Choosing the Best Pot For Your Cactus (1 crucial element!)

Featured image for the article "how to choose" the best pot for your cactus" wording on the left hand side with an image on the right of a terracotta pot with a drainage hole.

When I first started my collection, I had no idea that there was such a thing as the ‘best type of pot’ for a cactus.

I assumed there were all created equal, and simply a matter of personal preference.

So, along with my first few plants, I picked up a few of the fancy plastic pots, that were conveniently located next to the cactus stand, and off I went.

It turns out these pots were a terrible choice for my cacti.

I’ve since learned that choosing the right pot is essential for the health of our prickly babies.

With that said, let’s take a look at the 3 main things to consider when choosing a cactus pot which are;

  • Drainage
  • Size and shape
  • Pot material

Drainage Holes – The Most Important Element When Choosing Your Pot

If you only take one thing away from this article, let it be this;

The most important thing to ensure when choosing a pot is to make sure it has at least one drainage hole.

Terracotta pot used for cacti with a drainage hole at the bottom

You see, despite what many people think, cacti do actually like a regular good watering

How often depends on the type of plant, soil type, and pot material.

Once you’ve watered your cactus, the water needs to drain away quickly to prevent the roots from sitting in water for too long.

If it doesn’t, it could lead to root rot which is one of the most common cacti killers.

This is exactly what happened to three out of my first plants. At the time I had no idea what I was doing wrong.

At the risk of repeating myself, more important than the size, shape, or design of the pot, make sure it has a drainage hole!

Of course, if you fall in love with a particular pot that doesn’t, you could always drill your own.

Choosing The Right Size and Shape

This is the second mistake I made. Hopefully, I can help you avoid making the same.

I always thought that choosing a large pot would be a good idea. That way, my cacti would have plenty of room to grow and I wouldn’t have to worry about repotting for quite a few years.

Nope…wrong again!

Cacti actually like to fill their pot out, so choose one that is an inch or two wider than your plant.

It shouldn’t be too deep either.

As a gauge for depth, the best method is to carefully remove your cactus from its current pot, brush away the existing soil, and measure the roots.

Then, just like we did with the width, try to find a pot that is an inch or two deeper than what you measured.

The problem with choosing a pot that’s too big is it will lead to overwatering

If you have a small cactus planted in a large pot, the soil will take longer to dry meaning it’s sat around in water longer than it needs to be which again will lead to root rot.

I’ve left you a guide below for pot sizes. Use this as a rough estimate as you don’t have to get this spot on.

I tend to overthink stuff like this when I first learn about it. Don’t be like me!

  • For small cacti (2-4 inches tall), use a pot 3-4 inches deep and 2-3 inches wide.
  • For medium-sized cacti (4-12 inches tall), use a pot 4-6 inches deep and 2-5 inches wide.
  • For large cacti (over 12 inches tall), use a pot at least 6 inches deep and 5-8 inches wide.

The Best Pot Materials For Your Cactus

Clay and Terracotta

If I could only choose one type of pot for my cacti, it would have to be terracotta.

A terracotta pot used for cactus. My pot of choice

Especially for my desert cacti which prefer less water than other types such as my hairy old man of the Andes (Oreocereus trollii), old lady cactus (Mammillaria Hahniana), and Star cactus (Astrophytum asterias).

Tip: I can help you identify your cactus here if you’re unsure which type you have.

As they’re made from porous materials, they allow air and moisture to pass through and help to regulate temperature.

If you’re worried about overwatering then these are your best options as they don’t hold water as much as ceramic or plastic which we’ll be looking at next.

The downside is they can be heavy if you require large ones and are easily broken.

I quite enjoy their uniform nature but if you prefer pots with beautiful designs, there’s a risk you may find these a little boring.

Plastic

Every cactus I have was sold to me in a plastic container. There are many reasons for this, the main one being they’re really cheap!

We recently picked up this bunny ears cactus for my son in a plastic pot

In addition to price, they’re lightweight and come in all kinds of sizes, shapes, and colors.

The main thing to keep in mind is that plastic retains water longer than clay and terracotta.

This means they’re better suited to tropical cacti such as Christmas and orchid varieties as they prefer a little more humidity than their desert cousins.

You’ll need to water less often to avoid root rot.

Ceramic pots

If choosing a pot was simply down to aesthetics, I’d choose glazed ceramic every time.

You can find some beautiful designs in stores and online from sites such as Etsy.

A blue/gray glazed ceramic pot with bee designs which could be used for planting a cactus
Ceramic pots have some beautiful designs

Unfortunately, it isn’t but that doesn’t mean they can’t be used because they definitely can.

I see ceramic as a hybrid of terracotta and plastic.

They have the heavier, more durable characteristics of terracotta, but the glazing keeps the water from escaping in the same way plastic does.

If you’re using plastic, you’ll need to water less frequently than if you use clay as we saw above.

Go for the unglazed ceramic if overwatering is a concern.

Hanging Baskets (Depending on The Type of Cactus)

I’ve learned that it’s best to emulate your cacti’s natural environment as much as possible so hanging baskets are a perfect option for orchid cacti that grow along the tree lines in the forest and for trailing varieties such as monkey tail.

Two of the most common types of hanging baskets are ones with a coco-fiber lining (allowing for faster draining of water) and plastic.

They’re also great for space savers if you have a large collection and your shelves are full!

The Worst Kind

While I’m sure many people grow cacti successfully in all types of containers, I advise against metal and glass.

Allow me to explain;

Glass

Don’t be fooled by the tons of pictures you find online these days (especially on Instagram) showing people growing cacti in glass terrariums.

A glass terranium being used to grow succulents
Image credit: unsplash.com/@ugmonk

Glass terrariums are terrible for cactus.

They don’t usually have drainage holes and some are almost completely enclosed.

This seriously restricts airflow and creates a lot of humidity, especially for desert varieties.

Metal

I actually love the look of metal pots and containers but I won’t use them for my cacti.

A metal pot that is less than ideal for planting cacti

The metal heats up in warm conditions and makes temperature control very difficult.

You also stand a good chance of burning the roots in hotter climates if they touch the sides of the container.

Should You Use Saucers?

You’re probably sick of hearing me bang on about drainage holes by now but obviously watering your plants with holes is going to cause a mess.

If your collection is fairly small, you could take them to the sink and allow them to drain before returning them to their usual position.

For larger collections that you want to water in situ, saucers or trays are a great idea to avoid making a mess.

My top tip here is that you don’t want your cacti sat in water so you’ll need to empty away any excess water to avoid rotting.

Finally, What about Larger Plants?

I don’t have any larger plants at this point in time but if you do, you’ll want a large, heavy pot to provide a good solid base and avoid your plant toppling over.

In this instance, I would opt for a heavier material such as terracotta but choose a permanent location as it’ll be heavy to move around in the future should you need to. so.

Key Takeaway

You can plant your cactus in just about any type of pot including terracotta, plastic, and ceramic but make sure they have drainage holes and an inch or two bigger than your plant.

You’ll need to monitor the soil moisture which will vary and don’t water your cactus until the soil is dry.

If I were to warn you against any materials, it’s glass and metal as they’re not ideal for cacti.

Questions??

If you have any questions relating pots or cacti in general, please drop me a message in the comments section below and I’ll get back to you as soon as humanly possible!

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