Now that the temperatures are finally dipping below zero celsius here in Southern Ontario, my container plantings are beginning to bite the dust. And so the big fall clean-up begins. But this time around, I’m going to be smarter about it. Having spent this year studying organic horticulture techniques, I’ve found that there are easy ways to deal with your pots and plants that save you time and money, not to mention help out the environment. Here are my top tips:
Put dead plants to good use: If you have a composter in your garden, you already know what to do. If you don’t, you can still use your dead plants to make your soil richer come next spring. Just skip the composting process altogether. Pull the dead plant from the potting soil. Shake as much soil from the roots as possible. Then do one of the following:
- Pull apart soft stems, foliage and roots into small handfuls. Or bring out an old kitchen knife and a cutting board to chop up the plant material. Then sprinkle the carnage under trees, shrubs and in flower beds or…
- take the dead blooms, foliage and soft green stems and toss them onto the lawn before your last mow of the season. Mow over the plants along with the grass with your mower on the mulch setting. Sprinkle the resulting chopped salad on your beds.
Giving old potting soil a new life: Unfortunately, potting soil can’t be just stored, fluffed up next spring and poured into a new pot for another round of container plantings. Even though most store-bought potting soil, bought by the bag, isn’t soil (as in dirt) at all but a sterile mixture of peat and bark with some additives to retain moisture and keep the medium from compacting, having nurtured your plants all summer long, it may have also adopted some not-so-nice critters, insect eggs or various pathogens that can wreak havoc on your next set of container plants.
BTW: If you really do want to recycle this year’s potting soil to use in next spring’s pots, you’ll have to first remove every last bit of plant matter, including all those thickly matted roots that have spent the summer growing round and round the inside of your pot, and then sterilize it by baking the soil. Then you might need to add amendments. The best of Irish luck to you. I won’t be doing that.
Instead, a much simpler alternative is to re-use potting soil as a mulch amendment. Pull out as much plant root as you can, break up any big chunks with your hands and pour the loosened potting soil into a bin. If you’ve got a leaf blower/vacuum, hoover up the backyard and add the chopped leaves to the mix. Toss with a hand spade. You’ve just made yourself a nice, light, easy-to-spread homemade mulch containing good stuff to feed your plants and the good soil critters (the chopped up leaves) and just enough moisture-absorbing material (the old broken-up potting soil) to help keep the leaf bits from blowing away.
Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. And old faux dirt to dirt made better.