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Making History: Aging Pots

Martha Stewart Living, March 2009

Like many objects of value, terra-cotta pots take on character as they age. The clay darkens, assuming a whitish cast from fertilizers and the minerals in water. When kept in the shade and watered frequently, the pots gradually acquire a verdant sheen of algae or moss. But you dont have to wait for that look. These six easy techniques help pots undergo a transformation in weeks -- if not sooner. Start now and you'll enjoy their vintage charm this summer and for many more seasons to come.

Get the How-to for Aging Pots with Lime

Fertilizer
Accelerate the appearance of white deposits by filling the pot with a highly concentrated fertilizer solution for a few weeks. Pots aged this way are safe for plants, because the salts won't wash from the pot to the soil.

Tools and Materials
Wine cork
Candle
Water-soluble fertilizer

1. Plug pot's drainage hole with a wine cork. (A standard cork will fit a 10-inch pot perfectly. For smaller pots, whittle the cork; for larger ones, slice additional corks to fit, and wedge in place.) 

2. Light candle. Drip wax over cork on outside of pot to seal. Let cool. 

3. Fill pot with water. (Hard water accelerates the aging process.) 

4. Add 5 times more fertilizer than package directions recommend. Stir until dissolved. Set aside until deposits appear. Replenish water as needed. The longer the pots sit, the more dramatic the effect. Remove water, wax, and cork.

Yogurt
One of the most natural-looking patinas can be achieved by simply slathering plain yogurt on a new pot. Yogurt applied to dry pots yields more dramatic results. For a subtler look, above, first soak pots in water for 15 minutes.

Tools and Materials
Plain yogurt
2-inch foam brush

1. Stir yogurt. 

2. Use brush to coat surface of pot with yogurt, covering it completely. 

3. Set aside in a shaded place until pot achieves the desired look, at least 1 month.

Buttermilk and Moss
Combining buttermilk and moss to encourage moss growth is a common tactic. The moss serves to hold the runny buttermilk in place and vary the texture as well as to promote growth.

Tools and Materials
Moss (or sheet moss)
Buttermilk
2-inch foam brush

1. If you've gathered your own moss, remove as much soil as possible. Tear moss into small pieces, removing materials such as bark and pine needles. 

2. Pour buttermilk into a bowl, add moss, and combine. 

3. Use brush to paint the mixture over pot. 

4. Set aside in a shaded place until you like the look. 

5. If desired, use a metal-bristle brush to remove any heavy clumps of moss, as with the pot above.

Clay Soil
It's easy to make a pot appear as if it had been unearthed in an archaeological dig. Just apply soil found in your backyard. Moist soils with high clay content are ideal, as they adhere to terra-cotta best.

Tools and Materials
Clay soil
Flexible wire brush

1. Rub soil over surface of pot, moistening the soil with a little water if it doesn't stick. 

2. Place pot in a shaded area for at least 1 month while soil bonds. 

3. Brush pot to create a varied, textured surface.

Water and Sunlight
Sometimes, the simplest methods bring the most satisfying results. This handsome pot was soaked in a tub of water until algae grew on its surface. Algae grows best in the sun, so be sure that vessels sit in bright locations and that water is replenished as it evaporates.

Tips and Tricks
Each technique will yield unique results, although a few common truths apply to the various methods.

Ingredients
It's fine to use dairy products that aren't fresh or have expired. Low-fat products will work, but higher-fat versions tend to be thicker and therefore less likely to drip off.

Application
To achieve an authentic appearance, vary the thickness of the materials and the direction of application. Look to true aged pots for inspiration.

Storage Sites
Shaded locations are ideal for most pots while they "age." Do not stack the pots. Spray them occasionally with water, or place them where rain can reach them. Pots coated with food products may smell strongly for a few days after the ingredients have been applied; keep them away from living areas.

Waiting
The longer a pot sits, the more pronounced the effect will be. It's up to you to decide when you think it's ready. Most pots will continue to "age" even as they are being used.Be creative Try combining methods for different effects.

Comments (1)

  • Deborah Kipness 27 Mar, 2014

    The buttermilk recipe is great & so is the pot in the water to grow the algae as I have used both. I will be trying the fertilizer idea and the yogurt idea. If I can keep the grandsons from eating the yogurt! Such great ideas on this site.