How To Prevent Your Terracotta Pots From Cracking

We all love terracotta planters, don't we? They have an earthy, warm vibe and look very natural in our garden decor. But if we're not careful, during the colder months they can crack or break. When winter starts rolling in, that's your signal to move these planters indoors when possible or keep them elevated and sealed for the best protection if you can't move them inside.

Clay expands and contracts due to its porous nature. People love to use terracotta pots for this exact feature because they absorb moisture and can help prevent over-watering and fungal diseases. Some plants are difficult enough to care for whether you have a green thumb or not, so the absorbent nature of terracotta is a great reason to use terracotta planters. Additionally, they're sturdy containers in general for outdoor use and often cost less than more ornate ceramic pots. However, in colder weather, moisture in the pots can freeze and expand, causing the clay to crack. 

Empty your terracotta pots and store them indoors

The best solution whenever possible is to empty the pots and store them inside for the winter. If you have the space, you can leave all or part of the soil in the pots while in storage. If not, HGTV recommends emptying the containers and washing them out with bleach and water in a 1/10 solution. Be sure to allow them to dry in the sun for a few days to ensure they're free from moisture. Always place them upside down, and if you stack them, make sure they're staggered for air circulation.

If your terracotta pots are too large to bring indoors, be sure to cover them with a tarp to protect them from the elements. Place them under the eaves of your house, on the porch, or in an outdoor shed, ideall you want to put your terracotta pots somewhere they have some kind of shelter, and don't rest on the cold ground. You want to avoid any rain collecting inside them as well, so if the pots are too big to stack upside down, at least turn them on their sides and wrap them in a tarp.

If you can't move them indoors, keep them elevated and sealed

Sometimes we simply can't remove the contents and the planters must stay outdoors for the winter. In this case, and really anytime you use them outdoors, you want to use a protective sealant, ideally one made specifically for stone, according to Hunker. Take a foam paint brush and put two coats of exterior varnish on the pots. Do the inside first, and then the outside. Be sure to allow the first coat to dry completely before applying the second coat.

If your plants are staying put in their pots and have to stay outside, another way to protect them is by making sure the drainage holes are not clogged. A stopped-up drain hole in your terracotta pot can cause the planter to crack in cold weather since that can prevent water from having a place to drain out, instead turning to ice inside your pot. 

To keep the drainage hole from becoming blocked, use planter feet to keep the plants elevated. You can also use bricks, blocks of wood, or drainage dishes. These measures will also keep them from sticking to the wet ground when the temperature freezes, so when you do get ready to move the pot it won't crack and fall apart. Regardless of whether you empty your terracotta pots for the winter, bring them inside, or just move them to a sheltered spot outdoors, with just a little love and effort you should be able to protect them from cracking.