Preparing Containers for Spring Installation

It is wise to reuse containers from year to year. Quality containers can last for many seasons before they need to be replaced. However, if you are going to employ previously used containers for this year’s arrangements, you need to give them a good cleaning first.

Cleaning your pots can remove harmful, unsightly mineral build up and old dirt and debris. Both of these can harbor harmful fungus, bacteria, and pests. A few minutes of cleaning your containers in the early spring can mean a long, full season of problem free plants.

Plastic vs. Clay


Clay pots develop mineral deposits.

Plastic pots are easier to clean than clay pots. Clay pots can also exaggerate the mineral salt build up on the exterior of the pot. Clay pots tend to dry out faster while plastic pots retain moisture longer. Plastic pots can be easier to maintain, but you may want to consider your plant’s care needs and climate before selecting your containers.


Regardless the type of container you choose, soak them in a solution that is 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. The pots should soak for at least 10 minutes. Then soak the pots with plain water and mild dish detergent. Scrub clay pots with steel wool and plastic pots with a regular scouring pad  to remove any build up. Use a knife to scrape away mineral salts that won’t come off when scrubbed.

Once the pots are clean, rinse them with fresh water. You may want to leave your clay pots in water until you are ready to use them. This will help add moisture to the fresh potting medium.

Keep in mind that when you use old shards of clay pots to cover drainage holes, the shards should also be washed in the same manner.

Larger Pots

Larger pots can be harder to soak but should still be cleaned. Wash away any large debris first. Then, using the same bleach solution, thoroughly soak the containers with a spray bottle. Allow the solution to air dry, do not wipe it. You can repeat this step a few times to ensure the entire surface of the pots is disinfected. Then use a bucket of mild, soapy water to wash the pots. Finally, rinse them off well with a garden house.

Keeping Them Sterile

If you have a large collection of pots and won’t be cleaning them all right away, you want to prevent bacteria and pests from transferring from the dirty pots to the clean pots. Store them in separate tied off garbage bags until you are ready to install them.

Bleach Alternative

Vinegar can work as a friendly alternative to bleach. Soak clay pots in water first. This will stop the pours from absorbing the vinegar. Use a solution of half vinegar and half water in place of the bleach mixture. Then follow the same steps for the rest of the cleaning procedure. Small plastic pots can also be disinfected in a dishwasher.

Time Well Spent

It may take a little time and effort to get your containers in perfect shape, but it will be time well spent. You can avoid battling fungus and bacteria and have healthy plants all summer.

What tips do you have for preparing for summer?



“Horticulture and Home Pest News” Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

“Do’s and Dont’s of Reusing Flower Pots” SFGate Home Guides. <>
“Remove Mineral Deposits and Sterilize Your Plant Pots” The Herb Gardener. <>
Image: “Pots” by Roger Ward.

Melanie is a plant enthusiast and expert contributor at and Melanie's experience in internet marketing, business management, and horticulture allows her to bring a unique perspective to the community. Melanie received a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Leadership from Purdue University and is the Marketing Director at NewPro Containers.

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