Turn ordinary terra-cotta pots and low-cost tiles into a colorful craft project for the garden.
When materials suppliers associated with home construction close, it’s a windfall for mosaic artists. As specialty stores get rid of samples and leftovers, you can pick up cheap or free tiles once intended for swanky bathrooms, kitchens, fountains and swimming pools, and stockpile them for future projects.
These leftovers are a bonanza for my mosaic projects. I fell in love with this art form a long time ago and found it ideal for creating colorful pots for my exotic succulents. Whether ceramic or glass, tile doesn’t melt, fade or peel, with the glazes remaining every bit as bright as the day they were made.
Creating mosaic pots is quite simple and can give new life to old, stained terra cotta retired from high-profile parts of the garden.
All you need are tile-setting glues — mastic and grout. Mastic, with the consistency of cake frosting, is used to stick tiles to floors and walls. It comes premixed in convenient little tubs at the home-improvement center. If you can frost a cupcake, you can easily spread this bonding agent on part of the pot surface, then press the tiles or fragments into place. When completely covered with tiles, the project should be allowed to dry in the shade.
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Grouting the pot is both fun and easy, but plan on a huge mess. Buy powdered white grout so you can select a new paint color for each batch. Just add paint as you mix grout with water until it reaches the desired color intensity. Squish the grout into all the gaps between tiles, and wipe it clean with sponges and old rags. Grouting with color can have a big impact on how your pot looks in the end because it will offer varying levels of contrast with the tile hues.
For those who lack the funds to invest in pricey ceramic pots, mosaic is the best way to get gleaming glazes into your garden. While many mosaic artists use broken china to create crazy-quilt projects, I find that method too challenging for smaller projects. The problem is that shards of varying shapes and thickness can challenge grouting. Bathroom mosaic tiles, on the other hand, are perfectly uniform in every way. With them, you can create a relatively thin, perfectly flat result.
Be sure to use tiles with the same thickness on a single project for a smooth, cleanable outer surface. This is much easier to grout, and you’ll be able to keep your pots brilliantly clean with glass cleaner. My favorite tiles are the 1-inch-square, recycled-glass mosaic tiles now hugely popular in modern kitchen and bath design. They are quite thin and easy to cut into triangles with a double-wheeled tile-cutting tool. Small units such as these also allow you to get a lot of detail onto a small pot.
If the tiles are glued to a sheet of paper or a sample board, soak them in a large pan of warm water to melt the glue.
Over time, I’ve learned to choose terra-cotta pots large enough to accommodate the average 4-, 5- or 6-inch-round plastic nursery pots. This allows me to drop my plant and its pot into the mosaic pot, turning it into a cachepot with a drain hole. It also prevents the plant from becoming marred by white chalky residue from moisture passing through terra cotta.
The old expression goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” So when the recession is putting some tile sellers out of business, it’s time to take advantage of their losses. Mosaic costs just pennies and yet adds a million-dollar look to your garden.