Benefits of Using Terracotta Gardening Pots
Terracotta has many advantages for the gardener and flower grower. One of the greatest is the fact that clay is completely natural, porous, and has thermal properties that make it an asset to plants. Those who use terracotta know that the porous nature of clay means you cannot easily overwater plants, the roots can breathe, and the clay itself has excellent heat retention and repellent properties. All of this adds up to better plant care.
These traditional, beautiful earthenware pots are heavy and subject to breaking, however, some care must be taken in their handling and use. The porous nature of the pots also makes them more difficult to clean between seasons especially if you’re unaware of how to properly go about it.
Cleaning Terracotta Pots
Cleaning terracotta is all about keeping fungus and algae from growing. The pores that naturally occur in the clay can harbor these and pass them on to the plants when you replant. Cleaning is not a difficult job, however. It just requires that you know what to do and why you’re doing it.
Completely empty the pot of all soil and residue, rinsing or scrubbing to do so if necessary. It’s not recommended that you use harsh chemicals to kill any spores or fungus that might be present, as these chemicals can linger and then get into your plants when you replant. Once the dirt has been removed from the pots, there are three methods that are commonly used to ensure a disinfected pot.
Baking Terracotta Pots
The first is to bake the pots. They can be placed in an oven, if they’ll fit, and baked up to 220 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour. Do not remove the pots until they’ve cooled back down to room temperature as they will be very brittle at this high temperature. This means your oven will be full of terracotta pots for hours and this method won’t work for very large pots.
Cleaning Terracotta Pots with Bleach
Another method is to use household bleach cut with water. Mix it at a (maximum) 1:10 ratio of bleach to water and dunk the pots completely into the water (or wash them thoroughly if they’re too large). Let the pots dry in the open air for at least two days after cleaning and most of the residual bleach will dissipate. Bleach is hard on clay and slowly eats away at it, so avoid overusing bleach in your solution.
Cleaning Terracotta Pots with White Vinegar
A similar method is to use white vinegar instead of bleach, but all of the same caveats apply. This same solution can be used in a dishwasher, by the way, as an alternative. Set the dishwasher to the highest heat with the most scrubbing sprays possible, add bleach or white vinegar, and run it through a cycle. Again, give the pots a couple of days in the open air to dry and shed what’s left of the chemicals.
A good way to remove the hard white crust that can build up from hard or salty water deposits on pots is to mix baking soda and water into a paste and then scrub the crust. Fine steel wool can also be used.
Winterizing Terracotta Pots
Another consideration that’s important for terracotta is winterizing the pots. Clean, as above, and store in a shed or garage. Store them upside-down without stacking, if possible, or with something between each pot (such as an old towel) to keep them from sticking together. Also be sure they are completely dry before storage if you’re stacking.
Presoak Terracotta Pots Before Planting
Before planting anything new in a terracotta pot, you should presoak the pot. The porous nature of the clay tends to pull water from the soil, robbing your plant of it at this important, delicate stage. Soaking the pots in clean water for 24 hours prevents this.
Preventing Cracks in Terracotta Pots
Once a crack appears, it can’t be repaired– only mitigated. So ensuring they don’t appear in the first place is important. Prevention is simple. Do not jar or drop your pots, do not over stuff with soil so that it expands with watering, and make sure the pot is large enough for the root system of the plant you’re planning to place inside it. Winter cracking (not properly allowing the pots to dry before freezing) and using the wrong sized pot for the plant inside it are the two most common reasons terracotta cracks.
Terracotta pots are the most traditional and often the most beautiful way to keep potted plants for your enjoyment. They are sturdy, come in a large variety, and are a very aesthetic and natural way to display your favorite plants.
Want to learn more about terracotta pots?
Check out these other resources:
Growing Plants in Pots or Containers from Queensland’s Department of Environment and Resource Management
Storing Clay Pots for the Winter by Vermont Extension Center