A packet of seeds might only cost a few dollars, so why do plant pots cost so much? After all, aren’t they just containers built to hold dirt?
Plants pots are expensive because containers made of durable materials are pricier. Transportation expenses related to weight and the higher labor cost of making handmade plant containers also raise prices. Plant pots that feature ornate design elements can also be pricey.
This article will explore why plant pots are so expensive, helping you better understand why some planters at your local garden nursery or home improvement store are so costly.
1. Differences in Plant Pot Materials
Some plant pots, particularly those utilized by garden nurseries to germinate seeds and cultivate seedlings, are made of thin plastic. These plant pots tend to be comparatively inexpensive.
The low cost of these plastic pots stems from their small sizes and low durability. In short, most of these simple plastic plant pots are designed to last only a short time, and they’re most often recyclable.
But many plant pots available to backyard or indoor gardeners are made of much sturdier materials.
These pots (often made of terracotta or ceramic) feature thicker walls and bottoms and can last several years (possibly decades). As you might imagine, creating these plant pots requires more material and labor, resulting in a higher overall cost.
Overview of Most Common Pot Materials
Plant pots are available in a wide variety of materials, each with an associated price range. Let’s explore these materials in greater detail to understand how planter material influences price.
Plastic plant pots are widely available, and like biodegradable planters, they’re mass-manufactured. Consequently, many plastic plant pots are relatively inexpensive.
That said, plastic planters made of thicker plastics can be somewhat pricey. These plastic pots are often treated to resist UV light (sunlight) and can last several years in outdoor spaces.
The cost of plastic plant pots is between $0.20 and $300, with the largest and most durable containers selling for the highest prices.
Still, plastic (even thick plastic) can warp or crack when exposed to sunlight and isn’t as breathable as wood pulp or unsealed clay. Plastic is also less aesthetically appealing, especially when compared to hand-decorated ceramic planters.
In short, plastic plant pots are some of the most affordable options, but they’re not the most durable or eye-catching choices. This material can also pose problems for plants, as they’re more likely to retain moisture, potentially leading to rot root and soil mold growth.
Plant pots made of terracotta are easily recognizable, as they have an orange-tan look and few decorative elements. The color associated with terracotta comes from the natural reddish color of terracotta clay.
Most terracotta planters are left unpainted, as the natural terracotta clay is somewhat porous after hardening, and painting the exterior would create a sealed layer. The porousness of terracotta allows the potting soil inside the container to “breathe,” reducing the risk of root rot and water build-up inside the pot.
Size is one of the most significant factors impacting the cost of terracotta plant pots. These containers can cost between $2 and $200, making them some of the most affordable options for gardeners.
Terracotta plant pots can last for decades, though they are prone to shattering if dropped onto a hard surface. Still, these pots are some of the most durable options for gardeners. It’s only their lack of decorative elements that make them comparatively budget-friendly.
Ceramic plant pots are similar to terracotta planters, as both are made of clay. However, while terracotta plant pots are typically left unpainted, ceramic options typically feature painted exteriors that make them more eye-catching and appealing, particularly for use in indoor spaces.
Ceramic plant pots cost between $5 and $1,000, with pot diameter, height, and thickness often being the primary factors impacting price.
Although ceramic plant pots can shatter upon impact, they’re not as sensitive to humidity and UV light as most low-cost plastic pots. Ceramic also doesn’t biodegrade or flex, making it ideal for long-term plant containers.
The high durability of ceramic, coupled with its decorative aesthetic and wide range of sizes, make it one of the most popular choices. But these qualities make ceramic more expensive than plain terracotta or reinforced plastic.
Additionally, ceramic plant pots are often handmade by artisans, so the labor costs associated with these plant pots are much higher than those created by machines—the higher cost of production results in a higher product price.
Although ceramics can withstand heat and humidity, they don’t fare well under wintry conditions. For more information, check out my article about whether you can leave glazed ceramic pots outdoors during the colder months.
Wooden plant pots cost between $10 and $300, depending on the container diameter and height.
Wood is susceptible to decay when kept in a raw state (i.e., not sealed with wax or a waterproof coating), but it can last several years when adequately maintained.
Still, wood isn’t as durable or long-lasting as other plant pot materials.
High humidity can lead to mold and mildew growth on wood plant pots, causing them to rot and fall apart. So, while there are many affordable wood pot plants that gardeners can invest in, that affordability comes at the cost of durability.
Durable Materials Cost More
After exploring and comparing the diverse materials used to manufacture plant pots, it’s clear that one of the primary factors influencing plant pot price is durability.
The more durable the planter, the likelier it is to cost more.
It’s also worth noting that more durable plant pots tend to feature thicker materials. These can contribute to a pot’s weight, making transporting it more challenging (and expensive).
