Containers forum: How do I winterize terracotta containers?

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Name: Mary
The dry side of Oregon
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MaryE
Sep 3, 2011 8:19 AM CST
Is there a clear product to paint on them to keep moisture from penetrating? I want to leave them outside over winter. Some are empty now. Only my strawberry jar is planted and I don't want to undo it to treat the inside.
Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most.
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Name: Christine
Saugerties, NY zone 5a
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Christine
Sep 5, 2011 7:47 AM CST
As far as I know there is nothing to paint on them that will prevent the cold from cracking them, I may be wrong, I tend to be wrong sometimes Hilarious!
Name: Caroline Scott
Calgary (Zone 4a)
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CarolineScott
Sep 5, 2011 10:16 AM CST
Mine have been outside over two winters and still okay.
The only thing is they have become streaky with white streaks on them.
Name: Mary
The dry side of Oregon
Be yourself, you can be no one else
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MaryE
Sep 5, 2011 10:48 AM CST
Do you just put them under the eaves where they don't get a lot of moisture before the weather gets into the freezing temps? Our climates are quite similiar I think, we get about 9 inches of annual precipitation.
Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most.
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Name: Lynn
Dallas, OR (Zone 8b)
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valleylynn
Sep 7, 2011 3:21 PM CST

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Mary I have had this one for about 10 years and it sits in the front yard exposed to rain and freezing, temps down to 10°F with alternating freezing and thawing. I think it depends on the quality of the terracotta and making sure the pot can drain fast. I have four of them.
Thumb of 2011-09-07/valleylynn/50cf42
Name: Mary
The dry side of Oregon
Be yourself, you can be no one else
Charter ATP Member Region: Oregon Farmer Enjoys or suffers cold winters
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MaryE
Sep 7, 2011 10:07 PM CST
I remember seeing that one! It was near your back steps. I think my terra cotta is elcheapo, one says Mexico on the bottom, the other is about the same quality (or lack thereof). They don't weigh much. Maybe they would do ok under the eaves or on the porch.
Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most.
More ramblings at http://thegatheringplacehome.myfastforum.org/forum54.php
Name: Lynn
Dallas, OR (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Garden Sages I helped plan and beta test the plant database. I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Database Moderator
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valleylynn
Sep 7, 2011 11:20 PM CST

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Would this be the first winter for them Mary? I think if you keep them for filling with water and freezing they should be alright.
Name: Cinda
Indiana Zone 5b
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gardengus
Sep 10, 2011 8:05 PM CST
I know everyone hates packing peanuts , but I add them to the bottom of my pots and have very good luck.
Here it is the water expanding when freezing that cracks the pots , peanuts flex and relieve the pressure before the pot breaks.
I have over 50 pots that stay out over winter .
The other suggestion is elevate them from the ground, the ones that sit on the ground often crack on the bottom due to outside pressure.
Keep believing ,hoping,and loving
all else is just existing.
Name: Jo Ann Gentle
Pittsford NY (Zone 6a)
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ge1836
Sep 11, 2011 3:01 AM CST
Terre cotta is a porus clay body.Thats why you have to water the ones with plants in them soooo many times duering the summer.
I have had empty ones in winter in Z6 but keep them upside down ,nothing in them. A few didnt make it.

The longer the pot walls have water in them the most likely they will freeze and crack. Terre cottsa that is glazed or decorated will be a gonner.

I have stopped buying clay pots in any size or shape. The larger ones 18-20 inches are too heavy to drag inside even if we did have room.

I laid my large clay pots with plants in them,on their sides for winter,this way they dont gather moisture from layers of snow on them.
Covering with plastic wouldnt hurt either.
I had ceramic pot with clem. and hosta in it.Laid on its side and the sqy=uirrils dug out the clem trying to bury seeds etc. I nearly lost both plants.

Its just not a good idea to leave clay of any kind outside, even in a protected area.Moisture in the pot walls can fracture the pot if they freeze and thaw over a winter
.It doesnt have to snow.Just moisture and weeks of freezing and thawing will shatter the piece.
Name: Lynn
Dallas, OR (Zone 8b)
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valleylynn
Sep 11, 2011 9:13 AM CST

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Good advice Cinda and Jo Ann. We do get lots of rain in winter here, with freezing and thawing throughout several months. For me I have found that having gravel under the pot or feet raising it up from the ground, keeps them draining so excess water is not building up in the pot.
Not all terra cotta is created equal.

From Demesne, Buying terra cotta pots
Terra cotta pots are made all over the world. The finest pots are made in Italy, but other perfectly serviceable pots are made in Germany, Mexico, China, and the US.

The quality of clay (as with any pottery) is critical to the final quality of the pot. Other factors include construction and the temperature at which the pots are fired. You can tell something of a terra cotta container's quality and durability by rapping it with a knuckle while holding the rim (don't rap it out of your hand or the test is moot). If it says "thud" when you hit it, it's fired at a low temperature. If it "rings", it's probably fired at higher temperatures and more likely to be durable.

Most common are hand-turned or molded pots. Hand-turned pots are made individually by potters and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. As with any craft that is labor intensive, the cost of such pots is relatively high compared to the the molded pots that are mass produced in factories.

Molded pots are less likely to be frost proof and are often made of variable quality clay. Different manufacturers fire at different temperatures. Coarse, low-fired clay pots can disintegrate in four or five years. Others may contain resins or have finishes that supposedly prevent wear or cracking, but should you decide to fire an additional glaze (as some ceramics students have been known to do) the pot could melt in the kiln.

