25 August, 2011

Caring for terracotta pots


August had been a quiter gardening month.  Instead of working outside I decided to do some cleaning and organizing of pots and supplies.  I bought 4 bags of Spring bulbs (tulips, crocuses, hyacinths, and aliums) and cleaned my terracotta pots.

Follow these instructions to clean terracotta pots using natural ingredients:
  • Remove any leftover soil and rinse pots thoroughly.  If some bits of soil are stuck to the pot, use a coarse brush.  Terracotta pots are rather fragile so don't apply too much force.

This is how most of my pots looked by the end of July.  Since terracotta is a porous material, salt and other minerals pass through the pores, clog them and create white build-up.  This build-up is not only unattractive but is also unhealthy for plants.
  • To remove calcium build up soak terracotta pots in water for at least an hour.  I usually soak mine in the evening, change water before going to bed and let them soak overnight.  If you have a lot of pots or if some of them are very big, try soaking them in a bathtub (just put a rubber mat in the bottom of your bath to prevent scratching).  Use a  bucket for soaking smaller pots
  • Use a coarse brush to clean the pots after soaking.  Rinse well
Your pots will already look much nicer, however you are only half way through your cleaning.  Take a look at one of my pots after I cleaned and air-dried it:

The white residue is leftover salts and possibly mildew.  It can be easily wiped-off but it would come back, especially if the pot gets damp.
To disinfect pots you can use either bleach or white vinegar.  I prefer the latter - since it is much more natural and green (and better for the plants)
  • Soak the pots in a mild white vinegar solution (1 part vinegar:5 parts water) for 30 minutes or more.  Rinse well or if time permits, soak in clean water 
  • To get rid of persistent white residue lines near the bottom of the pot mix baking soda and small amount of water into paste.  Spread a thin layer of paste onto the bottom of the pot and scrub with a brush.  Rinse well
  • To dry terracotta pots, simply leave them in a well-ventilated, dry area for a day or two.  This step could be omitted if you are reusing pots right away
Once dried, your pots are ready to be stored.  It is better not to stack them but if you absolutely have to, place a thin rag or paper in-between.  This way there is less chance of them getting stack inside each other.
Do not forget to presoak terracotta pots for 24 hours before using them - dry, porous terracotta absorbs quite a lot of water from the soil, robbing your plants during the most crucial stage, after replanting.

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