Gotta Terra Cotta

Terra cotta couldn’t be more earthy, it’s literally ‘baked earth’ according to the internet… not that I know anything about Italian or Latin… and in my most wholesome of imaginations there’s some country artisan scooping up the perfect mud and crafting a pot which eventually finds its way to my garden.  In my imagination of course.  In reality I can’t afford those fancy things so all mine are off the box-store shelf, but I hope my intentions count for something.  The idea was no more plastic in the garden, and I’ve been good for the most part.  I traded plastic and resin planters for metal and (the much heavier) terra cotta and ceramic.

The heavy is a problem.  Terra cotta is porous and when it freezes the water inside expands and could crack the pot.  Filled, heavy pots are a lot of work to move, so I guess if there’s any point to this post it’s to say that some lazy gardeners get away with just pushing them up against the house after frosts kill off the plantings and they end up drying out enough that they don’t crack.

terra cotta freeze winter

A broken pot on the back porch is the reason winter-cracked terra cotta is on my mind today.  It was already cracked in October, probably from a stray golfball or bat, but at the time I took it as an omen to bring in one less succulent pot. 

So I’m sure all your terra cotta and ceramic pots have been safely tucked away for months but remember my new blogging mantra is quantity over quality so I figured a picture of a broken pot must surely be worth a post.  To be honest as I go through old posts re-sizing photos I have no idea how I ever managed to post so much, so I’m actually a little worried that in order to keep up a steady stream of “content” through February I don’t get so desperate as to resort to babbling about tomato stakes or some other dull topic.

pale eranthis hiemalis

Above freezing daytime highs have brought on the first winter aconite (Eranthis hiemalis).  This unnamed pale yellow form is always first, and usually beats the straight species by a good two or three weeks. 

Honestly I’d probably gain readers talking about tomato stakes if it meant less posts about snowdrops 🙂

galanthus three ships

It’s cold and a little breezy with flurries but ‘Three Ships’ is still looking awesome.  

Sorry, I know this is supposed to be a helpful terra cotta post, but I couldn’t resist another picture of this winter blooming snowdrop, galanthus ‘Three Ships’.  This should be a family friendly blog but seriously I look at this and think “holy s%* I have a f)&%!! snowdrop that flowers here in the middle of January in Pennsylvania zone 6!!!  Three years now for ‘Three Ships’ and deep down inside I’m still expecting it to die, but fortunately it hasn’t.  Let’s hope for four.

And this is why I have a blog.  Trust me that none of my friends or neighbors would make it past even two minutes of January snowdrop talk.  Family can barely make it past three and I’m pretty sure they’re not even fully listening.  Thanks for listening!

25 comments on “Gotta Terra Cotta

  1. Eliza Waters says:

    I’m all ears (or would that be eyes in this case?)! 😉
    Yeah, terra-cotta is a bit of a problem with us northerners. I’ll never forgive myself for destroying a century-old pickle crock by leaving it out one winter. Sigh. In my defense, I was tending toddlers at that point in my life. 😉

  2. Pauline says:

    More snowdrops please!!! I think Three Ships has decided that it likes you and will therefore stay for a long time. I have quite a lot of terra cotta and sometimes get flaking and cracking but have to say it is on the cheaper ones, the more expensive are fired at a higher temperature so they can withstand the frost, thank goodness.

    • bittster says:

      Around here I suspect the higher fired ones are in the price range I don’t even look at, so I don’t think I have any. Maybe it would be worth it and I’m yet again pound wise and penny foolish.

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I have a two-wheeler that helps me with those heavy pots. I hate plastic pots but seem to have a few of them. The big box stores seem to be carrying just plastic now days. It takes a long drive to find the glazed pots that seem to last here.
    You can be sure I am listening. Even if it is tomato stakes or Galanthus you are espousing about.

    • bittster says:

      Haha, you can probably see that even the promise of a tomato stakes post wasn’t enough to get me online. This snow and cold have me 100% not interested in garden blogging! I also have a two wheeler for the pots. They used to get lugged down a few steps into the back of the garage but nowadays the garage is as far as they get 😉

  4. johnvic8 says:

    I loved big pots for my annuals. But they got heavy, heavy, heavy. One trick I discovered was to fill the bottom half or so with old tennis balls. Beer cans also work. Made the pot lighter and used less potting soil.

  5. Tim C says:

    I’d love to have some of the large, frost-proof terra cotta pots, they look spectacular — but I tend to move pots around seasonally, and I can barely manage the weight of the resin ones as it is. There are some resin/foam pots that have an ok appearance at most distances (or so I tell myself). Of course, you really can’t beat carved ston — but then I’d have to completely upgrade the house too.

    • bittster says:

      The foam/resin pots don’t look bad at all and the lower weight is a plus too, but somehow I’ve gotten it in my head that adding more plastic to the garden is a terrible thing. One pot seems silly considering the dozen or so plastic milk and juice jugs that this house produces each week, but…
      I admit I did watch a youtube video on DIY stone troughs. Not carved urns of course, but maybe that’s a good thing. It might mean only a patio upgrade and not the whole house.

  6. I really want me some Winter Aconite. As for terra cotta, I confess all my pots are either plastic or a sort of fiberglass mix. Doesn’t look very classy, but if you cram them with enough plants I like to think people don’t notice too much. Plus I like to be able to leave stuff out over the winter.

