We all now that reddish-orange ‘wall’ in the garden center that overwhelms the prettier pots selection in terms of price and availability, but why do we have this outstanding potting material as the go-to for any growing needs we might have?

Terracotta has an enduring popularity that has lasted near millennial long. It has been used to build the Roman irrigation systems, roof tiles, and even art which we can see lasts thousands of years, making terracotta the clay that outshines them all. This seems to stem largely from the sheer volume that can be found throughout the world. Terracotta can be found almost anywhere in the world and is the most common type of soil on each continent. This plentifulness is then paired with its affordable nature and ease of workability, making a clay that makes the most sense with which to do many different types of projects. Terracotta is found to be quite malleable and has a lower temperature to fire, rather than many other clay types.

Tips for picking out a good pot

You will want to use your ears when picking out a new pot to take home. You will also want to forget any preconceived notions you might have on it being a fragile thing. High quality terracotta has shown itself to be long lasting and hardy as the famous Terracotta Warriors show as well as those many ancient pots that are found by archeologists. Much of today’s terracotta though has been massed-produced and cheaply made, bringing down that quality to what we have come to expect today. Therefore, to ensure a better quality one is going home with you, will want to keep an eye on these key elements.

  • Where was it made: for the best, look for Made in Italy.
  • Turn the pot upside down on a flat surface and see if it’s level.
  • While it’s upside down, place your finger over the drainage hole and tap the rim of the pot with a metal object like a spoon. Good quality will have a nice ringing sound, poor quality will thud.
  • It is ok if it is not the traditonal reddish-orange color we all know; feel free to paint it as it won’t change the quality.

Knowing how to use all of its qualities

As most of us have learned when watering our plants in terracotta pots, this is a very porous clay, which can be your friend when used right. One of the ways this can be your friend is because many folks tend to be a little heavy-handed when it comes to watering their plants. Terracotta helps with this issue as it allows the soil to dry out quicker. They also have pre-drilled drainage holes so that your plants won’t just sit in a pool of water. This will mean though, that you will need to water your plants a little more frequently to meet its needs. Remember, just keep an eye out for each of your unique plant’s signs of needing some more water and try to stick to a schedule.

Making sure you are using the right size pot for the plant is also a large factor in terracotta pots’ successes and being an ideal choice to grow in. Terracotta pots have one of the biggest size selections you could ever hope for making it a great way to help establish good growth for your plants. When making your selection some key points are:

  • Get a pot slightly larger than the plant needs.
  • Having a bit more soil volume will cut down on your watering needs.
  • Size up about 1″ bigger then you normally would.

Preping to plant in terracotta

While it might seem that you can just plunk that new or transferred plant down in the pot and call it good, there are two simple steps you might want to follow to ensure that your new greenery can stay in the best shape.

  • 1) Start by soaking the pot so that if you put in moist soil, the pot doesn’t immediatley dry it out. For this, you will want to fill a sink or bucket with water and leave the terracotta pot in there overnight or for 24 hours.
  • 2) There has been the long-standing advice to put either rocks or a broken piece of pot over the drainage hole so that you don’t lose your soil. A better option might be though to use a coffee filter, which will not only keep your soil in, but also slow down the water daining out. Again though, make sure the coffee filter and the pot are soaked before adding soil.

Dealing with the saucer

Terracotta pots are very porous meaning terracotta saucers are just as porous which can leave unsightly issues when growing inside or on a nice deck. They also have been know to scuff the surface they are on leaving many to shy away from them in the future. A few suggestions to deal with these drawbacks are:

  • Cover the inside of the saucer with a lining like foil.
  • Dip the bottom of the pot and/or saucer in melted wax and allow it to dry.
  • Place it all onto a cork mat.
  • Utilize decorative trivets under the saucer.
  • Purchase plastic drip trays to put the pot and saucer in.
  • Use a sealed clay saucer.

Questions about that dried powder

The white or green patina is normal, let’s start there. We have all seen our new terracotta pots start to develop that white, crusty film on the outside as we water and grow in them. This is due to the minerals and salts in your water and fertilizers being filtered out by the clay of the pot. You can minimize this by using rainwater or distilled water. Some folks even like to age their pots on purpose by putting a thin coat of yogurt on them and letting it sit in the sun for awhile.

If you are wanting to clean it though and give your pots a fresh look, here are the steps to getting it back to its original orangish glow:

  • 1) Remove the plant and potting soil, letting the pot completely dry out.
  • 2) Utlizing a stiff-bristled brush, scrub out as much dried dirt as possible.
  • 3) Soak the pots in a vinegar and water solution or water with a few drops of dish soap.
  • 4) Let it soak overnight.
  • 5) Give a good scrubbing with a brush or scouring pad.
  • 6) Rinse the pot
  • 7) Let the pots air dry

If the pot will have different plant, or your previous one had any kind of pest or disease, make sure you disinfect the pot with a mild bleach and water solution for no longer than an hour.


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