Age your terra-cotta pots in no time with these simple techniques.

Updated April 27, 2020
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Peden + Munk

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 don't 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 for many seasons to come.

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. All you need for this simple DIY is a wine cork, candle, water, and water-soluble fertilizer.

Start by plugging the pot's drainage hole with a wine cork—a standard cork will fit a 10-inch pot perfectly. For smaller pots, whittle the cork, and for larger ones slice additional corks to fit and wedge it in place. Next, light a candle and drip the wax over the cork on the outside of the pot to seal it. Let it cool before filling the pot with water—hard water accelerates the aging process. Add five times more fertilizer than package directions recommend and stir it until it's all dissolved. Next, set it aside until deposits appear—replenishing water as needed. The longer the pots sit, the more dramatic the effect. Remove water, wax, and cork to finish.

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, first, soak pots in water for 15 minutes. All you need to age your terra-cotta pots this way is plain yogurt and a two-inch foam brush. Simply stir the yogurt and dip your foam brush into it, brushing to coat the surface of the pot; covering it completely. Then set your pots aside in a shaded place until they achieve the desired look, at least one 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. Moss, buttermilk, and a two-inch foam brush are your tools for this easy project. If you've gathered your own moss, remove as much soil as possible and tear it into small pieces, removing materials like bark and pine needles. Start by pouring the buttermilk into a bowl then add your moss and combine. Use your brush to paint the mixture over the terra-cotta pots, and set aside in a shaded place until you've reached the desired look. You can use a metal-bristle brush to remove any heavy clumps of moss.

Clay Soil

It's easy to make a pot appear as if it has 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. Your materials for this DIY include clay soil and a flexible wire brush. Begin by rubbing soil over the surface of the pot—moistening the soil with a little water if it doesn't stick. Then place the pot in a shaded area for at least one month while the soil bonds. Finally, brush the pot to create a varied, textured surface.

Water and Sunlight

Sometimes, the simplest methods bring the most satisfying results. Soak a pot in a tub of water until algae grow on its surface. It 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. 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. To achieve an authentic appearance, vary the thickness of the materials and the direction of application. Look to true aged pots for inspiration.

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. The longer a pot sits, the more pronounced the effect will be, so 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. One final tip: Be creative; try combining methods for different effects.

Comments (2)

Anonymous
October 14, 2018
Will try the yoghurt but how do I seal the pot please?
Anonymous
March 27, 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.