Container Clean-Up and Care

Container Clean-Up and Care
  • Posted October 14, 2014

Scrub-a-dub-dub, let's clean every flower pot and tub! Proper care and storage of planters is not time consuming, and only needs to be done once a year. Taking the steps outlined below will extend the life and beauty of your window boxes and other decorative containers. Your effort in proper container cleaning are also repaid in the health of future plants grown in the pot, considering it halts damaging mineral deposits and the spread of organisms, such as bacteria or mold, that can cause plant diseases.

At the end of the growing season, clean out all containers by emptying the used soil and plants into the compost. Reusing old soil next year may seem a cost-saving method on the surface. However, any established weeds and existing unhealthy soil conditions ultimately affect the performance, as well as beauty, of future plantings.

Once the containers are empty, the next step is to clean the pots. The following steps may be used to clean plastic, terracotta, wooden, stone, and metal pots.

  1. Use dish soap and warm water to soak and scrub the pot. This will remove surface soil and mineral deposits.
  2. Next, mix a 1:9 ratio solution of bleach to water, which is 1 ½ c bleach with 14 ½ c water, in a bucket large enough to submerge the containers for 10 minutes. This solution may be transferred to spray bottles or back into the empty bleach container for later use. Reuse this solution until the bleach is no longer potent, as indicated by the smell of chlorine being greatly diminished. If submerging the pot is not an option (for example, if it is wooden or too large), spraying the solution on the pot until dripping wet is an alternative method. Note: A 1:3 ratio solution of vinegar to water may be used in place of bleach.
  3. After removing the pots from the bleach solution, rinse them with warm water. Then allow the containers to air dry before storing.
    • If a container is made of wood, this is the time to brush the surface with a plant-safe waterproofing liquid, such as linseed oil, which will extend the life of the container. The inner surface should then be lined with plastic, allowing for drainage holes in the bottom.
  4. The final step, unless reusing the pot immediately, is to store cleaned containers correctly. Take heed not to store clean pots with used pots, otherwise harmful organisms may transfer to the clean containers. Metal and sturdy resin pots may be turned upside-down and stored outside. If space allows, moving all containers to a location protected from the outdoor elements will increase the longevity and maintain the appearance of pots.

The lifetime and beauty of pots is impacted by two main factors: water and temperature. Water has damaging effects on plant pots over time, particularly in climates where freezing occurs. The repeated expansion and contraction of water causes cracking, especially in porous materials such as wood, terracotta or ceramic. Cold temperatures may also damage plastic containers, causing them to become brittle. Following these storage tips will keep containers looking their best.

About the Author

Tamara Horne is an ecologist, a knitter, Garden Communicator (GWA) member, and horticulturist at MasterTag – a horticultural printing company.

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Container Clean-Up and Care

Why Clean your Pots?

  • removes mineral buildup
  • reduces spread of disease
  • can extend the life of the pot
  • allows for resealing of wooden containers
  • helps plantings look fresh and well-cared for