    • bittster says:

      I love being able to leave the plastic pots out and not worrying about the terra cotta, but this is the best plan I’ve got right now. To cheat the system I’ve been ‘recycling’ big black nursery pots with spray paint or just a lot of creeping annuals, I think it looks fine, and classy is rarely on the radar here so it might be my way out!

  7. Cathy says:

    That snowdrop ‘Three Ships’ might persuade me to try growing snowdrops again… My outdoor pots are mostly glazed so seem to last longer than normal terra cotta. By the way, a post on tomato stakes would really interest me as my tomatoes just went wild last year and I lost all control over them! LOL!

    • bittster says:

      You would laugh at my post if it was about tomato stakes! Usually my tomatoes are just a big thicket of vines and you’re luck if you can find the ripe fruits :). Plus I think I use a quarter mile of twine on top of it all… it’s very much a mess, and the reason I’ve never posted a photo becomes very obvious.

  8. Paddy Tobin says:

    Terracotta pots produced here in Ireland can be very expensive but they have the huge advantage of having been fired to a very high temperature, something around 1,200C which make them completely resistant to frost damage in our climate – we are roughly equivalent to your Zone 8 here in the south-east of Ireland. However, many of the gardening shops stock terracotta pots produced on the continent, mainly from Italy, and these are considerable cheaper but, as you might expect, not as resistant to frost damage.

    Re the snowdrops: you can never have too many nor post too often. This last week has been particularly cold here so, although there are many above ground and into flower, few flowers are actually opening as daytime temperatures are not rising sufficiently to facilitate this. Next week!

    • bittster says:

      One of the even better problems with terra cotta here (and pots in general, even plastic) is that they completely freeze, and the expansion of the contents often breaks up the pot just as much as moisture inside the pottery does. Perhaps I should explore completely different options. Your coffee photos have me thinking a nearby whisky distillery would have many benefits. If they also conveniently cask-age their product I believe in ten or twenty years there might be some old barrels for sale, and the wood could be an excellent solution I shall look in to that.
      Your snowdrop season (even with its recent cold snap) has done much to keep me going as snow covers the ground here. Hopefully by the time they are in bloom here you’ll be able to break away from deadheading roses or staking dahlias in order to look at a few galanthus pictures again 😉

  9. hb says:

    I think there might be one Galanthus that might grow in my snowless frostless climate, but i love seeing photos from where they do grow, so bring’em on! ‘Three Ships’ is perfect.

    I’ve got busted terra cottta here myself, but it’s because someone dropped them, or the dog wagged and sent a pot flying, or because an Agave or Euphorbia left too long in the pot breaks out of it unaided. Breaks happen, no matter what. I use a partially broken one like yours as a tiny raised bed angled in the soil for small, fragile succulents. A little protection and sharper drainage. Perhaps that would work for you for Alpines?

    • bittster says:

      Haha, you have soooo many other goodies but it’s nice of you to say that. Gardeners are always so good at understanding plant obsessions across the climate zones!
      I never thought to do that! I do have one bigger pot, which I stupidly broke bringing home from the store, which is dug into a small slope, but I haven’t really used them on purpose to make homes for the smallest succulents or sedums (or alpines which usually behave as annuals in this garden). I think that’s an excellent plan and you may see some of it show up next year 🙂

  10. What could be better for me to see than your beautiful clump of snowdrops when my garden got a good 5 inches of snow overnight? We leave our biggest pots unplanted which makes them a bit easier to deal with. But for the last few years we’ve had a helper to put them around the garden. I used to buy terra cotta (Italian and UK) from the old Smith and Hawken. They are too beautiful to get rid of even if I don’t always plant them up each year. What would be do without blogs to satisfy our need to see and hear about plants year round?

    • bittster says:

      European terra cotta just sounds so fancy. I wish I could do it but I’m just not organized enough or wealthy enough to cope with the year I don’t get around to weather proofing them. At least I am somewhat aware of my limits… although you wouldn’t guess it when you look at the seeds which are either here or on the way.
      But here’s my defense. Buying plants and seeds you don’t need is like exercise equipment which never gets used. People can throw stones if they want, but they better make sure there’s not a treadmill covered in drying laundry in their basement.
      Soooo about this snow. Here I think we have one more week and then a thaw hits. If all goes well it will be our stepping stone to spring 🙂

  11. rusty duck says:

    I love terracotta but, as mentioned above, the ones that last are expensive over here. This year I started an experiment and that is to use the terracotta pot as effectively a decorative outer that a plastic pot sits within. I shall keep just a ‘few’ of the properly frost proof ones sitting outside the greenhouse and swop the innards around on a seasonal/whatever is looking good basis. Well that’s the theory.. and if it gets really cold I can remove the terracotta and put it in the shed.
    Three Ships is awesome! Love the puckered petals.

    • rusty duck says:

      I’m re-using my plastic pot mountain until they all break apart. After that I’ll replace them with something greener.

      • bittster says:

        I keep a few ceramic planters on the covered porch and then drop some annuals and houseplants pot and all into them for the summer. It works really well even here in the tundra so I’m sure you’ll be fine!
        I do have to confess to dipping in to the plastic pot mountain here as well. i even keep my eyes open for when neighbors are landscaping and might be throwing out a particularly big and nice tub. A little paint can go a long way in disguising trash, even though I don’t think the black looks all that bad.

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