Anyone with an interest in gardening probably has a collection of pots hidden away in a corner somewhere, gathering cobwebs and creepy crawlies, waiting to be brought out into the sunshine again. But sometimes they are small – too small for cuttings and barely big enough to plant a seed in. But if you are interested, there are some ‘crafty’ ways to use them and add some colour to your garden in unexpected ways.

First of all, they need to be thoroughly cleaned, no matter what size, and very often old clay pots get pretty unsightly and crusty looking, which is due to salts and chemicals from water and any fertilisers used, and it will build up and create a crusty or chalky white residue. Brush off any old soil first, then soak the pots in a solution of 1 cup of white vinegar for every 3-4 cups of water for 20-30 minutes. The less vinegar you use in the water, the longer you’ll need to soak them. You might hear sizzling sounds and see bubbles – it’s just the crusty stuff dissolving and the pot absorbing the liquid. Then put some protective gloves on and give the pots a scrub if necessary, rinse, and leave out in the sun to dry.

To disinfect pots, especially if you are going to use them again for plants or seeds, soak them in a solution containing one part household bleach to 9 parts water for a minimum of 10 minutes. Then put pots in a dish detergent and water solution, and use steel wool or a wire-bristle brush to remove mineral deposits and other debris. As the clay will absorb the bleach, ensure they are well rinsed and dried before using them again.

Even plastic pots should be cleaned, but they won’t need soaking. Brush off the loose stuff, then clean the plastic planter with a mixture of antibacterial dish soap and warm water, and give them a good scrub inside and out. The dirt harbours bacteria, so brushing to remove any traces of soil isn’t always enough.

Now you should have your pots as good as new and you can start being crafty. I had a look on the internet and there are loads of ideas to pick from, too many to detail here, so if you are interested, go and have a look, but two or three caught my eye.

How about using clay pots to make your own citronella candles for keeping the mosquitoes away? Decorate your pots on the outside first, even someone with no artistic talent (like me!) could probably paint a flower, or bees or a pattern of some sort– use acrylic paint, (you can buy it in small tubes from most Chinese stores) and use a sealant spray or paint once you are happy with your design.

Or you can spray maybe three of the same size with metallic paint, and maybe add an oblong tray sprayed the same colour, or a contrast perhaps in your kitchen colours, and add some herbs to make an attractive herb kitchen for a windowsill.

I saw a cute lighthouse made from 3 or 4 clay upturned pots, largest for the base, smallest for the top, painted white with blue or red banding, and topped with a small solar light that looked like something even I could manage.

To help prevent future pots from getting that stained and ‘crusty’ look, it’s recommended to use rainwater to water your plants rather than tap water if you can. Also, try to avoid the chemical fertilizers and use an organic fertilizer instead, or try an organic compost solution. Using rainwater and organic fertilizers is much healthier for your plants anyway (and better for the environment too) and will help to keep your beautiful terracotta pots clean much longer, but in Portugal fresh rainwater tends to be seasonal, and as water is water, your plants probably won’t be too fussy!