All About Terracotta

Terracotta pots are everywhere these days. These popular vessels can be found at just about every plant shop and garden center, and can be used with many styles of decor both indoors and out. And while they give off a distinct desert vibe, they’re not just for cacti anymore.

Italian for “Baked Earth”

Terracotta pots are made from baked clay, resulting in a breathable and relatively lightweight planting vessel. That distinctive red-orange color comes from oxidized iron in the clay, and the overall mineral content determines what color the pot will be. Think sunset shades like red, orange, yellow and pink.

They’re extremely versatile pots, and can be used with a wide variety of plant types and design styles. However, there are a few drawbacks to using terracotta as well. We’ve outlined some positives, negatives, tips and tricks, and styling hacks here so that you can make the most of your terracotta pots.

Positives of Using Terracotta

Breathable Texture

Terracotta is a uniquely useful material for indoor planting because it “breathes.” It allows water and oxygen to pass through the walls of the pot, which dries the soil quicker after watering and can prevent root rot. For those prone to over-watering houseplants, it can be a huge help.

Because they do allow water and air to pass through, terracotta vessels can often get a layer of mineral buildup on the exterior. Some people like that patina, since it gives the pots a vintage or worn look. If you don’t love it, we’ll cover ways to safely remove it below. You can also prevent it by using organic soil and not watering your plants with tap water (which has higher mineral levels).

Budget-Friendly Design

Another positive of planting in terracotta is that it is usually less expensive than other styles of pots. Buying vessels for each and every plant in your collection can add up quickly, so if you don’t want to spend a whole paycheck on pots terracotta is a great solution. 

Terracotta naturally looks great paired with desert plants of any kind. However, it may not fit your specific design style. Luckily that can be easily fixed, since clay pots can be painted or glazed to match any color scheme. You can add colors that match your other pots or decor, or get creative and add a pattern.

Clay pots also come in a huge variety of sizes and shapes. You could stick with the classic style or go bold with a square, lipped, or bowl-shaped terracotta pot. No matter what direction you go, you’ll be able to create a cohesive and beautiful collection of pots without spending too much money.

Drawbacks of Planting in Clay

Terracotta can be Fragile

Unfortunately, one of the big downsides of using terracotta pots is their fragility. Knock one off a ledge, and it’s pretty much toast. They can also crack if used outside in very cold weather. 

On the plus side, as long as you’re careful with your placement and don’t leave your pots outside in the dead of winter, they should last for a long time. And for those who live in warmer climates, leaving them outdoors year-round is perfectly safe.

You’ll Need to Reassess Your Watering Schedule

The breathability of terracotta pots is usually seen as a positive, but it all depends on the type of plant in the pot. While you want quick drying times for desert plants like cacti and succulents (and other plants with low water needs like sansevierias and hoyas), other plants will be happier holding onto water in their soil a bit longer.

Plants like pothos, monsteras, syngoniums and fittonias (to name a few) need to be kept on the wet side to stay happy. While they’ll survive just fine in a terracotta pot, it isn’t ideal and will require watering much more frequently. The additional watering will also create a patina on the pot a lot quicker.

Reusing Terracotta

So you’ve used and loved your terracotta pots, and would like to reuse them for new plants. Like any other pots you can use them again and again, but they should ideally be cleaned between uses.

Cleaning Patina

For those who aren’t super into the patina look, it’s easy enough to remove. You can use dish soap or baking soda with water, along with a coarse scrubbing brush, to gently wash away the mineral buildup. If it doesn’t come off easily, soaking the pot in warm soapy water may help.

Cleaning vs Sanitizing

While a simple wash and scrub might remove any visible patina from the pot, truly sanitizing it takes a bit more effort. While it isn’t always essential to sanitize each and every pot between uses, it’s a smart step to take- especially if the last plant had a pest, a fungus, or was in questionable soil.

To sanitize the pot, soak it in a solution of diluted bleach before scrubbing. Because terracotta is fragile, it’s important to make sure that the bleach is diluted at a ratio of no more than one part bleach to ten parts water. The bleach will kill any remaining traces of bacteria, pests, and fungus that might plague future plants.

Once the pot is cleaned, make sure to rinse off any remaining soap or bleach before allowing it to dry. Then you’re ready to start planting all over again!

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