Friday, October 10, 2008

Sanitizing Your Gardening Pots

As I sat in the optometrist's waiting room a week or so ago, I thumbed distractedly through the pages of an Organic Gardening magazine. I came across a very short article on container gardens and began to read through their provided checklist. Imagine my surprise when it was stressed that sanitizing your pots with bleach was a necessary way to prevent diseases from year to year. I should have taken down the issue number, but I didn't. A search on their website quickly yielded up another article recommending the same diluted bleach to clean your pots. Ugh.

Not only is bleach bad for your plants, bad for you, and bad for the environment, it's corrosive and will break down your pots over time. Now, to be fair, household bleach does not contribute to the greenhouse effect or harm the ozone layer. There are all kinds of arguments about how household bleach begins and ends as salt water, and that may be true (though watch carefully in these arguments for things like "90-95% of household bleach breaks down into salt and water." What happens to that other 5-10%?). HOWEVER, this is a chemical I don't even keep in my home for three reasons: Airius, Annie, and The Bean. Whether it begins and ends harmlessly, it is most definitely not harmless while it's sitting in that plastic bottle in your house.

While I'd like to say that it's not necessary to disinfect your pots, that just isn't true. But I'll take my container veggies and herbs without the bleach residue, thank you very much. If you're like me, consider the following disinfecting/sanitizing options sans bleach:

1. When faced with anything calling for bleach, I first try that handy dandy standby: distilled white vinegar. Use a solution of half water, half white vinegar in your sink or other container and soak pots for an hour. This is what I use for all of my pots, especially plastic, but you can use it for glazed and terra cotta pots too. This is a good all purpose solution.

2. I have disinfected my terra cotta pots in the oven set on 220 degrees Farenheit for one hour. This will kill just about everything that might affect your plants. Obviously, this method is not best for large pots or plastic. It takes up a lot of time and oven space, and it uses precious energy too. I wonder if this can be done in a solar oven? Hmmmm... Please remember that, like any other crockery, the pots will be blazing hot when they come out of the oven!

Both of the above methods are effective and, in my view, safer than the use of bleach. Does anyone else have a garden pot sanitizing/disinfecting tip they'd like to share?

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