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How to Stencil Terra Cotta Pots

Benna Crawford

The Egyptians carved their cuneiform on clay tablets. Now You can stencil your timeless message on an old terra-cotta pot.

Porch pots and patio pots can be just as decorative as the plants in them when you stencil humble terra-cotta with a design or message. Stenciling is an inexpensive way to revive a dusty old curb find or a faded pot from the back of the shed. New designs and colors let you coordinate your planters with your house trim or decor. And a stenciled design or name distinguishes one young gardener's pot from another to avoid mix-ups and flare-ups in the garden.

    Scrub the Pot

  1. Brush off all crusted dirt, old mildew and roots remnants before washing the pot with mild detergent and water, rinsing it and setting it aside to dry.

  2. Seal the Pot

  3. Coat the inside of the pot with clear sealer. Terra-cotta is porous and soaks up water, transferring it from the soil in the pot, through the sides, to the air. This dries out your plants and destabilizes exterior paint finish, causing cracking and peeling. Apply one or two coats of polyurethane or another sealer, allowing each coat to dry before adding another.

  4. Paint the Pot

  5. Paint or whitewash the exterior of the pot with the base color that will background the stenciled design. Chalk paint gives an opaque smooth finish. All-surface and outdoor paints hold their own in relentless sun or wet weather. Use regular acrylic if you plan to seal the pot exterior once it is painted. Allow the pot to cure, or dry to hardness, before proceeding.

  6. Position the Stencil

  7. Tape it securely in place with painter's tape -- a low-adhesive tape that pulls away without taking the paint with it.

  8. Pounce Your Design

  9. Use a rounded stencil brush, a pouncer or a sponge to dab stencil color on the pot over the stencil openings. Cover the stencil design with unbroken paint for a sharp, solid design. Or sponge unevenly for an aged look, as if some of the design has been worn away by weather or time.

  10. Remove the Stencil

  11. Take the stencil off the pot once you are finished stenciling, to prevent any flaking around the edges of the design where dried paint may stick to the tape. Allow the design to dry to a hard finish.

  12. Clear-Coat Your Work

  13. Apply a clear finish to the stenciled pot -- either sprayed or painted on. If you place a pot out unprotected, the paint will degrade and flake or chip off. Adding a final clear seal helps the artwork to last longer.

Stencil Ideas

  • Stencil a house number on big terra-cotta pots, plant them and place them along the walkway to your front door or on the porch steps. 
  • Decorate pots with children's paint handprints and stencil each child's initial or name on his pot. 
  • Stencil the names of herbs or flowers in script on windowsill pots in the kitchen. 
  • Whitewash old terra-cotta pots and roughly stencil an inspirational word -- Grow, Reach, Dream -- on each pot. Tuck them into nooks in the garden for surprise encounters. 
  • Stencil a holiday message or design on decorative pots you fill with Christmas tree baubles, small pumpkin gourds or painted Easter eggs, and place beside the front door. 
  • Reverse-stencil a design by covering the design with tape or paper and painting the pot around it.