A big advantage of terracotta is its ability to absorb water from the soil. But because it will also absorb chemical fertilizers and salts found in tap water, that buildup of a crusty residue needs to be removed for the pot to be safely reused the next garden season.
Although that aged terracotta look is pleasant to some, dirty pots can harbor fungus, mold, diseases, and pests. Regular maintenance of cleaning and disinfecting them is a good garden habit to get into.
Cleaning and Sanitizing your Terracotta Pots and Planters
Give your plants a great start!
When to clean terracotta pots and planters
The best time to clean them is in the spring. Since you will need to refresh the potting soil anyway, it's a good time to empty the pots and clean them out. Another benefit of doing this in the spring is that the soaking will hydrate the pot for the year's use.
Fall is another great time as the busy garden season is winding down and any annuals plants in them can be tossed.
To clean the pots
- Remove all the soil and any gravel that was put in the bottom of the pot. This is a great time to refresh the potting soil before putting it back in the pot. For our article on refreshing old potting soil. click here
- Check the inside rims of the pot for white salty deposits. Excessive levels of salts can be detrimental to plant development.
- Check the pot for white fuzzy growth. This is caused by the soil remaining wet and soggy and not draining well.
- Using a brush or steel wool, clean with mild soapy water. Pay special attention to the inside of the pot where the next plant will be growing. Use a toothbrush for those hard to reach crevices.
Disinfecting the pots
- To disinfect the pot, submerge the pot in a solution of 10% bleach to 90% water for 15 to 20 minutes. This solution will kill off any diseases that may be lingering on the surface. I use my big coolers for this and it also gets the coolers clean for summer use.
- After scrubbing, give the pots a thorough rinse.
- Soak the cleaned pots or planters in clean water for 15-20 more minutes to remove any bleach from the pores of the terracotta.
- If a strong bleach smell remains after the soak, wash again with soap and water and rinse until there is only a faint smell of bleach.
- Let the pot dry thoroughly in the sun for a few hours.
- You can clean the gravel with the same bleach solution and thoroughly rinse it to reuse.
- Use rainwater instead of tap water. Rainwater contains far fewer salts.
- Store terracotta pots away for the winter's harsh weather.
Using cleaned and sanitized terracotta pots and planters will give your plants the best chance at healthy growth for the next season.
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