Cleaning Used Flower Pots: How To Clean A Container

Cleaning Used Flower Pots: How To Clean A Container

By: Anne Baley

If you’ve accumulated a large collection of used flower pots and planters, you’re probably thinking about reusing them for your next batch of container gardening. This is a great way to be frugal while still keeping up a lush and varied plant collection, but reusing containers can be a problem unless you clean them. Let’s take a look at washing pots before planting so you can grow healthy plants.

Importance of Garden Pot Cleaning

So why is it so important to clean containers for the garden? Soil builds up salts that can damage plants, and these salts get deposited on the inside of planters. In addition, any diseases your plants may have carried last season can get transferred to your new plants. The solution is cleaning used flower pots before using them again. Garden pot cleaning only takes a few minutes, but it can keep your plants healthy and productive.

How to Clean a Container

The best way to clean containers is outside in the spring before planting, or in the fall after you discard dead and dying plants. Washing pots before planting has the added bonus of moistening terra cotta, which helps to keep soil from drying out during the first crucial day of transplanting.

Garden pot cleaning begins with physically removing any dirt that clings to the inside and outside of the containers. Use a stiff scrub brush and clear water. If stubborn salt deposits stick and don’t come off with the brush, try scraping them off with an old butter knife.

Once the pots are clean, make up a large container filled with a 10 percent bleach solution. Use one part unscented household bleach and nine parts water, filling a container large enough to hold all the pots. Submerge the pots and let them soak for 10 minutes. This will kill off any disease organisms that might be lingering on the surface.

Rinse off plastic pots to remove any residual bleach and allow them to air dry in the sun. If you have terra cotta pots, submerge them in a container filled with clear water and allow them to soak for an additional 10 minutes to remove the bleach from the pores of the material. Air dry these as well.

Knowing how to clean a container can preserve the health of your seedlings and will give your container garden a new and fresh start to the season. Make a habit of cleaning every pot as soon as it’s emptied to reduce the possibility of diseases being transferred from one group of pots to another.

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How to Wash & Disinfect Plant Containers

Before you reuse, make sure you clean your containers.

Those plastic plant containers typically discarded after planting are great for reusing for seedlings or new plant starts. And ceramic or terra cotta containers are often reused season to season. Your old plant pots and containers are perfect for using time and time again. But did you know that you’re supposed to wash and disinfect the containers before reusing or replanting? Leftover soil and debris can harbor harmful bacteria that can infect otherwise healthy plant. So follow these steps to ensure your next plants stay healthy.

Why you need to wash plant containers

No matter what type of pot or container you have, when you remove a plant the leftover soil, debris or bits of plant material can actually harbor bacteria. Additionally, soil and organic material contain salts, which can build up on your pots and cause discoloration (that whitish cast on your terra cotta pots are actually from salt). Giving your pots and containers a good cleaning at the end of the season, and storing them properly over the winter, will make your spring planting that much easier.

Materials needed

  • pots and containers
  • scrub brush
  • large plastic container or washtub
  • bleach
  • water
  • plastic gloves
  • goggles for eye protection
  • newspaper

Step 1: Empty the pots

If your plants have come to the end of their season, go ahead and empty the container into your compost bin. Instead of composting in a bin, some gardeners reserve a section of their yard for dead or decomposing plants. As long as the plants were healthy, there’s no reason you can’t simply let nature take its course and decompose the organic material. If there is a good amount of healthy potting soil, go ahead and save this in a lidded container for reuse later.

Step 2: Scrub off the dirt

With your dry scrub brush, remove any additional dirt from the containers. You can do this over some newspaper and then transfer it to your compost bin or do this directly over your yard. Some gardeners actually use an old toothbrush to reach small corners. Removing as much dirt as possible will make the next step easier.

Step 3: Wash and sanitize

Once the pots and containers are empty of soil, you’re ready to disinfect them. If you plan on storing your pots outside for the winter, skip this step until the spring, right before replanting. But if you plan on storing your containers inside, then you can sanitize now. Fill your wash bin with 10 parts water and 1 part chlorinated bleach. Wear protective gloves and goggles in case of splashing. Use your scrub brush and thoroughly wash the inside and out of your containers and pots. Feel free to change the water if it becomes really dirty. Let the pots sit for 10 minutes in the bleach water. If you are disinfecting terra cotta pots, let them sit in clean water (with no bleach) for an additional 10 minutes (terra cotta is porous so you’ll want to rinse out this type of material). Let the containers air dry outside.

