Friends, the end of the flowerpot season is like the end of a dinner party
You’ve had an amazing evening of laughter, stories and delicious food. (“Oh my God, that was so good! I need that recipe!”) Your heart feels so full.
And then… you walk into your kitchen.
Sweet Mother of Lassie.
Your counters are lined with dirty dishes, empty wine glasses and serving utensils you didn’t even know you owned. You have caked-on pots and pans tucked into the stove, the refrigerator and other secret hidey-holes.
And ugh, your dishwasher only holds so much!!
I always have a similar feeling after a season of gardening
After a summer of pretty flowers, there’s some flowerpot clean-up to do.
And let’s be real, the clean-up isn’t going to be the highlight of your season. 🙂
“Wait, whaaat??? I need to clean my pots?” Rest easy, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do! But a little clean-up can make a BIG difference for your flowers next season. I didn’t used to clean my flowerpots, but I have become a believer after experiencing some issues. For example, salt residue can build up on the inside of your pots, and it can create problems for your young plants next season. (Headaches, hassles and struggling plants!) With just a little cleaning, you eliminate those issues.
Here’s what to do with your flowerpots when your flowers are dead
First, here are supplies for cleaning your pots that are helpful to have handy.
1) Empty out the dead flowers, roots, and used potting soil
I suggest you set up a garbage bag and a compost bag. Compost bags are often available in the fall at local hardware stores.
- The trash bag is for dead plants that looked diseased. Throw away any plants that looked diseased at the end of the growing season, as well as all the potting soil from that flowerpot. (No judgment! These things happen.)
- The compost bag is for dead flowers and roots that were healthy. They can get turned into “compost.” Compost is an awesome material we can add back into our garden soils to improve their quality. Pull the dead plants out of your flowerpots. Add all of your dead plants that were healthy at the end of the season to the compost bag. (You also can create your own compost pile, but that’s a topic for another time.)
2) Clean your flowerpots
When your flowers are dead and you’ve emptied everything out of your pots:
- Brush off any lingering dirt and white residue from the inside (and bottom) of your pots. I use a soft bristle brush from the hardware store. Avoid brushes that are too stiff because they can scratch your pots. If you can’t get the white residue off with a brush… You can try using a plastic puddy knife to scrape and get under the tough spots. It works pretty well, particularly on residue at the bottom of your pots. You also can try soaking your flowerpots in a mixture of vinegar and water. (If you’re wondering what the white residue on your flowerpots is, scroll down for quick explanation.)
- Rinse your flowerpot with water. I like to set the hose nozzle on the “jet” setting. It typically does a good job removing dirt.
- Remove any roots that have grown into the holes at the bottom of your pot. You want to make sure the holes are free of any debris for the next growing season, so water can drain freely from your pots.
- Repeat these steps for each pot.
“What IS that white stuff on my pots?”
Many of us have hard water. That white residue is likely a build-up of calcium and salts from watering and fertilizing.
It won’t be great for your plants’ roots next season.
I’ve found it’s easier to get the white residue off when it’s fresh in the fall, rather than waiting until the spring. It’s kind of like the pan you cook lasagna in. That cheese residue will be much easier to get off before it fully hardens. Clean the residue while it’s still fresh, if you can.
But no worries if you decide to wait until spring!
3) Store your flowerpots for the winter
To help keep your pots clean and protect them from cracking or breaking:
- Store your flowerpots out of the elements, if possible. Ideally, you’d store them someplace that stays above freezing temps, like an attached garage. That way, pots that are vulnerable to freeze damage and breaking (like terracotta pots and ceramic pots) are less likely to crack and break. But if that isn’t an option, store your pots in a shed or on a covered porch.
- If you leave your pots outside, you may want to turn your pots upside down or cover them to keep them clean and keep moisture out.
“Do I have to store or cover my flowerpots?” Nope, you don’t have to, and your flowerpots may be fine! But just understand, freeze damage can happen, depending on your winter. See the photo below of one of my neighbor’s flowerpots for an example. I have a bunch of cracked terracotta pots from one of my first winters in Colorado. Oops.
Most years, I stop here and call it good
And if you’ve made it this far, awesome!
You’re well on your way to getting next season’s flowers off to a great start.
But it’s worth noting…
The steps above haven’t sterilized our flowerpots.
You may be thinking: “Ummmm, there’s more??? Why do I need to sterilize my flowerpots?”
Plant diseases can carry over from year to year — and not just in the soil, but also on the pot itself. This means a disease you had this last season could ruin next season’s flowers.
So, it’s a good idea to sterilize your flowerpots if:
- You had (or suspected you had) diseased plants last year.
- You’ve gotten used pots from anyone. It’s best to clean them before you use them.
- You want to grow flowers from seeds in your flowerpots. Seedlings need an environment that’s as clean as what you’d create for a newborn baby.
If any of these apply to you and you’re willing to go a step further, here’s how to sterilize your flowerpots.
4) OPTIONAL: Sterilize your flowerpots
- Wear clothes for cleaning. For example, put on rubber gloves. You also may want to put on old clothes.
- Place your pots in a sink or tub (if you can).
- Wash your pots in soapy water. I use dish soap. When you’re done, empty the water.
- Partially fill a bucket with a mixture of 90% water and 10% bleach. (For every 1 gallon of water, you’d add about 1-3/4 cups of bleach.) If you’d like an alternative to bleach, you can use vinegar. Just know it isn’t quite as effective at sterilizing. You also can ask your local garden center whether they carry any organic agricultural products that are good alternatives to bleach.
- Use a sponge to wash the mixture over the inside and outside of your pots. If you can soak your pots in the mixture for a few minutes, great, but this can be tough to do with big pots or heavy pots.
- Rinse your pots with clean water. If your pots are terracotta, soak them in clean water. (Terracotta is very absorptive.)
- Let your pots air dry.
If you set up a tub or plastic container outside to wash your pots, you may want to set up in your garage. Keep all of this away from your lawn and plants.
Do you have to clean your flowerpots?
Nope, it’s gardening. You can do what you want.
But cleaning up your pots when your flowers are dead can:
- Get your plants off to a healthy start in the spring
- Give you fewer chores at the start of next season (yesssss!)
- Help your pots look good and last longer
You’re cleaning up after this year’s flower party, so you’re ready for an amazing season next year.