Are Terracotta Pots Bad For Plants?

Terracotta pots are not bad for your plants however there is some extra care that needs to be taken when using them healthy. The terracotta material is very porous, meaning the soil will dry out quicker, more susceptible to frost and mold too, this means that you will need to pay more attention when watering and cleaning your pots to avoid harm to your plants.

Terracotta pots are amongst the most popular in the world, I can guarantee you’ll see them everywhere, from houseplants to out in the garden. But why do people say they are bad for your plants? Well this actually has less to do with the pot itself and more to do with the extra care needed to maintain healthy plants and when this care isn’t given often growers will blame the pot.

Soil will dry out quicker in terracotta pots so you will need to water more frequently, so if your plant requires moist soil, terracotta probably isn’t the right choice. You’ll have to adjust your watering habits depending on the plant and the size of the pot it is in, this can take some trial and error to perfect.

Terracotta pots also face issues when it comes to cold weather and frost. Due to the make up of these pots in cold climates they can crack and break. This happens because the water penetrates the pot and as it freezes it expands and breaks the pot. Another issue with water penetrating the pot is mold and fungus growth. As water can collect in the pores of the pot it creates an environment which is friendly to mold and growth. Without regular cleaning this can build up and become a problem for the plant and even your family.

Why are terracotta pots so popular?

You may be finding yourself thinking ‘why are terracotta pots so popular?’, well, they actually have a lot of benefits. The fast draining qualities can be useful in preventing overwatering, allowing roots to breathe and stopping some diseases such as root rot. Terracotta pots are also rather inexpensive, readily available and incredibly versatile. This means they can often be the only pots some growers ever need. The rust colored clay along with the smooth textured finish is also quite aesthetically pleasing and gives some household spaces a very rustic charm.

These types of pots are the oldest in existence and have been used by growers for thousands of years so there must be some good reasons as to why they are so popular and in this article we’ll tell you how to to how to properly care for these pots so that you can enjoy the benefits and beautiful looks.

How water a plant in a terracotta pot

Because of the porous nature of terracotta, you will need to water your plants more often as the soil will dry out quicker. This will vary depending on the size of the pot and also if it is sealed or not. You will need to use trial and error to find out what watering schedule is ideal for your plants.

Sealed vs. unsealed terracotta pots
Sealed pots will have some form of lacquer or glazing on them which prevents water loss through evaporation. With these pots you wont need to water as often compared to the unsealed variety however they will still require more water than a ceramic or plastic pot

How much drainage does a terracotta pot need?
Even though water evaporates much faster in terracotta pots, they still need adequate drainage holes at the bottom of the pot to prevent drowning the roots. The same watering rules still apply with these kinds of pots, you just need to do it more frequently . For a more comprehensive guide on how to water your plants, check out this article we wrote: The Absolute Best Way To Water Your Houseplants And Promote Strong Root Growth

Why does mold grow on terracotta pots?

Mold and fungus grows on terracotta pots because water can get trapped in the pot itself. This provides a place for mold to grow. Also the pores within the pot can hold fungus that is transferred from soils or other plants, if pots are not cleaned thoroughly between uses any infected soil may stay in those pores and go on infect any new soil you put in them.

How to clean terracotta pots

Terracotta pots can provide a healthy environment for plants but they need to be correctly cleaned and maintained to continue to do so. Plants will have a hard time thriving if the pot their grown in is dirty or infected with fungus that can harm the plant. It is a good idea to sterilize the pots at the end of each season to reduce the threat of spreading fungus or mold that can infect new plants and damage the pots. You shouldn’t need to clean your pots regularly unless you see white residue gathering on the outside of the pot or black fungus or mold forming. When you see either of these signs you know it is time to get to work and clean your pots.

When you plant in terracotta pots, after some time, you will notice the white residue starts appearing on the outside of pots. This is because the terracotta begins to absorb the minerals in the soil. The hard white crust also builds up from hard or salty water deposits, this process causes the discoloration on the pot surface.

