Tables. Stools. Floors. Whatever. Wherever. Because no matter where you put it, you need to think about protecting the surface your plant is sitting on. Well. You know. Under the plant. Beneath it. Even if you’re not actually setting it on something. You might be hanging it. Plants do that. They hang.
So whether you’re setting it on a surface like a table or the ground, you’re hanging it on the wall, or you’re hanging it from the ceiling, we all know that plants can make a mess. With water, with soil, and sometimes with the scratchy bottom of planters and pots.
This is just one of those universal plant truths. So much so that there are products custom made to solve this problem. Some of them are better at the job than others. But I don’t like being limited by what society says I should be putting under my plants. I like to play fast and loose with the rules here and get a little creative. A while ago when one of my Courtney’s told me she needs help finding to stuff to put under all her plants to protect the surfaces they rest on I immediately wondered what plants she had. And then I wondered just how stunning they are. But like a split second after that I started to think of all the things I’ve put under my plants over the years and decided that I wouldn’t just send her a message… I’d write a whole blog post just on things that can go underneath your plants.
Exciting right?! Oh… Well it is to me so here we go.
The Matched Set
From my earliest remembering of potted plants I think of two things. One of them is the giant terracotta strawberry pot we had in the backyard when I was a kid. But the other is the simple clay or terracotta pot and saucer combo. Even now that I have a metric ton of different pots and planters, that combination is what I think of first any time my mind conjures an image of a potted plant. It’s incredibly effective for a number of reasons. Is it okay if I tell you why? Oh good because I was going to anyway. The natural clay helps to wick moisture out of the soil to avoid the roots getting overly soggy and the saucer beneath catches water that pours our of the hole on the bottom of the pot.
It also helps with overflowing water or soil from the top if you accidentally get a little too water happy. If you’re not sure what kind of pot or planter your houseplant belongs in it is my amateur opinion (remember I don’t get paid for this it’s just a very intense hobby) that the unglazed pot and saucer is the way to go. But if you are prone to overwatering and it’s sitting on a wood surface or anything with a water soluble finish you may want an added layer of protection.
The Decorative Tray
A tray is a tray is a tray. You can use them for all sorts of things. I use a flat polka dot tray a friend was getting rid of years ago to turn my upholstered ottomon into a coffee table. Because I don’t need a whole table surface for coffee or cocktails. Just like… two feet of it. It keeps me from spilling drinks and protects my fabric from spills when they do happen. Also it’s pretty darn cute. But those trays aren’t just for drinks and food and… I guess the one in this pictures has seashells…
Photo by Emily Bauman on Unsplash
You can also use them to protect your surfaces from water, soil, and scuffing. Added bonus you can group plants with similar care needs together by trays to move them to more appropriate light or a dryer or more humid location. If the tray can hold water you can also fill it with rocks, place the pots on top of those rocks, and then keep the tray filled with water to provide a more humid area RIGHT THERE.
Unsightly Plastic & Decorative Basket
When I first started getting into plants, I was maybe more into the pots and planters. They’re like these amazing little pieces of art that you can fill with living greenery. That didn’t work out so well for me. I have a ton of amazing planters and pots that I then have to find just the right plant for. Also many of the plant casualties I’ve had over the years have been a result of repotting when I shouldn’t have or putting a healthy plant in a pot that didn’t work for it. I was completely resistant to the thought of putting those cheap plastic nursery pots into a basket or pot. Something told my brain that this was cheating and mean to the plants.
That is not true. As long as they’re in the right sized nursery pot for them they’re perfectly okay. Those things have great drainage and the nursery they came from probably put them in the right soil blend for the plant. So it is totally okay to leave those lil baby plants in their nursery pots. Just get something cute and/or functional to surround them. You can get baskets, fabric buckets, pots, and all sorts of other things to nestle those pots into and they look super cute and the plants will stay happy.
For a smaller plant that gets moved to the tub for watering, you probably don’t need anything else to keep your surface safe as long as you’re letting the plant drain well a little cloth basket like you see above will protect your surfaces from soil and scuffing. But if you’re dealing with something a little… bigger
Like my very big palm. This thing is taller than me by more than a foot. It’s in a big plastic nursery pot with pots of drainage and soil that it likes. Every time I try to move it around the poor thing gets its fronds snarled up on me and they whack everything in their path. That’s not good for the plant. It’s also not good for my back because it’s heavy. Also I’m clumsy so I’ve also dropped the poor thing. None of that was even while I was trying to water it. Just while I was trying to find the right place for it to live. My daughter refers to it as another member of the household because it takes up so much space. And she’s not wrong. It’s the tallest living thing in our home. I think… yeah I think it’s the tallest thing in our home. It’s taller than our 6ft ladder.
