When the days get cooler and shorter, it is time to put the garden to bed for the winter. Cleaning clay pots this time of the year keeps my garden still in mind and makes sure that they are ready to use when spring comes around again in a few months.
Terra cotta clay pots are my choice when it comes to patio decor. They breathe well, help to keep the soil moist but not soggy and prevent overheating here in our NC summers. I also love the natural look of them. There is nothing quite like a basic clay pot for planting drought resistant succulents and cacti plants. But clay pots can look tired and worn by the end of the gardening season and often need a good dose of TLC to get them in good shape for next year.
The reason that this job is so necessary is the clay itself. Clay pots absorb minerals from the soil itself, and also absorb chemicals from any fertilizer you might use. They need to be cleaned and sterilized at the end of each season to keep from spreading these absorbed particles to new plants and to rid the threat of spreading fungus or mold which can infect new plants and damage the pots themselves.
Cleaning clay pots is easier than you might think when you see the messy pots in the fall. It really doesn’t take much time to give a new lease of life to your crusty old terracotta pots. Why spend money on new terracotta pots when you can save yourself tons of money with just a little elbow grease?
Scrub away the dirt. Then simply remove as much of the remaining soil as you can with a stiff scrubbing brush. Rinse both the pot and the scrubber with water. (don’t use soap. They can leave a residue that is hard to remove.) Next, use the same scrubbing brush and brush the outside of the pot, removing as much of the crusty gunk as you can.
Vinegar helps to disinfect. The next step uses my trusty friend vinegar. Soak the pots in a water/vinegar solution for 20-30 minutes. The solution should be 1 cup of 5% acidic white vinegar to 3-4 cups of water.
Baking soda neutralizes stubbon salt marks. Check the pots after about 20 minutes. If the buildup is gone, the pots are finished. If there is still residue, just leave them a bit longer. For particularly stubborn salt marks, use a paste made from baking soda and water. Just use enough water so that the mixture resembles the consistency of hand lotion. Spread this paste over the build up, let it sit for a few more minutes, and use the scrubbing brush to gently scrub it away. The baking soda neutralizes the salts so that they come off easily.
For an extra cleaning use the dishwasher. Once the pots are cleaned, you can run them through the dishwasher, if you want. This will give the pots an extra dose of disinfecting.
Store the pots away from the elements. Store the pots away from the elements and next spring you will have clean and lovely clay pots to replant your favorite new friends! If you leave the pots out where the rain and snow will get to them, they will just get crusty and dirty again. Give them some time indoors in a covered shed or lean to where the weather can’t reach them.
Bleach and Water also works! Another way to clean the crusty clay pots is to use a bleach and water solution. 1/4 cup of bleach to 5 gallons of water is the mix. Let the pots soak for about 30 minutes. This video from YouTube shows how to clean the clay pots with this method and also with the baking soda method.
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