The white residue is not toxic or harmful to plants, but you should remove it as it can serve as a host for fungus, pests, or diseases. Spray the terracotta pot with hydrogen peroxide and remove the white crust with a toothbrush or fine steel wool. To prevent white residue, repeat the process occasionally. You can also reduce watering and place the pot in direct sunlight to help combat this problem.

Deep cleaning terracotta pots
The first thing you need to do when deep cleaning your pots is to remove the plant, let the residual soil that is left on the roots dry and then brush it off. The reason why we do this is because if the soil itself is infected you don’t want that fungus transferring to the next batch of soil. You will then need to get a stiff cleaning brush and remove all the dirt from the outside and inside of the pot. Once these steps are done you’ll be ready to disinfect the pot.

There are several methods that can be used to deep clean terracotta pots, we’ll run through some of them here for you in this article.

Cleaning terracotta pots with vinegar
Mix 1 part vinegar by volume to 3 parts water in a bucket big enough to completely submerge your pot. You can use regular white vinegar or cleaning vinegar. The cleaning vinegar has a higher percentage of acidity, which will help to break up the crusty build-up.

Next, soak the terracotta pots entirely in the vinegar solution for 30 minutes. This will begin to loosen particles lodged in the pores and disinfect the pot. Once finished soaking, use the pot brush to remove any residue that has been loosened up and dispose of it. Leave your pot in the sun to dry and after a couple of hours you will have a nice clean pot to replant whatever you like.

Cleaning terracotta pots with bleach
Another approach follows the same procedure but uses bleach instead of white vinegar. But be careful as bleach can damage the terracotta pots and as a much harsher substance it is important to take more care with making sure all chemicals are removed before repotting.

Use a ratio of 1:10 for bleach and water. Soak the pots in the mixture for 30 minutes. Soaking it in bleach will remove any fungus or dirt layers on the pot and begin disinfecting the pot.

Now use a baking soda and water mixture to complete the cleaning process. Create a paste using both and rub it on the pot with a toothbrush or any stiff brush with can remove any stuck on bits of dirt or fungus.

Finally, rub the pot with dish soap and water to get rid of any remaining bacteria or chemicals. Rinse thoroughly, this is extremely important as you want to make sure all the bleach has been removed from the pot. When drying your pot make sure to place it in in open-air for a few days. It allows the pot to completely dry and get rid of the leftover chemicals which could possibly do harm to your plants.

If you are going to store the cleaned pots for future use, place them in a garage, shed, or any other area that stays dry and above freezing.

How to repot into a terracotta pot

It is crucial to prepare terracotta pots carefully and properly before planting to minimize the risk of plant disease and create a healthy environment for your houseplants, flowers, vegetables, and herbs.

Start by thoroughly cleaning the interior and exterior of the pot using white vinegar or bleach like we just explained.

  • If you are using an old pot, you can improve the look of the stained pot using linseed oil or commercial sealer. Remove any residue or mineral deposit from the pot by scrubbing. Use a sponge or cloth rag to cover the exterior of the pot with oil.
  • You’ll want to soak your pot before you put new soil into it to stop the soil from being dried out too quickly, to do this, fill up a sink and soak your terracotta pot in lukewarm water overnight or at least for 30 minutes before potting your plant in them. These pots are made out of clay, so soaking them beforehand will retain moisture and prevent the pot from taking up the plant water and creating a poor environment.
  • Now position your pot on the pot feet, bricks, rocks, or pieces of wood to raise them off the ground. It will improve air circulation under the pot. It also protects the pot from over-heating and drying due to direct contact with cement or gravel surfaces.
  • Fill the terracotta pot with potting soil up to within 1/2 inch of the edge. Deeply soak the soil to prepare for planting using a hose or water can. The top 1-2 inches of the soil should be moist.
  • Place your plant in the soil and cover the base to help anchor the plant. Water it in and you’re all set!

