There have been years in mid-Missouri that I have planted my first pots by the end of February. With the warm weather we have had, I am dreaming of pots— lots of pots— full of flowers, vegetables and grasses.
If you procrastinated last fall and put your clay pots away without cleaning them, you will have to do that now. If you are like me perhaps many of your pots are still sitting in the yard collecting mineral deposits and other debris that can host disease. If so, you’ll need to clean and disinfect all your pots before repotting them this spring.
To get started, empty out the dirt into your compost pile, hose the pots off and then soak them in a solution of bleach and water. Ten parts water to one part bleach for at least 10 minutes is a good solution. Then dip them in soapy water and use a wire brush to scrub off the mineral deposits. Rinse and let dry. If you want to seal them this would be a good time to do that, but wait until they are dry.
Plastic pots should also be disinfected in the same manner.
Selecting pots is an important part of planting where there is no earth, or where the earth is unfit to plant. I’ll leave the selection of style and visual appeal to your own good taste, but we do need to consider size, quality and weight.
Size is important visually, but consider that in July and August, small pots will dry out so rapidly they may need to be watered twice a day.
For outdoor pots, I believe that a 15-inch rim is the minimum. It is very rare that I come home from purchasing a pot, plant it and then think, “Rats, it’s too big.” If I think at the store that a pot is about the right size I know I need to buy the next larger one to be correct. Once it is home and in the landscape it seems to diminish.
Terra cotta is a wonderful medium, but it is heavy especially after planted and watered. High-fired terra cotta from Italy or England is usually most durable. You can tell the quality by its smooth surface and heavy weight. There should be a ping when it is tapped on the side. There are many low-fired pots on the market now from Mexico and southeast Asia, but they are not as durable. They are not designed for our harsh winters and will have to be protected or the terra cotta will flake. I read another garden columnist who weatherproofs cheaper pots by painting tar on the inside and a clear sealer on the outside. Might be worth a try.
A customer once came into the garden center, where I worked, and asked for a recommendation of a plant that could tolerate a southern exposure in a black metal pot. I recommended something already dead. If you cook the roots the plant won’t survive. A black metal pot should be situated in a lot of shade.
I love cement pots, but be prepared to pay for them and don’t plan to move them about the garden. Consider them a permanent fixture and long-term investment.
A newer material that can look like cast iron or cement is a hard foam material called Thermo-Lite. It is excellent for portability as it is light weight with the look of something much heavier. It holds up well to the elements. The price is about the same as a terra cotta pot of the same size.
Hypertufa is also something that looks hefty but is much lighter. It is a mixture of Portland cement, perlite and peat moss. These make beautiful troughs and low-sided planters.
So get your pots ready. It is almost time to put out pansies, ornamental cabbage and other cool weather flowers and vegetables. My spinach crop is going in a barrel this year, close to my front door. I can hardly wait for spinach and strawberry salad with shaved almonds and raspberry vinaigrette.
Tammy Bush is a retired pediatric nurse. She is a full-time mom and wife and dreams of living on a farm. She can be reached at email@example.com.