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Crack-pot conditions

Tom Glass
Vail, CO, Colorado

If you don’t get the nightly forecast, reading this article won’t help you a bit. However, if you’re a follower of forecasts, a dedicated weather watcher, reading this article just might keep you seated when your first impulse is to bolt outside to move your pots at the first hint of frost. Yes, this article is about the need for pots to be stored during winter.

I can confirm that even sound pots, once planted, likely crack when it freezes hard, but sound pots don’t often crack from a little unseasonable frosting ” typically. I repeat, typically. A light frosting is characterized (by me) as somewhere around 28 to 30 degrees ” the type of overnight cold which causes a total loss of your begonias while your petunias simply lose some blooms.

It is an imprecise science identifying crack-pot conditions, sort of a Farmer’s Almanac, horseshoe distance kind of a call. After all, to my knowledge there are no institutes dedicated to the study of winter’s deleterious affects on garden variety pottery. But, then again, I haven’t looked particularly in depth into the matter; I Googled it and didn’t find much.



I called Burley Clay Products in Roseville, Ohio and spoke with Sue Lieby, a customer service representative for the pottery manufacturer. Burley has been making clay pottery since 1924, and is one of the few remaining potteries in the once kiln-rich area located around Zanesville, Ohio.

“You’ve got to pour the water out of bird baths,” Lieby advised. Surprisingly, she went on, “Mine, I never bring in.”



I asked her, “What about the soil in pots? What’s the official company position on removing the soil from pots before winter?”

“My planters,” Lieby continued, “as long as they’ve got drainage holes in them, I leave them out, too. But you’ve got to have some way for the water to get out. This is Ohio, we’ve got some pretty cold winters here as well.”

Despite Lieby’s conflicting counsel, my advice is if you favor your planted pottery, you must move them inside ” whether they’re made from plastic, foam, terra cotta or glazed clay.



Furthermore, I think it is best if pots are stored above freezing, but a dry pot, a truly dry pot lacking soil and kept dry, won’t likely crack without some hidden flaw being stressed and thereby exposing its weakness.

Michael Caster, General Manager of Zanesville Pottery Co., a retailer of pots manufactured in Zanesville, Ohio, agrees, although he’s a little more cautious.

“You should bring pots inside, I’d say, when it’s 32 degrees. Pottery is a really porous material, and it takes up water. Water when it freezes is a really powerful force and it causes pots to flake. You can tell when a pot is dry by touching it, or just by looking at it. It’s darker when its wet. You can keep dry pottery in a dry shed or a garage even if it’s well below freezing,” Castor said.

At the risk of selling more pots, my opinion, based on my experience and some wise counsel, is to move all your pots out of the elements during winter when the forecast calls for, say, 25 degrees. Remove the soil if your storage area is unheated.

It’s an educated guess.


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