If you follow those tips your plant will be incredibly happy in its new home. You’ll be giving it the best opportunity to thrive and continue its life.

Terracotta pot tips and tricks

Checkout some of these tips and tricks that we’ve learnt over the years while growing in terracotta pots.

What fertilizer to use in terracotta pots?
Use an organic fertilizer instead of a chemical fertilizer for your plants. Chemical fertilizer salts will accumulate in terracotta pots with time and cause white residue.

How to stop terracotta pots from drying out too quickly?
Terracotta pots are quick-drying, mulch the soil to help retain water. You can use gravel, pine needles, wood chips, or cocoa hulls.

How to top terracotta pots from ruining furniture?
If you are planning to place the pots on wooden surfaces such as tables or dressers, use a plastic (or any other material) saucer instead of the clay saucer to protect the surfaces. A typical terracotta saucer is very porous, so water can leak through and ruin any wooden furniture. You can also use a glazed terracotta saucer so that water doesn’t seep through.

Why do my terracotta pots keep cracking?
Be careful and gentle while moving your pots or handling them in cold weather as they are vulnerable to cracks in such weather. Changes in the temperature, freezing, rain, or snow can lead to cracks as the clay expands and contracts.

How do I stop my terracotta pots from cracking?
The cracks on the pot cannot be repaired; you can prevent them by handling the pots with care while relocating or replanting. Do not overstuff the pot with soil as it will expand with watering and ensure the pot size is large enough for the root system of the plant you’re going to add.

I keep getting white powder on the outside of my terracotta pots
Instead of watering your plants with tap water, use rainwater. Tap water is full of minerals and salts, which will clog the pores and cause white residue.

I want to use terracotta pots but they dry out too quickly
Terracotta pots are porous; they absorb moisture like a sponge. For plants that require wet soil conditions, you can customize the permeability of the pot by pre-treating the interior with a breathable latex sealant or adding a nonporous lining to the pot.

What is the difference between terracotta and ceramic pots?
Ceramic pots may look like terracotta, but they are glazed with a coat of lacquer, which prevents the soil from drying out at the same rate as it would in a terracotta pot. Ceramic pots retain more moisture than the regular unglazed terracotta pots.

How can I remove the black mold from my terracotta pots?
Wash the pot and saucer with hot, soapy water to get rid of the mold. Frequently spray the pot with hydrogen peroxide to keep the mold from coming back. If this doesn’t work, use our deep cleaning methods as explained earlier in the article and if the mold regrows despite the care, you may have to dispose of the pot.

Can you grow vegetables in terracotta pots?
Yes, terracotta pots are safe and suitable for vegetable gardening but thoroughly sterilize the pots before planting. Since terracotta is porous, it tends to absorb harmful chemicals or moisture. This way, it can contaminate the soil and present food safety issues.

What kind of pot is best for outdoors?
Outdoor pots are mostly located in direct sunlight. Sunlight gradually degrades the plastic pots and makes them brittle unless you are using durable, thicker plastic pots. Terracotta is a better option for outdoor planting compared to plastic pots due to its insulation and heat retention properties.

How do you store terracotta pots?
You can store terracotta pots in a shed or garage for winterizing or simply to reuse them in the future. The first step is to clean and dry the pots thoroughly. Now store them upside-down, avoid stacking them. Use newspaper or old towels between the pots to keep them from sticking.

What plants are suitable for terracotta pots?
Succulents, Cacti, Mediterranean herbs, Moth Orchids, Snake plants, Aloe Vera, Monstera varieties, Syngonium varieties, Peperomia varieties are some of the plants that thrive well in terracotta pots. This is because they like good drainage and can handle dry periods with relative ease

So now you know all about terracotta pots and can likely see that they aren’t actually bad for plants. Yes, there is some extra care steps that need to be taken to help keep your plants healthy, but if you do this then you’ll absolutely love how great your plants look in terracotta!

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