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Choosing Outdoor Planters for Your Backyard Garden or Patio

Whether placed in a backyard garden or adorning a patio, outdoor planters offer a viable solution for those who want to grow vegetables, herbs or flowers, but lack adequate yard. The primary types of containers, self- watering, raised bed and earth box, are fairly easy to maintain and versatile in design and material.

Choosing a Planter

Options to consider regarding outdoor planters include the size of the container, plant(s) and space, location and material. Planters come in a variety of materials, each with its own pros and cons:

Wood - Teak, Cedar, Redwood

  • Pros - insulates from sun; some woods are resistant to rot
  • Cons - most require a plastic lining; insects can destroy wood; unpainted/unlined wood will eventually rot

Terra-Cotta or Clay

  • Pros - affordable; variety of sizes, shapes; bottom-heavy; durable
  • Cons - porous; prone to cracks, chips and breaks, including from extreme temperature changes; may
  • absorb minerals such as salt creating a crust-like layer

Ceramic - stoneware, earthenware

  • Pros - textured, multi-colors and shapes; less porous
  • Cons - fragile; may crack in cold temperatures

Metal - copper, zinc, cast iron

  • Pros - durable; unbreakable; decorative shapes
  • Cons - metal holds heat and can damage roots; weight; possibility of rust; non-porous


  • Pros - effects sun exposure can increase aesthetics
  • Cons - very heavy; limited placement locations


  • Pros - ideal for large plants/trees with considerable root systems; stable; insulates from extreme temperatures and elements
  • Cons - heavy; porous and requires sealant; if not properly cured, may effect soil Ph


  • Pros - lightweight; used for faux stone or concrete; great for balconies, windowsills and hanging; unbreakable
  • Cons - non-porous; cannot handle heavy winds; expensive

Four specific types of outdoor planters are self-watering, raised bed, earth box and decorative.

Self-Watering Planters

self watering outdoor planter

Self-watering outdoor planters iconare ideal for individuals with busy schedules, physical limitations, who forget to water plants and for hard-to-reach hanging containers.

Self-watering planters are made from lightweight materials such as galvanized steel, fiberglass, wood and plastic.

Self-watering containers rely on a reservoir of water, which needs to be periodically replenished. One system uses a wick that runs from a bottom well of water to the soil. Another is designed for a small amount of soil to absorb water, as needed, via direct contact with the water.

Alternatively, self-watering systems can utilize drought-proof crystals that absorb and gradually release water or a mechanism that drips water at set intervals.

The downsides include:

  • Limited materials
  • Water can freeze in cold temperatures
  • Price

For the do-it-yourself gardener, numerous on-line sources give detailed instructions to make a self-watering container.

In addition, some garden experts recommend using a lightweight soil with peat, perlite, vermiculite and limestone in self-watering outdoor planters. Able to aerate and drain, this textured mix mimics the action of a wick and aids in the transfer of water from the trough to the roots of the plant. Add liquid fertilizer to the trough for extra nutrients. Read more about self watering planters

Raised Bed

cedar raised planter bed

Raised Beds bring a new dynamic to outdoor planters, garden planning, affordability and accessibility.

Raised beds create sections in your garden, with the space around the raised beds offering clear walkways around the planters, as well as easy access to water, plant, prune or harvest vegetables. The height can be raised to accommodate individuals with mobility impairments.

Read more about raised planter beds.

Benefits of raised beds include:

  • Saves space
  • Increases crop
  • Easy access
  • Uses less soil
  • Economical
  • Improves drainage
  • Low-maintenance

Raised beds can accommodate self-watering systems and include growing tables, potting trays and garden tables. You can purchase cedar or plastic raised grow-beds in a kit, or you can make them using lumber, stone, brick, copper or concrete.

Earth Box

Earth box outdoor planters were developed in 2001 for larger vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and climbing plants.

The self-watering system of the Earth box allows gardeners to easily refill the water trough via a pipe that runs vertically from the bottom of the container and reaches above the soil level. Water reaches the top of the tube, letting you know the trough is full. It is impossible to over water and, for added assurance, even has a hole for excess water to escape. The container is quite sturdy when the reservoir is filled.

earth box outdoor planter

A complete Earth box kit includes:

  • Container - green, white or terra cotta
  • Aeration Screen
  • Water tube/pipe
  • Mulch covers
  • Casters
  • Soil
  • Fertilizer
  • Dolomite
  • Organic option
  • Instructions

Each non-toxic, UV-stabilized plastic container measures 29" L x 14" w x 11" H and can be purchased separately with screen, tube and mulch covers.

In addition, Earth box makes accessories for stacking, multiple box watering systems, replanting kits, beneficial insects such as green lacewings and ladybugs that eat aphids and mealy bugs, in addition to a variety of gardening tools and accessories.

Outdoor Decorative Planters

ceramic outdoor planters

Decorative planters provide added beauty to your front/back yard, garden, house and patio. Decorative planters can contain herbs, plants and flowers that bring added color and elegance to your home.

Decorative outdoor planters can include hanging plants, ornamental urns or simple wooden boxes filled with a variety of eye-catching blooms. Used near a garden, baskets lined with moss can be hung from a trellis; vines hanging from fiberglass containers can be placed on the outside of a patio or garage entrance; windowsill beds can adorn the outside of your house; and, metal or ceramic wall-mounted planters can be attached to your patio wall.


Whether you choose a simple planter, a large self-watering system, raised beds or a decorative hanging plant, keep in mind the size, location and adequate drainage for your outdoor planters.

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