Martha Stewart: Give your terra cotta pots a weathered look without the wait

  • By Martha Stewart
  • Wednesday, March 10, 2010 11:40am
  • Life

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 within weeks.


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.

Materials: wine cork, candle and water-soluble fertilizer

Directions: Plug pot’s drainage hole with a wine cork. For smaller pots, whittle the cork; for larger ones, slice additional corks to fit.

Light the candle and let wax drip over the cork on the outside of pot to seal. Let cool. Fill pot with water.

Add five 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. (Pour water into the soil, so that the fertilizer doesn’t drain directly into steams or storm drains.)


A natural-looking patina 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.

Materials: plain yogurt and a foam brush.

Directions: Stir yogurt.

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

Set in a shady place until pot achieves 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 buttermilk in place and vary the texture, as well as to promote growth.

Materials: moss (or sheet moss), buttermilk and 2-inch foam brush

Directions: 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.

Pour buttermilk into a bowl, add moss and combine. Use brush to paint the mixture over pot. Set aside in a shaded place until pot achieves the desired look.

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.

Materials: clay soil and flexible wire brush

Directions: Rub soil over surface of pot, moistening the soil with a little water if it doesn’t stick.

Place pot in a shade for at least one month. Brush pot to create textured surface.


This method provides instant gratification. The lime solution quickly tones down the harsh orange of many new pots.

Materials: hydrated lime, natural-bristle paintbrush, spray bottle and 150-grit sandpaper

Directions: Dissolve 1 cup hydrated lime in 2 cups water, stirring until no clumps remain. This amount will age several small pots or 2 large ones.

Using random strokes, brush pot with lime solution, applying thickly in some areas, and thinly in others to simulate the subtle streaks of old pots.

Fill spray bottle with water, set it on “stream” setting, and coat pot in spots while lime is wet. Let dry and sand pot in random directions, wiping dust.

Water and sunlight

Soak a pot in a tub of water in the sun until algae grows on its surface. Replenish water as needed.

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