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Caring for Terracotta Pots 101

Written by Naomi Cleary

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Posted on September 25 2020

Preparing Terracotta Plant Pots for Planting

If planting in garden terracotta pots, this is terracotta with no glaze or finish, it is helpful to soak the pot prior to planting. Just watch as the orange pot changes color as it absorbs the water. You can really see how porous the terracotta plant pot is when you do this. This is not a critical step, however it can help to ensure that the pot doesn't absorb all the water you just gave a newly potted plant.

Also, if you are buying pots that have been imported from overseas, or mass produced, perhaps stored in a warehouse for a long time, you should give them a good wash first as you never know what may be on the surface. 

Cleaning Your Plant Pots

If your plant pots do get fungal growth, or you just want to remove some of the natural scumming, a quick cleaning can do the trick.

Some people advise cleaning terracotta plant pots in the dishwasher. I certainly don’t recommend this as it can clog the dishwasher with dirt and I wouldn’t want fungus in there.

We recommend using a white vinegar solution — 1 part white vinegar to 10 parts water. You can use a bleach solution using the same ratio, however we recommend skipping such a harsh chemical.

Mix the water-vinegar solution in a shallow tub or pan. Take the empty plant pot and wipe off as much of the dirt as possible. Place the pot in the tub and coat with the water/vinegar. Use a green scour pad to scrub off the scum surface on the outside and inside. Rinse well with clean water and let the pots air dry and sit in the sun for a few days if possible.

Winterizing to Prevent Cracks

Terracotta clay is porous, meaning it can soak up water and also let water evaporate out. This is a boon to your plants in the warmer seasons but when freezing weather arrives it can spell the end for your pots. Pots left outside filled with dirt can soak up water that freezes, expands, and cracks your pot.

Follow a few steps to ensure outdoor pots make it through the winter.

  • At the end of the growing season, empty all your clay pots for plants
  • Give them a dry wipe removing dirt from the inside
  • Store in a basement, shed, or sheltered outside spot (tarp if outside).
  • Store upside down, preferably unstacked.

Taking these steps will help your terracotta clay pots stay whole and ready for the next season.

Beautiful Patina

Over time terracotta gets a beautiful dark patina as the clay soaks up minerals from your water and soil. Some terracotta plant pots get a fuzzy white powder on the surface from naturally occurring salts. You may see some green mossy growth on your pots. 

Given a little time and a decent amount of humidity, this all occurs naturally and is fine for plants.

There are people who paint yogurt on their pots and leave them outside for 4-6 weeks in a humid place to encourage moldy green growth. We don't do this because the green algae growth will only stick around for as long as your pots remain moist and in a humid environment. If you bring them into your dry house, the growth will just dry up. If you keep them planted outdoors in a damp place, then the green will happen naturally. If you do give this a go, use unglazed terracotta, like our Terracotta Garden Pots. It will not work on glazed pots.

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