White residue on the outside of plant pots is due to salts from fertilizer.

Winter Care for Terra Cotta Pots

by Nannette Richford

Terra cotta pots enhance the natural beauty of flowers and herbs, making them a common choice for gardeners who wish to bring attention to the plants themselves. These versatile pots range in size from miniature 1- to 2-inch pots to large pots of 2 feet or more. Although they do weather when exposed to the elements, with proper care and winter protection you can enjoy your terra cotta pots for years.

1. Cleaning and Washing

Preparing your terra cotta pots for winter storage involves emptying them of soil and washing them. Using a stiff brush to remove salt or fertilizer residue that can build up in a crusty line around the rim is the first step. Stubborn stains on the outside of the pot can be removed with a paste of baking soda and water, and scrubbed with a brush or steel wool. This is the time to empty large pots that cannot be moved inside for winter. Remove as much residue as you can. Using a wire brush and a garden hose works well.

2. Disinfecting

Plant pathogens and disease can overwinter in the terra cotta pot if they are not killed before storage. That means soaking your pots in a solution of 1 part household bleach and 10 parts water for 30 minutes. Removing the pots from the water and allowing them to air dry gets them ready for winter storage.

3. Storage

Storing your terra cotta pots in a cool dry place keeps them in good shape during the winter. If room allows, placing them upside down is preferable, as it prevents moisture from collecting in the pot. Avoid stacking pots inside one another as they often stick and may cause the pots to break when spring rolls around and you try to separate them. The garage or workshop is the ideal area for storing your pots.

4. Winterizing Large Pots

Covering and wrapping large terra cotta pots that cannot be moved inside during the winter provides protection from the elements. Once they are emptied, and the soil and plant residue has been removed, cover the top of the pot to prevent water from collecting and freezing inside the pot during the winter. Wrap the entire pot with bubble wrap to protect the outside of the pot. The Washington State University Extension recommends placing large terra cotta pots against a building or fence, and covering them with a tarp during the winter.

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