Recycling Nursery Pots at Home!
Photos and descriptions by Rebecca Zettler
Recycling nursery pots is one of the many ways you can support the local chapter of the California Native Plant Society. It’s not difficult; here’s how to get started.
First, remove any leftover potting media. A whisk or paint brush works well under the rim. Remove the labels if you can. Pots that are cracked, have damaged rims (hazard), or have heavy mineral stains should be thrown away, along with the potting soil debris.
Wash out the pots in the sink or a tub; I use a toilet brush. You can presoak, or not. If you use soapy water, rinse afterwards. The point is to remove as much soil as possible to avoid contaminating the sanitizing solution. Let the washed pots drain a bit so they don’t dilute the sanitizing solution.
All recycled pots must be sanitized using a bleach solution. Use a well ventilated space, wear gloves and eye protection, and wear clothes you don’t mind getting bleach spots on.
Once sanitized, the pots can’t come in contact with any soil, so you also need a non-porous surface to set the pots out to dry. You can set the pots out to dry in a carport, garage floor, driveway or sidewalk that’s been well swept, or you can cover a table or bench with plastic and set them on that.
(And if you don’t have the space, or this step seems too fussy, you can always bring the washed pots back to the CNPS nursery where they can be sanitized in the hoop house.)
A tall kitchen trash container holds 5 gallons of sanitizing solution. The solution ratio is 9 parts water to 1 part (unscented) household bleach (5.25% or 6% sodium hypochlorite). A half (½) gallon of bleach plus four and a half (4 ½) gallons of water makes five gallons of solution. A one gallon milk or water jug is helpful for measuring.
To sanitize the pots, immerse them completely in the solution for at least five (5) minutes. The solution must cover all surfaces of the pots.
After the soak, give them a quick rinse in a tub of water and set the pots out to dry. Once they’re dry bring them back to the nursery. There is a space set aside in the hoop house for sanitized pots.
(A few words about bleach: It actually outdates so check the label. Also bleach solution starts to lose potency in a matter of hours (especially in sun light, warm temperatures, and once the solution gets dirty), so plan on getting this part done in one day. Sanitizing solution is dilute enough to go down the drain or get dumped in an area of the yard you aren’t concerned about. You might want to check if you have a septic system though. Bleach breaks down into salt and water.)