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From Italy, Mexico, the U.S.A., a new array of clay pots.

From Italy, Mexico, the U.S.A., a new array of clay pots

There's a whole new look to clay pots. One shopping trip to a well-stocked nursery or a glance at the big photograph will show you how many new shapes and sizes of high-quality, high-fire clay pots-- many imported--are now sold in the West. You can buy them as gifts for others or to spruce up your own patio, deck, or indoor spaces.

One reason for the increased selection: the arrival in large quantity of Italian-made pots, until recently available only at very high prices through decorators. Today these handsome pots are made and shipped for less than it costs to make a pot in the U.S., dealers say, because of Italian government subsidies, modern manufacturing equipment, and cheaper labor, plus the strength of the U.S. dollar abroad. Even in American- and Mexican-made pots, there's more variety. Dealers report increased interest in large containers for trees and shrubs and low, bowl-shaped ones for displays of flowering annuals.

Why clay? Gardeners like its earthy, natural look. Since clay is porous, it breathes, helping soil aeration and keeping soil temperatures down through evaporation. It also "wicks' dissolved minerals and salts from the potting mix. (Any white deposits should be scrubbed off periodically.)

Many say plants in clay pots grow better than ones in impervious containers. This was borne out in trials at a large wholesale nursery in Southern California, where test palms in clay grew considerably faster than ones in plastic pots.

Think first of the plant. You'll want to pick a container that shows the plant off, not one that competes for attention. Choose low, horizontal pots for low growers, taller ones for tall plants.

Unless you are experienced at matching pots and plants, avoid extremely ornate post and ones glazed with bright designs.

Some gardeners who invest in expensive fancy pots or ones in animal shapes slip simpler pots inside for planting in; the fancy pots last longer that way.

Choose a pot only a few inches wider than the one in which your plant now grows. A pot too large or too small will look out of balance with the plant and either crowd the roots or let them get waterlogged.

When you shop, you will still find plenty of thick-walled, rough-textured Mexican-made pots, sometimes with designs scratched into the surface. They're inexpensive but are usually fired at lower temperatures than other pots, so they may crumble and peel after a few years' exposure to weather. You can minimize this by painting the inside with asphalt paint or both surfaces with clear "pottery sealer.'

Where to shop. A well-stocked nursery, garden center, or garden department of a large chain store is a good first destination. But pottery dealers often have the greatest variety; look in the yellow pages under Pottery--Retail, and call first to ask about availability of garden pots.

In coldest climates, even highest-quality pots will soon deteriorate if subjected to repeated freezing and thawing; move them to a protected spot over winter.

Photo: Tap the pot and listen: a clear ring indicates it was fired under high temperatures and will last longer; a dull thud indicates poor quality or the presence of a minute crack

Photo: Sampling of pots: all are red clay except the lion's head and Ming jardiniere, both of tan California clay

Photo: Which pot fits the plant? At nursery, bougainvillea takes a turn in several pots-- tall to squat--so shopper can determine which one suits it the best
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jul 1, 1986
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