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If you’ve ever developed a sudden interest in orchids (me, currently), then you’ll be aware that many orchid aficionados recommend using clear pots to grow them in.
So what about other plants?
Are there benefits to using clear plastic or glass receptacles for other plants?
Just quickly, I want to clear up why orchids are usually singled out for clear pot use – it’s because orchids are epiphytes – their roots grow above the grow.
In fact, their roots are capable of photosynthesis, so the roots having access to sunlight is beneficial to the health of the plant.
Here’s a creepy photo I took of my orchids new roots:
Gross, aren’t they? They look like little mushrooms.
Are glass pots good for plants?
I use a few different types of clear pots for my plants: plastic orchid pots, plastic net pots, mason jars, and upcycled glass jars.
In my experience, I’ve never had a plant die or even decline purely because they were in a glass or clear pot BUT I’ve similarly never had a plant shoot out a tonne of new growth purely because I put it in a glass jar.
Plenty of people raise very healthy orchids in non-clear pots, and even more people kill orchids in clear ones.
Benefits of using clear pots for plants
- You can see the roots
This benefits you more than the plant, but by allowing you to keep a close eye on the roots, you can notice any issues such as root rot more quickly.
If you have a plant that doesn’t have a very good root system, or is in the process of recovering from root rot or being over watered, a clear pot can help you monitor the roots of the plant without having to pull it out of the pot and look.
It’s also, at the risk of sounding like a REAL party animal, pretty cool to see.
- You can see the water level
Even if your plant is in soil, you’ll kind of be able to see how damp the soil is. Moisture on the inside of the pot is easy to see, so once you stop seeing so much of that, you’ll know it’s time to water.
But clear pots are a godsend for plants in hydroponic (or semi-hydroponic) set ups. Being able to see the water level is really useful, especially if you’re a lazy waterer *cough* ME *cough*.
Drawbacks of using clear pots for plants
- You can get algae growing
Algae growing inside plant pots is rarely an issue with regards to the health of your plant.
It’s pretty much inevitable when you provide light, nutrients, and a place to grow. The only issue is that…it looks gross. And it can be a pain to clean.
- Drainage holes can be an issue
They just…make watering so much easier. I mean SURE, you could fastidiously measure out your water and HOPE that you’re not creating a reservoir of root-rotting mud in the bottom of your plants.
You certainly can drill holes in glass – drilling holes in old peanut butter jars is a pretty cost-effective way of making plant pots BUT it isn’t easy.
Drill bits get hot, glass smashes it gets hot…you can see where the issue might raise.
But you can buy a diamond drill bit specially designed for glass, and that will dramatically decrease (but not eliminate) instances of smashage (how is smashage not a word? It’s so good!).
Glass pots for growing plants in water
Growing plants hydroponically in glass jars looks SO COOL.
It’s also, IMO, the best (by which I mean easiest) way to use up the afore-mentioned old peanut butter jars (let’s just take a moment to think of those people, like me, that don’t have a dishwasher and have to wash out old peanut butter jars by hand)
As well as upcycled food containers, you can use vases to grow plants hydroponically (or in leca).
As I mentioned, you can get issues with algae, but you can just rinse out the vessel every couple of months.
Or stick to growing plants that don’t require a tonne of light.
Peace lilies are a popular option when it comes to growing plants this way, and that’s probably why (also it’s easier to keep up with their water intake).
Many people use those vases with a narrow neck to grow house plants hydroponically BUT I do have a word of caution – roots can become very thick and unruly, and you may end up having to smash the jar to get the plant out (or the plant even smash the vessel itself with its hulk-like roots).
If you have a narrow-necked vessel that you plant to use, I’d recommend keeping the roots trimmed so that you don’t have any issues with plants getting stuck.
If you plan on keeping your plants in leca, it can be a good idea to drill a hole in the side of the vessel about a third of the way up, so that you can flush the leca without having to remove everything from the pot.
What plants grow well in glass containers?
As I mentioned, I don’t think that there are any house plants that CAN’T grow well in clear containers.
Many people exclusively use clear containers when they grow plants in leca, and as I mention in a previous article, there are very few plants that can’t be grown in leca – some plants are harder and more complicated to transition than others, but there are no plants that you definitely shouldn’t try to transition.
If you hate the look of algae, then make sure the vessel is out of direct sun. If you’re using clear pots simply because you have them and want to use them (rather than for aesthetic reasons), you can always cover the pots with paper to block some of the light.
Can you grow vegetables in clear pots?
This is where it starts getting a bit…tricky.
I mean you can grow some vegetables in clear pots, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Root vegetables like potatoes must be grown in the dark. If they get too much light on their tubers you get fewer potatoes than you would otherwise, and your potatoes are more susceptible to disease.
Many vegetable seeds require darkness to germinate, so even if you grow the seedlings in clear containers, you’ll need a separate set up to germinate the seeds.
If you’re planning on growing vegetables in clear containers, do your research first and find plants that will do well.
One good way to grow food in clear containers is to grow sprouts like lentil sprouts. They’re really nutritious and it’s pretty easy. It’s one of those things I always plan on doing and then simply…don’t.
Algae is more of a problem with growing vegetables than with house plants. Algae can remove nutrients that are vital when growing fruit – that’s why Aerogarden pods have those little covers on them.
As I write this, feeling sorry for those people that just want to germinate seeds in glass jars, I realise I’m a freaking idiot. You could just…put them in a cupboard. Again, do your research because some plants, such as begonias, do need light to germinate.
Do plant roots need sunlight?
We’ve already covered that orchids prefer to have light on their roots because their roots can photosynthesise. But most plants don’t have this capability.
Other epiphytes, such as Monstera, grow aerial roots that can absorb a bit of moisture from the air but are primarily use to anchor the plant to a tree it’s climbing. If you’re lucky, and a diligent propagator, you can convince a young aerial root that it’s a soil root, but they are different beasts.
In general, plant roots grow away from the light, towards moisture and nutrients. So they’re not massive light fans. BUT they don’t NEED to be in the dark. As long as they get some darkness (you know, like at night) they’ll be fine.
For a plant root in the wild, it’s best to be in the ground. They can find the water and food that they need, and crucially, they’re protected from the elements, and any marauding, root-eating animals.
But in your home, you can control the moisture and nutrients, and the pot will protect the roots.
Does light damage plant roots?
This study suggests that roots are sensitive to light when they emerge from the soil. Imteresting and important, yes.
But also….we know that plants are masters of adapting. I mean they can grow different roots depending on the medium they’re grown in!
I’ve seen first hand how much damage the sun can do to plants that are grown indoors. A plant can lose all its leaves if not acclimated properly, but any new growth is fine.
Light is only one factor in root growth. If all you have is glass containers, then go ahead and use them.
Would your plant prefer to be in the dark? Perhaps.
And technically you could replicate that by putting it in a dense soil, but that’s waaaaay more likely to kill the plant than a bit of light on the roots. Light is only one factor, and whilst it’s incredibly important for photosynthesis, it’s less crucial to get it right when it comes to root health.
I say give it a go if you have some clear pots lying around. Start by growing propagations in them (leca works well for this) if you don’t want to risk any of your big plants.
I switched by big Florida green into a clear pot and she went from strength to strength.
Obviously there are a number of factors that could have caused her accelerated growth, but at least I know that putting her in a clear pot didn’t do her any harm.