dig In" ornament, and thought you'd like to know that Philo bought a Cobrahead at a Garden fest here a few years back. He likes it a lot - even bought another to give as a gift to another gardener. I think you'll have fun with it. Happy 2008.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  17. Carol:Wishing you peace love inspiration and blessings as we move forward to a NEW YEAR!Looking forward to our next garden season!For now we enjoy winters peaceful blessings as the earth sleeps!
    hugs NG

  18. Annie in Austin, Welcome back! I am still looking for a good oblong container but in the meantime, I think I'll just have to pot up the Christmas cactus in some regular clay pots. The garden centers around here are really bare-bones this time of year.

    Nature Girl, Happy New Year, and Happy Gardening in 2008 to you as well.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  19. Don't you just love the garden center "experts"? I mean, at least when somebody says something stupid like that at a box store, you can understand their ignorance better...sheesh. I was looking for a pot the other day at Walmart, and I found absolutely NOTHING. I guess nobody else re-pots in winter? *sigh* Makes me want to open a garden store and run em' all out of business! (Heh...suppose the corporate machine will send a representative to "straighten me out" like our government did with Steven?) Yikes.

  20. I bought a holeless pot once and killed a couple of plants in it. It's now found a perfect occupant in my papyrus, since it's a water plant and therefore can't be overwatered. (I've had this plant for six months and still chortle every time I think about that.)

    I also have a Christmas cactus in a wide, deep blue, glazed container. It's pretty and dramatic without being loud.

  21. Oh, Carol, now you've made me realize how naughty I am. Well, not really because I use those 'packing peanuts' in the bottoms of pots with no drainage. They really do work great, and I figure I'm recycling to boot. I've never had a plant die in one of them, and if I don't repot when I should...ahem...the roots grow right around them anyway. I also use them a lot for lifting pots up a bit from their saucers instead of gravel - especially when some plants need a little humidity, like my poinsettias. It also saves me from having to dump the drained water out of the saucers (yeah, too lazy to walk all those suckers to the sink). Oh, and for bottom filler in my huge outside pots to take up space and to make the pots lighter to move. I'm serious, those things work like a charm!


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