To terracotta pot or not to terracotta pot, that truly is the question plagued by many houseplant owners at one point or another.
Terracotta, literally translated in Italian means “cooked Earth,” is a glazed or unglazed clay that is shaped, dried, and then fired for its final structure. This very common and ancient medium that can be traced back to 26,000 – 24,000 BCE (with the Venus of Dolni Vestonice sculpture), definitely has numerous advantages and some very notable disadvantages to consider.
It is important to note that the advantages and disadvantages below are what is generically discussed, however, it is absolutely relative! What can be considered a disadvantage to one can be an advantage for another. But no fear!
Here we will discuss it all and provide as much knowledge so that you can decide whether using terracotta pots for your houseplants is right for you!
– Terracotta Pot Advantages –
1.) The porous nature of the terracotta pot pulls minerals from the water that may not be beneficial to the plant.
2.) This same porous nature also provides one of the most important factors for healthy plant growth: air circulation/soil aeration for healthy strong roots!
3.) Absorbent by nature, the terracotta will help over waterers (Guilty! And I wouldn’t say we are over waterers, maybe over carers haha) because it drinks up extra water which will prevent root rot. This means you won’t have to be concerned about easily overwatering your plants as it is quite difficult too in a terracotta pot.
4.) Terracotta pots can be used indoor and outdoors. This is helpful if you frequent putting your plants outside during warmer months and back inside during colder months. *Remember to presoak your pot to avoid cracks when moving from indoors to outdoors and vice versa. More on presoaking in the tips section below.
5.) The thick walls of the terracotta pots offer insulation for the plant from temperature changes.
6.) When used indoors during colder months, it helps plants in dormancy. When a plant goes into dormancy, the process of absorbing water from the soil is much slower. This is when it is imperative to pull back in our watering schedule because of the higher probability of the dreaded root rot. The terracotta assists the plants with this as it absorbs water from the soil so the soil can dry quicker and prevent root rot.
7.) Plain terracotta pots are also generally inexpensive! Always a win!
8.) One of the most important factors for Explorganics is that fact it is reusable. Yay for the environment!
9.) The pot will give you a better idea on whether it is time to water or not. When terracotta is moist and darker in color, moisture is still present in the soil. It means it is not just yet time to water. If it is brighter in color and dry, it is time for watering.
10.) Patina – Now this one is a bit controversial as some consider it an advantage and others a disadvantage so I will list it in both for their respective reasons. Patina is the white cast that appears on the terracotta as it ages because of the absorption of minerals in the water/fertilizer. As an advantage, this white cast provides the pot with a stunning, aged look that for some is consider beautiful!
– Terracotta Pot Disadvantages –
1.) The look of the terracotta pots isn’t for everyone. Though the pots can come in a few colors, it isn’t as variable as other pot designs. Yes, you can paint the pot, however, to avoid the toxicity of paint ingredients to go into the pot, you will have to seal (make sure you are using proper sealing for plants). Keep in mind that sealing it no longer makes the pot absorbent.
2.) Plants that prefer moist conditions may need to be watered more frequently in terracotta pots or may not even be well suited all together for this pot.
3.) They are more fragile than let’s say plastic nursery pots. A bit more care is needed to avoid cracking or breaking them, especially if you bring your plants in and out of your house during seasons.
4.) Terracotta pots are very porous so the watering needs of your plant may increase more than you are used to, especially smaller pots. You will have to keep in mind to check and water more frequently until you get used to the new watering schedule with the terracotta pot.
5.) Watch out where you place your terracotta pots and terracotta saucer because the water retention of the terracotta can damage wooden furniture. *There is a tip for this in the tip section below!
6.) Patina – We know from above that patina is the white cast that appears on the pot due to mineral build up. The actual patina isn’t in the disadvantage side but the concept of having to clean the pot is. Even if you like the look of patina, at one point you will have to clean excess build up from these pots and it is more of a process than let’s say a regular plastic nursery pot. But good news! We have a whole cleaning section next!
– How to Clean Your Terracotta Pot –
The reason for cleaning the terracotta pot is to keep fungus and algae from growing on the pot. The pores that the clay naturally has can house these and pass them onto the plants. Also, if the build up around the pot gets to be too much, a cleanup may be necessary. But do not worry! I will demystify cleaning the terracotta pot here and once you know what to do and how, it will become easy and second nature!
1.) Allow your plant to dry out so that the soil is more compacted and easier to remove from the pot. Place your plant in a temporary pot or a plant mat.
2.) Use a flower pot bristle brush or some bristle (that you will strictly use for your plants) to remove all possible dirt and loose mineral build up from the terracotta pot.
3.) Next, to clean the pot of the rest of the mineral build up, mix 1:3 parts vinegar to water. Soak the entire pot in this solution for 20-30 minutes and most of the residue should now be easier to scrub off.
4.) If you have some particularly stubborn buildup, you can mix baking soda and water to make a paste (like hand lotion consistency) and apply this paste to the stubborn build up. Allow this to sit for 5 – 10 minutes and then scrub off the paste and remaining build up.
5.) Now, there are various methods to disinfect such as using the oven or using the dishwasher, however, at Explorganics we do not recommend using anything we use for our food/plates to also clean our plant pots to avoid cross contamination.
You can also use bleach, however, we do not recommend such harsh chemicals. For this reason, vinegar is our best friend and comes into play again. Mix a 1:1 part vinegar and water solution and immerse the entire pot inside the solution. After three to four hours, remove the pot from the solution and voila, a disinfected pot. Now you can rinse the pot in water and then just let it dry.
6.) Finally, put your plant back in its cleaned and disinfected home.
– Tips When Using Terracotta Pots –
>> Do not forget to presoak your brand new terracotta in distilled water for about 24 hours or overnight prior to using it. By doing this you are conditioning your pot which helps so that it doesn’t wick away so much moisture from your plant.
Terracotta already dries pretty quickly, therefore, not conditioning it can make the pot even more moisture wicking. Conditioning your pot also assists with preventing it from cracking due to temperature changes.
>> To protect your furniture, use a glazed on the inside terracotta saucer, a plastic saucer or even place a plastic saucer in between the terracotta pot and terracotta saucer. This way the saucer won’t absorb water and damage your wooden furniture.
>> This tip is if you wish to lessen (you cannot completely prevent it from occurring) the patina that is forming on your pot. If you avoid tap water when watering your plants, and use organic fertilizer instead of chemical, you will reduce the amount of patina forming.
Distilled water and organic fertilizers will generally provide less mineral and salt buildup on the pot. Now remember this won’t completely take away the platina but can assist in decreasing the amount.
– Conclusion –
Terracotta pots are like a little piece of history in our home! With the advantages, disadvantages, cleaning process, and tips provided in this blog, now it is up to you to decide if this little ancient wonder is right for you or if better to admire from afar.
Never forget that if you couldn’t help but fall in LOVE with a particular terracotta pot at Explorganics, but are not ready for the change, you can simply keep your plant in its nursery pot and put it inside a terracotta pot to use as a decorative pot. You can keep your plant this way until you are ready to make the change or even permanently. Hooray for options!