Before the first scoop of potting soil goes into a planter, it’s a good idea for gardeners to sanitize the pots to help avoid any disease issues this growing season.
Casey Hentges, Oklahoma State University Extension associate specialist and host of “Oklahoma Gardening,” said a simple bleach solution, wire brush and bit of elbow grease is all it takes to get the pots ready to plant.
“Pots and containers used last year likely have some residue in them from both the soil and plant materials, but it’s not just about what we can see,” Hentges said. “It’s about what we can’t see. That residue can harbor different bacteria and fungus that can cause potential problems for new plants.”
Some containers, especially clay pots, may also have a buildup of minerals, including salt on the container’s exterior. Hentges recommends giving the plants a good start by scrubbing their pots with a kitchen brush, steel wool or wire brush.
It’s important to remove salt buildup from the pots because it can cause desiccation to plants that trail over the edge of the pot and come into contact with the salt.
Once the pots have been scrubbed, Hentges said gardeners need to sanitize them in a mixture of one part bleach to nine parts water.
“This solution will help kill any bacteria or pathogens that remain on the pots,” she said. “Submerge the pots in the sanitizing solution for about 10 minutes. Be sure to wear protective gloves since you’re working with bleach. An apron will help protect your clothes from any bleach splashes.”
After the pots have soaked, remove them from the bleach solution and rinse well with clean water. Gardeners can add a bit of dish soap to help ensure all of the bleach gets washed off the pots.
If gardeners don’t plan to put new plants in the pots right away, consider leaving them to soak in the clean rinse water until ready to plant. This will keep the pots saturated so when soil and plants are added and watered in, the pot won’t wick away moisture from the plant’s roots.
The leftover bleach mixture can be used to clean and sanitize other garden tools as well as concrete surfaces around the home.
“Gardeners can use this solution to clean any moldy areas on their patio or driveway,” Hentges said. “When that is done, the best way to dispose of the solution is to continue diluting it. Take it away from the landscape and keep adding water until it reaches an unharmful level.”
OSU Extension offers additional gardening and lawncare information.
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