How To Choose A Planting Container Part 2: Clay And Terra Cotta Pots


Terra Cotta dates back to around 3000BC, when people in what is now Pakistan were creating art and figurines. It became popular in Europe around the 14th century when it was used in Gothic art.

Clay pots have become lighter since then. They are heavier the larger they get though. Small to medium, say 1 gallon clay pots remain relatively lightweight. These sizes are great for bulbs, some herbs, cacti, succulents, and ornamental flowers. Let’s look at an overview.

Clay/Terra Cotta

Durability: 4-5

Price: $-$$$$

Aesthetics: 5

Water retention: 4

Insulation: 2

Weight: 4

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

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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 size. 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 or outside to protect it 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 block as a gate-stop, to keep the gate 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 my mild winters (so far) under the protection of a tree.

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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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