Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Nursery Pots: From Plastic to Copper in a Couple of Easy Steps

When buying a plant the first and foremost consideration is the plant itself.  You want the best specimen you can find.  But an overlooked benefit is the pot the plant comes in.  Even if the pot looks a little worse for wear...and some of them do.

In the nursery trade there are a couple of kinds of pots.   Smaller specimens, such as a four inch or one gallon size, are usually grown in a fairly cheap pot made through a process called blow molding.  These pots are very thin and that’s fine.  It’s only a temporary home until the plant finds a spot in your garden.  Those are useful for potting up divisions to give to friends or to grow on a smaller plant until it's ready for a permanent home in the garden.

Larger specimens, say, five gallon and larger, spend a lot more time growing to their full size in their pots so naturally those pots are a much higher quality. They have to be. Some plants will spend several years growing up to a sellable size.  These higher quality pots are made through injection molding.  Liquid plastic is poured into a mold to create a pot that will be weather resistant and durable. 
So,  recycle the blow molded pots  you don't need but hang on to those injection molded ones.  They are every bit as good if not better than the pots you pay cash money for at a big box store.  

simple nursery pot with a coat of
copper metalic paint.
 The question is then:  what do I do with all these pots cluttering up my garage.  Well, in the immortal words of Bugs Bunny: “It’s amazing how much fun you can have with a bunch of rocks and a can of gold paint.”  

Nursery pots are an idea DIY project.  After I’ve collected enough pots of the same size and decide how I want to use them in the garden the next step is a trip to the paint store. For this project I used Benjamin Moore Metallic Glaze. There are a variety of good quality metallic paints that can transform a little black pot into the horticultural equivalent of the little black dress.   My color of choice is copper because it’s a natural match for a lot of color tones in the garden and it’s something that has been traditionally used as part of garden culture.  Golds and silvers also work fine on plastic pots but tend to look better for interior use.  Unless you moved into Liberace’s old house in Vegas, then, it’s gold inside and gold outside and maybe some on the upstairs maid too.
Three freshly painted pots drying. Don't rush the
drying process.   It only takes a couple of hours.
The process is a simple one with very few materials required.   A one quart can of copper paint will cover at least six ten gallon containers.  The cost is around $25.00.  Buy a cheap bristle brush and a plastic drop cloth.  Also use latex gloves since the paint doesn’t really wash off  that well even though it is not oil-based.  Of course, that’s the point.  You are using it for an outdoors application.  You want it to last and last it will.  You can expect several years of good wear before the pots need another coat.

Wash and dry the pots.  Apply the paint starting under the rim (if the pot has one; most nursery pots do) and paint downward towards the bottom of the pot.  Apply a generous coat and watch for drips and running because metallic paint is heavy.  Once you’ve completed the entire pot take the brush and gently pull it downward on the surface from rim to bottom.  Add a little extra paint if black is showing through.  Paint the inside of the pot at least three inches down from the rim.  Paint the rim last.
Copper paint sets up quickly so work quickly.  The paint contains a crackling agent so you will see highlights and some texture right away.

Allow the pot to dry for a least two hours or until it is no longer tacky.   If you plant before the pot is completely dry soil will adhere to the paint and ruin the entire effect.

One thing I like to do which is a bit unusual and definitely not according to Hoyle is to not overmix the paint.  I stir it most definitely but I leave lots of streaks.   This creates extra highlights in the finished coat which catch the sun and make the pot look more artisanal than manufactured.  The paint produces a hammered copper texture more than a pressed one so the slight variation adds to the effect.
The image below is a set of pots I recently completed at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer in New York City.   They are simple, elegant and bon marche.   I hate that word cheap.

Photos and text copyrighted 2015 by

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