In Praise of Terra Cotta Pots


I have long been a gardener in search of the best container.

Over time, I have come to use terra cotta pots almost exclusively in my garden. Here’s why:

  • Affordable

For a natural material, non-plastic container, you can’t beat the price of terra cotta. They are also easy to find. Available at every garden center, I have found the best prices at my local independent nursery.

  • Recyclable

When a container inevitably cracks and breaks, there’s no need to throw the pieces in the garbage. I keep a big bucket of all my broken terra cotta and use these pieces to cover the drainage hole at the bottom of a new pot. This keeps soil from escaping every time you water. For big pots, I sometimes pile a whole bunch of broken terra cotta at the bottom of my pot in order to use less potting soil.

  • Drainage

Terra cotta is permeable in a way that plastic is not. This means that terra cotta containers dry out much more quickly, and you will probably find that you need to water them more often than other containers. This may sound like a drawback, but I have found that most of my container plants prefer not to sit in soggy soil. Quick-drying terra cotta works well for me. It’s easy to add water to the potting soil but impossible to take it away.

  • Classic

Terra cotta is a classic garden look, and, in my opinion, goes with just about everything. Once upon a time, my garden was a mishmash of different containers with different colors and different materials. I appreciate that my many pots now look cohesive and coordinated with little effort. A terra cotta pot looks as good in a fancy estate garden or botanical garden as it does on a humble back porch.

  • Drawbacks

Terra cotta pots are not as lightweight as plastic or some of the new hybrid materials, but they do weigh less than concrete or cast iron. In places with cold winters, they generally shouldn’t be left outside as the freeze/thaw cycles can encourage cracking.

Pro tip: I write “pro” with a smile on my face, as I tended container plants for years without realizing what I now feel should have been obvious: when planting, do not fill your pot all the way to the top with soil. Instead, keep the soil line at least an inch or two below the rim. This means that you can water without washing soil over the edge of your pot every single time. That classic rim on many terra cotta pots? It’s a great guide. Simply fill to the bottom of that top band or edge. When you water, the water can slowly soak in, no potting soil wasted.

Explore all our Black Barn Garden Library posts here.


Posted on

May 14, 2020

1 Comment

  1. Katie

    Thanks for the tip about not filling the pot to the top with potting soil. That’s one of those things that one would think would be obvious, but it took me a few seasons to realize that this was another case of “less is more!” 😉


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