Understanding your clay pots is the first step to protecting them from winter weather, so with proper care, you can enjoy them for many seasons.

http://www.demesne.info/Garden-Help/Containers.htm
Name: Horseshoe Griffin
Efland, NC (Zone 7a)
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Horseshoe
Sep 11, 2011 11:00 AM CST
Good info, Lynn. I was wondering why some of my clay pots that have been sitting in a pile in the woods were still intact. I thought they'd be shards by now but they are all intact. Although we don't get boodles of snow here we sure get down into single digits sometimes, down in the teens more often, and combined with wet winters it takes a toll on a lot of my plants.

I'll have to do the "thud" and "ring" test on some of them!

ge1836/Jo Ann, I have a beautiful painted/glazed pot I've never taken the chance with..it goes in the greenhouse each year, no doubt about it.

Shoe
Name: Lynn
Dallas, OR (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Garden Sages I helped plan and beta test the plant database. I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Database Moderator
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valleylynn
Sep 11, 2011 7:42 PM CST

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I have some glazed containers that stay outdoors year round. I keep them raised slightly from the ground so they will drain well. They are all high fired. Many I got from Clay Arts (Janet). They have the most beautiful ring to them and are very strong containers.
Here is one of them from Janet
Thumb of 2011-09-12/valleylynn/77ce9f

This one has been outside for 10 years, through many repeated freezes and thaws. It is sitting on broken concrete stones.
Thumb of 2011-09-12/valleylynn/4c67bd
Name: Mary
The dry side of Oregon
Be yourself, you can be no one else
Charter ATP Member Region: Oregon Farmer Enjoys or suffers cold winters
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MaryE
Sep 13, 2011 4:25 PM CST
Wow! Thanks. All kinds of good information here! I'll have to see if mine ring or thud. I think they will spend the winter on a covered porch, filled with semps I got from Lynn.
Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most.
More ramblings at http://thegatheringplacehome.myfastforum.org/forum54.php
Name: Lynn
Dallas, OR (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Garden Sages I helped plan and beta test the plant database. I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Database Moderator
Forum moderator I helped beta test the first seed swap Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant and/or Seed Trader Garden Ideas: Master Level Sempervivums
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valleylynn
Sep 13, 2011 8:33 PM CST

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I learned so much from Janet on buying new containers. She is a wealth of information. Here are two of her articles.
http://cubits.org/mudders/articles/view/449/
http://cubits.org/mudders/articles/view/646/
Name: Janet
Gilroy, CA
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imapigeon
Sep 24, 2011 7:10 PM CST
Thanks for linking my articles, Lynn, and for the lovely compliments!

Mary, I think you're making the right choice for your terracotta containers. Semps are very happy in terracotta, and you'll be able to watch them grow all winter in the covered porch knowing they won't get soggy when the rains come. When you water, put an ice cube or two in each pot. As it melts it will moisten more of the soil in the pot, giving the plants' roots a more effective watering. As a bonus you'll have less water dripping on the floor!
Please visit the Clay Arts cubit

Anything worth doing is worth overdoing
Name: Mary
The dry side of Oregon
Be yourself, you can be no one else
Charter ATP Member Region: Oregon Farmer Enjoys or suffers cold winters
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MaryE
Sep 24, 2011 9:26 PM CST
Good idea. Thanks.
Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most.
More ramblings at http://thegatheringplacehome.myfastforum.org/forum54.php
Name: Lynn
Dallas, OR (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Garden Sages I helped plan and beta test the plant database. I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Database Moderator
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valleylynn
Sep 25, 2011 9:03 AM CST

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Great idea Janet.

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Biyuwolf
Sep 30, 2011 10:39 AM CST
Ok kinda jumping in here

Im in zone 5 we her possibly 4-5 feet of snow (total) a year (look up figures for kmke that's 5 miles away) I've had 6-12-18" containers unpainted unglazed terracotta outside some for 3-4 years or more now and unbelivabally they have done just fine where I've put them (where they grow) now granted most of the plants yes do fail in winters this cold

What broke the 18"? Why me! When I moved it during summer I fractured it up and down the whole thing then my mom decided if I ditch that one she would but me a new one --well its been about 3-4 years and I have yet to see the new one she promised (known liar like she has something to gain!)

I do nothing special I buy them at farm and fleet along with the sandy estate brand top soil that goes in them and the estate brand compost manure I typically add to my containers at the beginning of the year

Speaking if you have a reliable source and use topsoil in containers like I do then STICK WITH IT! --I got clay soil one year not knowing it was clay I'm still fighting with it 3 years later
Name: Hetty
Sunny Naples, Florida (Zone 10a)
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Dutchlady1
Sep 30, 2011 10:50 AM CST
My solution was to move to Southwest Florida Rolling on the floor laughing Sorry! Couldn't resist.... Hilarious!
Name: Lynn
Dallas, OR (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Garden Sages I helped plan and beta test the plant database. I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Database Moderator
Forum moderator I helped beta test the first seed swap Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant and/or Seed Trader Garden Ideas: Master Level Sempervivums
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valleylynn
Sep 30, 2011 11:20 AM CST

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Dutchlady1 said:My solution was to move to Southwest Florida Rolling on the floor laughing Sorry! Couldn't resist.... Hilarious!

Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing
Seems an expensive way to make sure your terra cotta pots won't winter damage. Whistling

Biyuwolf said:Speaking if you have a reliable source and use topsoil in containers like I do then STICK WITH IT! --I got clay soil one year not knowing it was clay I'm still fighting with it 3 years later

Sad Oh my, clay soil in a container is not a good thing. I did it once, using our native clay soil. Crying That is the one time I had a terra cotta container break during winter. Come spring time the clay had melded into the container walls and was like concrete. I won't do that again.

[Last edited by valleylynn - Oct 4, 2011 7:03 AM (+)]
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