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Containers 101: choosing the container material that’s right for you

From stone to iron, polyethylene to terra cotta, how do you know what kind of container will best suit your needs? Read on to find out the benefits of containers made of these materials. With so many choices right here at Garden Gate, you are sure to find the container you need.

Cast Stone

Cast stone planters are some of our most popular pieces, and we are proud to offer the widest selection of stone planters in the area. Part of the beauty of cast stone pieces is that they will age over time, giving each piece a unique character. Our cast stone pieces do not contain chemical sealers and are intended to create the illusion that the stone has already begun its natural aging. The use of chemical sealers would alter the surface appearance of the stone and inhibit the natural aging process.


Part of the natural aging cycle for all cast stone products is a chemical reaction between salt and water. This reaction is called efflorescence. The degree of efflorescence will vary depending on weather conditions. When Mother Nature produces rainy, cold, windy weather, the salt in the raw materials used to make cast stone will be drawn to the surface and will appear as a chalky white residue on the surface of the piece. This residue will disappear as more of the same weather conditions complete the efflorescence cycle. This process occurs only once and we believe it will enhance the aged character and uniqueness of our cast stone.


All of our cast stone pieces are manufactured with a high density cast stone mix, making them more durable than most stone planters on the market. While these are strong, durable products, proper maintenance is recommended to protect them from freeze-thaw cycles that occur in winter. If a planter is to be left planted over the winter, it should be raised up off the ground. Attractive pot risers (or “pot feet” as we like to call them) are available for this purpose. This will allow the soil to drain and will prevent the planter from freezing to the ground. We always recommend that drainage materials such as small stones be placed at the bottom of the planter before filling with soil to ensure proper drainage.


If your cast stone planter will not remain planted over the winter, we suggest that it be stored in a covered area where it will be protected from the elements. If it must be left outside unplanted, we suggest that you empty the soil and turn it upside down onto wood strips. Cover or wrap the planter with burlap or any absorbent material (an old blanket or towel) and then wrap it with dark plastic. This will prevent moisture from accumulating in the planter.


Polyethylene Planters

We have many polyethylene planters that have the appearance of terra cotta, but are light-weight and manageable. Polyethylene planters are made of recycled raw materials which produce an environmentally friendly product that is resistant to extreme temperature fluctuations. Because our polyethylene planters are UV resistant, they will not become brittle and crack over time, nor will their color fade. They are designed with micropores which allow plant roots to breathe. While our polyethylene planters can be left outdoors in winter, we recommend that they be raised up off the ground surface to ensure proper drainage.


Glazed and Terra Cotta

Terra Cotta planters have been a constant favorite of gardeners throughout the years. Did you know that the quality and durability of terra cotta can fluctuate greatly depending on how it is made? Terra cotta is always slightly porous, allowing plant roots to breathe. But this also causes them to be susceptible to winter damage since the pores can absorb water that will freeze and expand. Hand-made containers like many that we offer absorb far less water than machine-made. They are frost-resistant if handled correctly. However, any pot made of a non-elastic material is at risk if left unprotected in winter.


Due to the processes used in the manufacturing of our hand-made and hand-glazed terra cotta containers, each piece’s color, size, and crackling will be unique. Much of our glazed and terra cotta pottery is high-fired at between 990 and 1000 degrees centigrade to ensure frost resistance and durability. They are also subjected to rigorous testing in freeze-thaw conditions to ensure quality.


Although this allows plant roots to breathe, it also produces a risk in winter. When the temperature drops below freezing, any water present in the pot walls will freeze and expand.


Cast Iron Collection

Cast iron planters are both beautiful and durable. All cast iron pieces will rust over time, which is part of the inherent beauty of iron containers. Some pieces are treated to slow the natural rusting process of the cast iron. These pieces will rust more slowly than the matte black and lead finishes. If you wish to retain the finish as purchased, consult your local hardware store for clear sealant products which are commercially available to preserve the finish. While cast iron containers are durable, we still recommend that proper winter care as explained above is followed.


Fiberglass, Cotto-Lite, and Lead-Lite containers

These light-weight containers are manufactured to look like stone, clay, or iron. Indeed, unless you get close enough to touch them, you may not realize the difference. While they are considered frost-resistant, these containers should be brought in during the winter and stored in a covered, frost-free location.


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