How to store your containers

Once dry, plastic containers can be stacked and stored indoors for the winter. They are perfect for starting seedlings in the spring. Ceramic and terra cotta pots can crack easily so try to not stack them if you can. If you need to save room, pad your containers with newspaper so they don’t bump and chip.

Need more weekend project ideas? Look through our monthly maintenance guides for ideas, tips and projects.

Evaluate Your Light

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

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People often wildly overestimate how much sun their containers get. While you can find a great plant for almost any amount of light, you have to know how much light your container will get before you choose your plants.

To figure out how much direct light your container will get, place it where you want it and then time how long the sun hits it. You can also use a sun calculator to determine your sunlight.

4 Household Cleaning Solutions for a Garden Water Fountain

If you have an outdoor garden fountain, you have probably realized that keeping it clean can be a real issue. Here are four easy cleaning solutions using items most people have lying around the house.

1. Scrubbing Pad

If your outdoor fountain happens to be slate, cleaning it will be as simple as draining it and scrubbing it with a soap pad like you would use on metal pots and pans. This will loosen dirt, algae, and hard water buildup and leave your fountain sparkling clean. Be sure to rinse away any soap residue when you are finished scrubbing or it could end up creating foam in the water when your fountain is refilled.

2. Pressure Washer

One of the easiest ways to clean your water fountain isn't a cleaning solution at all but a cleaning device. Rent or use your own pressure washer with a fan tip to strip away stains, mildew, mold, and hard water. Remove the pump as well and give it a cleaning in a bucket of warm water with a tiny bit of dish soap. Fill your fountain again and you'll be all set for another year of summer gardening.

3. White Vinegar and Water

If you don't have access to a pressure washer then try a white vinegar and water cleaner. Empty the fountain and remove the pump and drain it. Mix one half cup of white vinegar to one gallon of warm water. Then, using a nylon scrubber, scrub down the entire fountain. If you have stubborn stains or hard water buildup you may need to use pure vinegar and a bit of elbow grease. Rinse well with clean water, fill, and you are finished.

4. Bleach and Water

Another good cleaning solution for an outdoor fountain is two tablespoons of bleach in a gallon of water. Use this like you would with the vinegar solution above. Again, if you have resistant spots, use it full strength if you need to. Be sure to rinse very thoroughly after you’ve finished, as bleach and chlorine can be harmful to pets and wildlife that may drink from the fountain. Clean the pump with the same solution and rinse thoroughly. Refill and you're finished.

Other Helpful Hints

If at all possible, don't allow your fountain to become dirty to the point of needing these cleaning solutions. Keep leaves, flower petals, bird feathers, and twigs out of the water as best you can. Dump and refill the fountain every day or at least every other day to keep the water fresh. If you aren’t using chemical additives in the water, you can even recycle when it comes time to drain the fountain by using the old water on plants in your garden.

Keep the fountain full enough that the pump is totally submerged so it will work properly and keep the water flowing. In winter, drain the water, take the pump indoors, and cover the fountain to prevent moisture from collecting and freezing and thawing. This can make the bowl crack if it’s made from concrete or limestone.

If mosquitoes are a problem in your area, you can buy a small tablet called a mosquito dunk to put in your water fountain that will kill mosquito larvae and keep it from hatching. These dunks are harmless to birds but be sure your pets can't get to them and eat them or drink the water. Keeping your fountain clean will also help to prevent mosquito infestation. Mosquitoes hatching in backyard fountains can create a huge population in a short amount of time and ruin your summer fun, so follow these tips and enjoy your garden all season.

Soil Scoop

Marie iannotti

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This is a bit of a no-brainer. Very often the only thing handy when you are filling pots is the container you just took the plant out of. How nice that it makes the perfect potting soil scoop. Thin, rigid edges make for the best scoopers.

Use Hanging Baskets

Try planting hanging baskets with lettuce, salad greens, or herbs. It is unusual, fun, and tasty. The only downside is that once you cut some of the lettuce, the basket can look a little funky. One way around this is to keep seedlings always sprouting to replace what you've eaten.

Also, coir dries out incredibly quickly—on a windy day, a warm breeze can suck the moisture right out of your soil. To combat this, line coir baskets with plastic and check them once a day, sometimes twice to see if they need watering. It's also a good idea to give a basket like this some shade mid-day if you live somewhere hot.

Watch the video: 6 Ingenious Ways to Reuse Your Plant Pots