Choosing A Planting Container In Hot Climates, Part 2: Clay/Terra Cotta

Clay/Terra Cotta

Durability: 4-5

Price: $-$$$$

Aesthetics: 5

Water retention: 4

Insulation: 2

Weight: 4

Terra Cotta dates back to Pakistan when around 3000BC people were creating art/figurines. It became popular in Europe around the 14th century when it was used in Gothic art. All that is beautiful, but do you see yourself growing flowers in Gothic art? Heck no.

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Clay pots have become lighter since then. They’ve always been heavier the larger they get. Small to medium, say 1 gallon, planters remain lightweight. These sizes are great for bulbs, some herbs, and ornamental flowers.

The difference between clay and terra cotta lies in the material and how it is finished. Fired earth, or terra cotta, is porrous and unfinished on its surface. Sometimes it is glazed, and the purpose is usually functional rather than aesthetic. Glazing keeps in moisture! Clay pots like the white one below fires to a harder consistency and lasts longer. Clay is easier to mold, and comes in a larger variety of shapes and colors. If glazing is used to keep in moisture, you may as well make it beautiful, like the light green pot below.

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Depending on whether you want a basic look or if you want the more high-end glazed pots, the price difference can be somewhat drastic. Luckily, there are plenty of super-cheap basic flower pots available. They can even be around $2-$5 at hardware stores for a half gallon to gallon sized pot. Special artisans provide high-end glazed pots, and they are expensive. Spend your dollars wisely.

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Unglazed pots can soak up water, which is not great for dry heat. The one above ($1 from Ikea) soaks up water and releases it from its outside surface. Look for one that is glazed on the inside and outside to protect it, and your wallet in the long-run, from the elements. The top rims are especially important, as this is where most pots begin to corrode. Water evaporates off any unglazed surface of the pot, pulling more from the soil as it dries. This can be countered by growing shade tolerant plants in these pots, or even keeping them in the cool environment of a house. As an anti-bonus, water seeping through will leach out the lime used to keep it together, leading to deterioration and cracks. This process can take anywhere between 2-5 years depending on quality, specifically firing temperature.

Below is an example of lime (seen as a white powder) leaching out of a broken brick of adobe. You’ll find it on the rims and bases of pots, and later on the sides. I use this as a gate-stop, to keep the garden from kicking me on the way out.

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Clay soaks up heat and transfers it to your soil very easily. Here again, filtered shade for a portion of the day is best. Not all day, the clay needs to dry out. Shallow wide-mouthed, larger-volumed, and thick-walled pots are the exception. These can take full sun. Soil provides its own insulation as well. All other pots can be kept under eaves, trees, and shade cloth.Below is the tomato that has made it through winter (so far) under the protection of a tree.

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Heavy duty gardening with lots of plants requires a more durable material, cheaply bought, that can hold a lot of dirt! Next up is WOOD.


Thank you for reading! Please don’t be afraid to leave questions if you have them, it’s why I created the site, to answer some of the questions I’ve had over the years! Bring them on!

 

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