So let me give you a peek at what is going on inside of this unassuming basket around this giant plant….
If you look all the way down at the bottom of that photo you can kind of see a blurry clear plastic tray. That sits at the bottom of the basket and is about 2″ larger in diameter than the pot the plant is in. It catches all the water leakage from the bottom of the pot and keeps the shelf beneath it dry and scratch free.
It is possible that when I most recently bought new dishes it was in part because there were several salad plates and saucers that had mysteriously gone missing from the kitchen and found themselves, through no fault of their own, beneath plants. You see not all pots come with drainage holes. Which means not all pots come with a pretty saucer. And you don’t always want one of those plastic liners I mentioned above because you may not want to tuck that cute little pot inside another decorative pot, basket, sack, or whatever. This all started honestly enough. I had a plate that was deeply chipped and I was going to get rid of it so no one cut their hand on it or got a flake of glaze or ceramic in their food. But I’d just drilled a hole in a planter that didn’t have one previously and I didn’t want to ruin the bookshelf where I put it. So I put the plate under it as a temporary fix. That fix was permanent. Now anytime a plate, saucer, shallow bowl, or other useful dish gets dinged it is set aside to live with the plant accouterments.
If you happen to be a person who enjoys yard sale-ing, thrifting, or antique shops you can take this a step further and pick up used saucers and plates to add a pop of interest to your collection. Or if you saw some cute new plates somewhere that weren’t too costly I suppose it would be okay to pick those up too.
The Decorative Planter
I don’t know if anyone has told you this, but that perfectly cute highly glazed or glass pot you picked up that has no holes in it… it’s not really meant for you to plant most plants in. I mean… you could use it to make a terrarium or something but it’s not generally going to be a healthy environment for a plant and it’s precious little root system. Throughout the years I’ve tried A LOT to try to bend these decorative planters to my will. But you know what? They almost always win. The only exception is when I fundamentally change the decorative pot into a planter by drilling a series of holes in the bottom. And we all know what happens when you do that. You create a whole new problem. The very problem we’re trying to solve with this post. You have to put something UNDER it.
So I propose to you that a decorative planter can just be the thing you put under the plant. Most of the time when we buy a new plant baby and bring it home it’s in a planters pot. Now sometimes that plant baby is root bound and needs to be potted up. But sometimes it’s just fine and it’s happy in it’s planters pot and you gain nothing at all by ripping it from its cozy little home.
Especially if you happen to bring that plant home in the winter. So I say use these decorative pots with no holes in the bottom to their best advantage and just nest the planters pot right inside. It won’t work every time but the fit is surprisingly perfect more often than one would think.
In fact there are some plants that you should ALWAYS do this with. The only one I have that I can say for certain I would be my orchids. They always come in a special little growers pot which fits neatly into a pretty little decorative pot. I’ve only managed to keep one orchid around long enough that it needed to be repotted and I repotted it into another special planters pot with allllll the drainage one could hope for and then nestled it into a new slightly larger decorative pot.
The All In One
This is just what it sounds like. It’s an all in one. There is both a planter, which has holes in it, and a saucer that is attached that catches the water that comes out of those holes. This is ideal for many many things. As long as you do things in an ideal way. Which… I don’t. It’s possible that I shorted out a cable box and a dvd player once with one of these all in ones that were sitting on a shelf above them and the water totally caught in the attached saucer… until there was more water than there was space in the saucer and then it did what water does. It flowed. All over the shelf. All over the electronics. All over the floor in front of the electronics. There was kind of this moment when I was afraid I was living next door to the Griswold family and an icicle had somehow been shot into my living room. But then I realized that the much more obvious was true and it was my own damn fault.
These all in ones were originally my go to for hanging plants as well but, same problem. They pee on everything when you water them. But we’ll talk about hanging planters another day.
Coasters, Of Course!
I almost published this post without mentioning coasters. How on earth did that happen. But coasters are absolutely the perfect thing to put between your plant and your surface. I have giant coasters that sit on the ground with plants on them, little coasters that sit on tables with little plants on them. Coasters were literally made for this function.
I mean… they were made to sit between a beverage and your surface but it’s pretty much the same thing. And it goes the same for trivets. Let’s be real… a trivet is just a really big coaster. So what that it was meant to protect a surface from something hot instead of something wet. It’s the same thing. And they’re fantastic. If you want something that’s just a nice barrier I am a huge fan of marble trivets and coasters. If you’re looking for something soft and absorbent to prevent scratching or water damage the incredible cost effective and available everywhere cork coaster is the way to go.
Is that all?
No. Probably not. I said a lot of things with a lot of words but I’m sure there are other solutions to protecting your surfaces from plants. If you do something else I’d love to hear about it. You know… in the comments.