Cleaning Your Summer Pots

Published July 19, 2012

As the summer winds down it’s always a good idea to empty out the soil and plant material from your summer pots. Leaving the old soil in the pot for next year runs the risk of the soil being compacted too tightly to allow the necessary pore space for air. The soil may also harbor harmful leftover contaminants from last year’s fertilizers. Porous pots such as terra cotta must also be properly cared for over the winter months. It is recommended to empty them and clean any leftover residue from the plant and soil. Terra cotta pots (made of baked earth) have been used for thousands of years for roof tiles, pipes, bricks and other uses.

There are many ways to clean your summer pots. One method is to bake the terra cotta pot in an oven at 220 deg Fahrenheit for 45 min to 1 hour. The baking process should kill anything inside and outside of the container. Be warned however that this method can produce an unpleasant odor and is only recommended for small terra cotta pots. Let the pots cool before you remove them, as they will be extremely hot.

Another easier method is to soak them in a large sink or tub with one part bleach and 10 parts water. After an hour or two remove the pots and scrub the insides out with a small brush ensuring all debris is removed. Let dry. Wipe the outside of the pot with a clean, dry cloth. Over the winter months, store your pots in a dry and protected area. In this way any moisture caught in the pores of the pot will dry out and not freeze. If the moisture is allowed to freeze the pot may crack and chip over time.

Sometimes the salts in the fertilizers pass through the porous terra cotta walls and accumulate on the outside creating a hard white crust. This may be removed by making a paste of baking soda and scrubbing with a soft brush.

There are other eco-friendly and natural alternatives to cleaning your pots as well. Hydrogen peroxide works well as do the new environmentally friendly cleaners. Ask at your local hardware and nurseries as to what they may provide as a natural alternative to the more potent, chemical cleaners on the market.