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How to Take Care of Terracotta Pots 101

Written by Naomi Cleary

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Posted on August 24 2020

Terracotta clay pots offer the perfect home for both your house and garden potting needs. They are strong, long-lasting, classy, reusable as a drainage shard once broken, and more sustainable than plastic.

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.

Fungus and Pests 

An aged patina is lovely, other types of growth can spell death for your plants. Fungus and bacterial pests can grow in the soil and attach to the handmade plant pot. This can happen in a few different ways

  • Fungus occurs naturally in backyard dirt.
  • It can be brought into your house through cheap potting soils.
  • There can already be fungus in the soil of your plants when you buy them.

We have contaminated pots by purchasing cheap non-organic potting soil from big box stores. Avoid this by always using organic potting soil from a small producer such as Organic Mechanics. Never use dirt from the back yard for your houseplants or outdoor potted plants. 

You will get better drainage and happier plants with a potting medium suitable for outdoor pots.

Cleaning Your Pots

If your 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.

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