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Brand new terracotta pots - do I need to do anything first?

So yesterday I finally got myself a couple of huge terracotta pots to replace the cheap plastic ones I've had in front of my house. They say they are frost proof but is there any kind of treatment you are supposed to do before you fill them up?

I plan to put a small shrub in each one (probably a photinia and a camellia, since I currently have these in small plastic pots). The pots they are replacing currently also have some trailing ivy and "snow in summer" in them plus a philadelphus that did not enjoy the weather last summer so I plan to transplant that into the new pots as well. 

I neglected to get the little feet for them. How essential are feet? I didn't want to use them as I thought it would make them potentially unstable. The pots weren't horrendously expensive but they were a bit difficult to get as I don't normally have access to a car, so I am keen to protect them from breaking. 

Any other words of advice before I fill them up?


  • JennyJJennyJ Posts: 8,865
    edited March 2022
    Breakage comes from either falling over or from getting frozen when they've absorbed water or when the contents are wet (not good for the plants either). You can paint them inside and out with a matt varnish to reduce water absorption (I'm sure someone will be able to recommend a specific product), use enough feet - at least 4 each - (or something else to lift them a bit) so that they drain well but aren't unstable , insulate with bubble wrap in winter (if you don't mind how that looks), put something heavy like pebbles in the bottom to weigh them down if they're a top-heavy shape (eg narrow at the base).
    Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Soil type: sandy, well-drained
  • AnniDAnniD Posts: 11,436
    The pot feet look nice and decorative, but you can resort to a couple of bricks. Anything that gets them off the ground, particularly over Winter.
  • PlantmindedPlantminded Posts: 2,283
    edited March 2022
    A "frost proof" claim on terracotta pots usually includes a stated period of guarantee.  Whatever the guarantee period, you have made a very wise choice! 

    I only use terracotta pots in my garden, it gives an authentic gardening look!  You won't need to do any treatment or preparation before you fill them up but I would urge you to obtain some terracotta feet - it is important to raise your pot off the ground to ensure good drainage. 

    Most garden centres stock them in two sizes - you can get other "artisan" styles elsewhere but not worth the cost. They have a series of ridges on them to accommodate any differences in surface levels and are not unstable in my experience. 

    Once filled with compost, your plant and watered, the weight above will secure your pot feet.  Enjoy them!
    Wirral. Sandy, free draining soil.
  • PlantmindedPlantminded Posts: 2,283
    edited March 2022
    I wouldn't paint, varnish or line your terracotta pots - they are a natural material with qualities that are advantageous to plants.  The porous texture means that water evaporates off the surface, providing a cooling benefit for the roots in summer. You just need to keep an eye on watering. 

    I always top the surface of the compost with grit or decorative pebbles to reduce evaporation in summer and to make the whole arrangement more pleasing to the eye. (Aesthetics are important - use terracotta pot feet, nothing else!)  You'll only need three feet per pot, arranged in a triangle for maximum stability, assuming your pots are round - four if they are square. 

    In winter, if there is a really severe frost forecast, use bubble wrap as a temporary measure on the outside of the pot to protect your pot and plant roots but remove it immediately after the threat of frost has passed!
    Wirral. Sandy, free draining soil.
  • BenCottoBenCotto Posts: 4,285
    edited March 2022
    I’m in @Plantminded’s team. I do not varnish mine but I do use terracotta pot feet. I also have had made Terram ‘cosies’ to slip over the pot and plant if there’s a frost, removing it the instant the weather warms. For bigger pots I follow the advice of Italian Terrace, filling the bottom quarter with crocks - old, broken roofing tiles in my case - and then placing a permeable layer on top of the drainage material.

    Here’s the cover, condom my wife calls it, just put over the pot soon after it was made to test for size.

    Rutland, England
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 52,134
    I do mine with PVA. They don't last here otherwise, due to the wet/freeze cycle of weather. The very, very expensive ones are a bit better, but even then, I still give them a coat.
    It also helps prevent too much water take up into the pots themselves which can prevent it going to the plants. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • PlantmindedPlantminded Posts: 2,283
    edited March 2022
    Some photos for you @Mander:

    The terracotta develops a unique look after a while due to ageing and lime deposits.  You can easily remove this with a brush or scourer if you don't like it!

    Wirral. Sandy, free draining soil.
  • JennyJJennyJ Posts: 8,865
    I've found 3 feet not very stable when it comes to pots being knocked (passing cats, posties, footballs from next door, who knows) or blown over in windy weather. 4 is a lot better, or 5 for very large pots. I don't think it's worth risking your nice pots for want of an extra foot or two.
    Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Soil type: sandy, well-drained
  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 29,149
    terracotta flakes and cracks with the action of absorbed water expanding and shrinking again as it freezes and thaws in winter.   In summer they can easily absorb a good deal of any watering you do to keep plants alive.

    I always protect mine, big and small, with 2 to 3 coats of matt or satin water based clear acrylic varnish.   I use crocks in the bottom and stand them off the ground to allow easy drainage for further protection of both pot and plants.

    proper frost proof terracotta pts are expensive so I think it's worth the effort to protect them.
    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • FireFire Posts: 17,116
    edited March 2022

    I've had mine for about five years. No coatings, no problems, from local GC about £50 for the largest. I'm really happy with them.

    These pictured are fairly fine to move around. They hold permanent dahlias and I move them around a lot.  I'm plotting to size up this year for a tall, permanent feature.

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