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Terra-Cotta Guide

Martha Stewart Living Television

The term terra-cotta comes from the Latin terra cocta, meaning ''baked earth.'' A garden staple since Roman times, terra-cotta continues to be one of the most functional and beautiful materials for plant containers. Each type of pot was originally designed for a very specific purpose, and using the right pot for the right plant will help to ensure that its contents will thrive.

It requires minimal care and actually becomes more beautiful as it acquires the patina of age. Terra-cotta should never be allowed to winter outdoors in cold climates -- repeated freezes and thaws will destroy the container. Simply clean the pot at the end of the season, and store it under cover or upside down until ready to plant again.

When choosing a pot, consider the size, drainage requirements, root structure, and growth habits of your plant. Review the glossary below for an explanation of the basic pot shapes and the purpose of each.

Terra-Cotta Pot Glossary
Azalea or Begonia Pot
This pot is about half as tall as it is wide, ideal for shallow-rooted plants. It can also be used for forcing bulbs.

Bulb Pan
This shallow pan is meant for bulbs; it also makes a good home for shallow-rooted sedums, cacti, or alpines.

Long Tom
A tall, tapered, usually rimless pot, the Long Tom is perfect for plants with long roots or with a cascading growth habit.

Orchid Pot
This pot features air holes or slots all around the sides to give orchids the air circulation and drainage they require.

Standard Service Pot
(also called one-to-one pot)
The most common of all pots, the standard is equal in diameter and height (thus the name, one-to-one), has a slightly tapered shape, and comes in a range of sizes. Geraniums grow best in standard pots.

Strawberry Pot
The strawberry pot is fat and round, with lipped openings around the sides to hold the growing fruit. It can also be used for planting herbs or succulents.