2. Heavier Pots Cost More To Transport
Plastic plant pots are much lighter than clay-based or wood ones. Because of this, the energy required to transport plastic planters is far less than the energy required to transport terracotta, ceramic, or wood planters.
Essentially, heavier plant pots incur higher shipping costs because they weigh more. Additionally, plant pots that are somewhat fragile can be pricier to transport due to their fragility.
How Weight Influences Shipping Costs
If you’ve ever shipped a package or sent a thick letter, you’ll understand that heavier items cost more to transport. The relationship between weight and shipping cost is fairly straightforward; the heavier something is, the more energy you need to transport it.
This is true of both personal transport (carrying something by hand) and assisted physical transport (shipping something by plane, ship, or vehicle).
After all, carrying a bowling ball for a mile is bound to burn more calories (thus using more energy) than carrying a feather the same distance. The same concept applies to transporting goods by vehicle, plane, or ship.
When a vehicle or vessel is empty (or carrying lightweight goods), it doesn’t consume fuel as quickly as it would while carrying heavy items. As such, transporting heavy plant pots from their place of origin to storefronts and shoppers incurs a higher shipping cost.
This higher cost is often passed onto consumers through higher product prices.
Pot Material Also Impacts Transport Costs
Ceramic and terracotta plant pots are far more brittle than newly-produced plastic plant containers. For this reason, they can shatter more easily than plastic planters, especially during transport.
Shipping high-quality clay-based plant pots, especially over long distances, requires more effort and material than shipping plastic pots. Fragile ceramic and terracotta planters must be wrapped in protective materials (plastic, bubble wrap) before shipping.
Because these materials require special shipping materials to prevent shattering during transport, they’re costlier to ship. After all, protective materials aren’t free.
Frequently, manufacturers and businesses foot this cost. To make a profit, these companies must increase the prices of their clay-based plant pots.
3. Handmade Pots Incur Higher Labor Costs
Manufacturing plants significantly reduce the time and labor required to produce consumer goods.
For example, a wooden chair that might take a craftsperson several days or weeks to complete can be mass-manufactured in less than a day. And while a craftsperson might create a single, well-made item over the course of several days or weeks, manufacturing plants can create hundreds (if not thousands) of items in a single day.
These industry centers utilize machines to accelerate production, typically only requiring a small human workforce for machine maintenance. Consequently, mass-produced goods (including plant pots) tend to cost less than handmade ones.
When calculating the cost to mass-manufacture plant pots, there are three primary factors to consider:
- Cost of materials
- Equipment and machinery costs
- Human workforce wage costs
Manufacturing plants specializing in plastic pots incur few costs. That’s because plastic is cheap, molds easily to conform to a desired shape, and hardens quickly at room temperature.
Plastic-molding machinery is also slightly more affordable and less hazardous than clay-firing kilns. Essentially, manufacturers only need to heat the raw plastic material into a malleable form, pour the plastic into plant pot molds, then cool the plastic to harden it.
After that, it’s only a matter of checking the quality of the pots (usually via machines) and preparing them for transport. These manufacturing plants can produce thousands of plant pots per day (or hour, depending on the size of the facility) and with a minimal labor force.
Comparing this to the time and energy needed to handmake plant pots, it becomes clear why mass-produced plant pots are more affordable than handcrafted ones.
Handmade Usually Costs More
Handmade plant pots are typically produced by small businesses that employ skilled artisans. These workers need access to raw materials (clay, wood, metal) and machines and tools to help them craft plant pots.
For example, artisans that create ceramic plant pots need:
- Pottery wheels and clay crafting tools
- Shelving to help clay pots dry before the firing process
- Large kilns for firing the clay pots
- Paint and painting equipment to decorate the plant pots
Not only do businesses need to invest funds into equipment and machinery (not to mention clay, which is pricier than plastic) to produce handmade plant pots, but they also need to pay wages. The size of the artisan workforce directly influences production rates.
So, while a small business might hire only a few artisans to create ceramic plant pots, the number of finished pots produced each week is bound to be far smaller than a company with a large artisan workforce.
In this way, the number of workers directly influences production volume. But the more workers a company hires, the more funds it must spend on wages and equipment.
As such, the labor costs of producing handmade plant pots are inevitably higher than those of mass-producing plant pots, with handmade pots requiring more time and funding to create. For this reason, handmade planters cost more than mass-produced ones.
4. Design Elements Can Increase Overall Costs
Plain planters (not design embellishments) generally cost less than those featuring hand-painted designs or ornate decorative elements.
For example, terracotta and ceramic plant pots generally provide the same benefits. But while terracotta planters have a standardized, all-natural look, ceramic plant containers come in a wide range of shapes, colors, and design aesthetics.
Because ceramic is considered the more eye-catching and decorative option, ceramic plant pots are typically more expensive than their plain terracotta counterparts.