As warmer weather approaches many of us are digging out previously used plant containers for use again this gardening season. Whether the pot is clay or plastic, mineral deposits and other debris can accumulate that may harbor disease organisms and cause problems for your plants. It is important to clean and disinfect old pots each time you use them. Mineral salts can be both unsightly and damaging to plants. The salts leach through clay pots forming a white film on the outside of the pot creating an unsightly container by some gardeners standards. Salts can also accumulate around the rims of both clay and plastic containers. Salt deposits on container rims can dehydrate plant stems resting there.
To disinfect pots, 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. To clean clay pots use steel wool or a wire-bristle brush to remove mineral deposits and other debris. If mineral deposits remain, use a knife to scrape them off. Rinse pots thoroughly and soak them in a bucket of clean water until you are ready to use them. Dry clay pots can wick moisture away from the potting medium dehydrating newly potted plants. Plastic pots are easier to clean requiring only a scouring pad. Mineral salts remaining can be scraped away with a knife. Smooth any rough edges with steel wool. Rinse the pot and it is ready for reuse.
Proper cleaning and disinfecting of pots requires just a minimum amount of effort, yet can mean the difference between the success or failure of containerized plants. Take those extra few minutes to assure success.
This article originally appeared in the March 16, 1994 issue, pp. , 1994 issue, pp. 23-24.