Clean up used plastic containers before seed starting

It’s that time of year again. The new seedling growing season is just about here. After a few years of gardening under their belt, many gardeners get the urge to start their own plants indoors, especially after paying retail prices for started plants.

To be fair to retailers out there, when you consider all of the labor, materials, heating costs, insurance, taxes, transportation, greenhouse construction costs and overhead, most of the time those prices from garden centers are quite reasonable.

Before the first seed is sown, I make sure I have all of my materials and supplies ready to go. Gathering up containers such as pots and seedling trays are the first thing that needs to happen.

I haven’t had to buy any pots or seedling trays for many years. I always recycle and reuse plastic planting containers. Many of them I’ve salvaged or were given to me by others. Modern plastics are very durable and last a long time. Some of my pots have seen more than ten years of use.

The problem with reusing plant starting containers is that they can easily become a source of disease that can decimate your seedlings. This is especially true if some one gives you their used containers, even if they assure you that the pots are perfectly clean.

Of course if you purchase new pots and trays, there is no need to worry about disease — the manufacturing process destroys any microorganisms.

It’s relatively easy to get those used planting containers in shape using simple washing techniques, just as long as you do it in the right order.

First, rinse off all large clumps of old soil still stuck on the pots. This is best done outside to avoid getting dirt in the sewer system.

Next, wash the containers with dish-washing detergent, I keep a bottle of cheap detergent from year to year for garden use. This is the a critical step because disinfecting agents won’t work if dirt is present.

Rinse off the detergent, then dip everything in a bleach solution. One part bleach to nine parts water works well.

Rinse again and the containers are ready for potting soil.

This procedure almost sounds like the steps a Mom would take to clean bottles for her young baby: rinse, wash, sterilize. When you think about it, we are preparing containers for babies — baby plants.

Also, always start with new sterilized potting mix. Now, I know that some master composters — yes there is such a thing as a master composter –have had success using compost as a starting medium. They use material from a hot compost that heated up enough to kill plant pathogens. Most of us however, shouldn’t take the risk of using our everyday compost that we have in the back corner of the garden.

Like most things in life, an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Bob

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