You pay plenty of attention to your kitchen, to your bathroom, and to the laundry when it comes to cleaning. You have excellent hygiene – except, of course, when it comes to your gardening supplies.
That’s right – did you know that garden pots have to be sanitized and cleaned on a regular basis? It doesn’t matter whether you are growing in plastic, ceramic, or terracotta containers. All garden pots have to be cleaned on a regular basis to prevent the spread of disease.
Here are some tips on how to clean garden pots quickly and easily.
Why Do Garden Pots Need to Be Cleaned?
A lot of people assume that their garden pots don’t need to be cleaned because they’re just going to get dirty again.
That’s true, of course – but following that logic, you’d never clean anything else in your house, either!
Gardening pots are vectors for pests and diseases, which is why it’s so important to keep them clean. In fact, containers can often harbor pests, bacteria, fungi, and minerals that can harm your plants before they even have a chance to start growing in a healthy manner.
While containers often make gardening a lot simpler and easier, they can also make your plants more vulnerable. The plants won’t be able to draw from their natural environment in a crisis, so they’ll need the most favorable environment possible when they are just getting started.
Plus, when you clean your gardening pots before putting them into storage, you’ll eliminate the amount of mess you have to bring into your house. You won’t have to worry about “storing” any pests or diseases in your house over the winter!
Finally, cleaning your garden pots just makes them look nice! After a long growing season in which your plants’ containers sat and baked in the sun and were exposed to the weather, fertilizers, and other chemicals you may have used, they need a bit of TLC.
You spend a lot of time making sure your flowers and vegetables look nice – so why ruin that aesthetic with dull, dirty pots?
When is the Best Time to Clean My Gardening Pots?
You can clean your pots in the spring, before planting, or in the fall, after you have discarded any plants that are dead or dying.
Washing pots in the spring is especially beneficial for terra cotta containers. These tend to get dried out quickly, so moistening the pots through the act of cleaning them can prevent the soil from drying out when you transplant.
What Kinds of Gardening Pots Need to Be Cleaned?
Any gardening pot that you plan to reuse should be cleaned. This includes decorative planters, like terracotta pots, as well as plastic containers you used for seedlings or transplants like these:
How to Clean Garden Pots, Step by Step
Step 1. Begin by inspecting your containers carefully. Get rid of any that are cracked, torn, or otherwise damaged:
There’s no point washing containers that you aren’t going to use next year.
Step 2. Take a stiff brush to remove all the dried soil and debris inside the pot. You can do this over the sink, but I recommend doing it outside so you don’t make a total mess of your sink.
You may want to wear some protective clothing while you’re washing your plant containers, especially if you plan on using bleach.
One good option is gloves, which can prevent your exposure to bleach as well as bacteria and fungi that might be on the containers.
If you’re using bleach, you might also want to wear goggles to protect your eyes from fumes and backsplash.
Step 3. Head to the sink and fill it with warm water and dish soap. Add a cup of vinegar. Some people use bleach.
This is a good option if you know the plants that grew inside the container were infested with a certain pest or disease, but otherwise, I don’t think harmful chemicals are necessary. Vinegar should do the trick.
Step 4. Let the containers soak in the sink for about ten to fifteen minutes. If there’s any harsh, stuck-on debris, you may have to scrub it off with a stiff brush.
Don’t want to get your sink dirty? Giving the pots the initial scrub-down outside can help minimize the amount of dirt you leave in your sink. You can also complete the rinsing step outside, with a garden hose and a bucket.
If you are washing the pots in the sink, try to get as little dirt down the drain as possible. This can clog your drain and garbage disposal, too, if you have one, especially if there were bits of large debris or rocks in the soil.
If you use bleach to clean your containers, make sure you are super through in removing the residual bleach. You don’t want to leave it in the container, where it can kill your seedlings.
Step 5. Either way, rinse thoroughly:
Even if you don’t use bleach, I recommend rinsing at least twice with clean, cool water to remove any residues or remaining dirt.
Step 6. Once your pots are thoroughly rinsed, you will want to set them outside to dry. If the weather is cold (like if you’re cleaning the pots at the end of the planting season, in the fall, instead of before you plant, in the spring) you can also dry the pots inside on a towel.
Here’s a tip for drying your pots! Put a cookie cooling rack across your sink. Stack your disinfected pots on the rack. The extra water will drip right down into the sink. Easy peasy!
No matter how you choose to dry, know that it is essential! Failing to properly dry your containers can make your problems even worse. Moisture encourages the development of bacteria, fungi, and mildew. Let things dry before you use them!
Sometimes, Extra Sterilizing Is Necessary
If your pots were super dirty or you know they harbored pests or diseases, you may want to take some extra steps to sterilize them.
This can be done with bleach. As mentioned above, you’ll just soak the containers in one part household bleach to nine parts of water. Then, rinse and soak them in clear water to get rid of remaining bleach residue.
If you’re using terracotta pots, you have one more option when it comes to sterilizing your containers (do not do this with plastic!): you can sterilize them in the oven.
Start by preheating your oven to 220 degrees Fahrenheit (104 Celsius). Put your terracotta pots on a baking sheet and put it into the oven for an hour.
After your timer goes off for one hour, leave the pots in the oven. Turn the oven off. Let the pots cool completely before you remove them.
This last step is important. Remove the pots too early, and you could not only burn yourself, but also damage the pots. They’ll crack when exposed suddenly to the cool air.
If you’re going to sanitize plant pots in the oven, I recommend still washing them as you would before to get all the dirt off first.
Can You Sanitize Pots in a Dishwasher?
Some gardeners may wonder if you can wash your planting containers in the dishwasher.
In most cases, sturdy plastic plant pots can be placed in the dishwasher and allowed to go through a normal cycle to sterilize them.
You can also do the same with terra-cotta pots and saucers. I would avoid using the dishwasher for containers that are damaged in any way, or those that are particularly fragile.
If you do this, you should also dedicate the entire dishwasher loud just to planting pots – I wouldn’t mix in household dishes! Use a light detergent and the gentlest cycle possible to wash your pots. Don’t use the drying cycle but instead, let them dry on their own.
Don’t Be Afraid of Mineral Buildup
On some types of containers, like terra cotta pots, you might notice a white residue. Don’t stress about this – it’s just a buildup of minerals left behind from hard water or even fertilizers. It won’t harm your plants, even on the inside.
If you want to get rid of it because you don’t like how it looks, it should come off when you scrub the container with a stiff brush.
If there are super-stubborn salt deposits in your container you can use a butter knife to scrape them away.
Store Pots Correctly
Once your containers are clean, it’s time to store them (if you’re cleaning in the fall, that is). You will want to store your sterilized pots separately from your dirty pots to prevent the spread of disease.
Keep dirty pots in a sealed plastic bag, like a garbage bag, to prevent germs from spreading until you have time to treat the dirty containers.
When all of your containers are clean, store them individually (not stacked). Put them in a cool, dryad location to be used next year. As a bonus tip, know that you can also clean seedling trays this way.
There you have it! Everything you need to know about cleaning and sterilizing garden pots. Make sure you take the extra time to clean your containers this year, and you’ll have healthier plants – and a better-looking container garden, too!