Clean It Up

As the end of gardening season approaches, our gardens will, no doubt, be strewn with dead plants, bent or broken supports, and other assorted bric-a-brac. It’s late in the year, and as far as you’re concerned, you are done with gardening for the season. As for the debris? “Ahh, I’ll clean it up in the spring,” you say.

Bad move. Leaving a garden full of junk is a poor practice – one that will hinder your future efforts to have a healthy garden full of high-yielding vegetable plants. Leaving a garden full of weeds, damaged trellises, dead plants, and God knows what else is like sending out an invitation for all the vermin and pests to come spend the winter in your garden – and never leave.

Certain insect pests can survive the winter all cozily nestled up in the debris you refused to clean up. Did you have a problem with cabbageworms? Guess what? They’ll be plaguing your next year’s crop of cabbage thanks to the winter home you provide for them. Did cucumber beetles chew up a good portion of last year’s cucumber crop? Well, don’t expect winter weather to be their last hurrah, not as long as they have some nice dead plants for them to stay warm in. And were you and your tomato plants blessed by some of those fat green tomato hornworms? Don’t shed any tears for them; they’ll spend the winter as pupae all snug and warm in a pile of dead tomato plants. Then come spring, the moth will emerge and lay eggs on your tomato plants. Hello tomato hornworms! Goodbye tomatoes!

But it doesn’t have to be this way as long as you follow this simple three-word instruction – clean it up! Gather up the spent plants and dead weeds, and either toss them out or put them in your compost pile (as long as the plants weren’t infested with disease). Removing this garden junk leaves the pests with nowhere to hide, run, or overwinter. This will help reduce the odds that next year’s vegetable crops will be overrun with plant-devouring larvae or adult insects. Insects can be a severe problem in your garden. Don’t carry the problem into next year by giving these insects shelter over the winter so they can come back next year and render all your hard work in vain. Clean up your garden now, and give those insect pests the boot!


Clean Makes Green

Seedstarting Containers


Clay pots, transplant flats, seed trays, etc. These are just some of the many devices we use to start our seeds. And most of the time, they work just fine. But occasionally the seeds we plant will start sprouting and looking healthy. Then, for no apparent reason, they will die off.

What happened? Disease. Certain spores, fungi, and bacteria can infect seedlings and weaken and/or kill them. These organisms may be present in the pots and seed trays that you re-use. Many of these can survive quite nicely in a dormant state. Then when soil is added and seeds planted, the organisms “wake up” and begin feeding on your tender young seedlings?

What can we do about it? The answer is simple. Clean and sterilize your containers. The Philadelphia County Master Gardeners recommend the following procedure for effectively cleaning and sterilizing your containers:


  • Soak pots and other planting containers in warm, soapy water to loosen fragments of matter. Use a scrub brush to scour the pots clean, scrubbing off any debris as well as mineral/salt deposits.
  • Use steel wool for difficult to remove stains, and rinse with warm water until all the soap runs off.
  • Make a bleach solution: 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. This is equivalent to 1.5 cups of regular strength bleach and 13.5 cups of water. (Our note: if you are using concentrated bleach, use 1 cup of bleach to 14 cups of water.)
  • Completely submerge pots and planting containers in the solution and soak for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Completely submerge pots and planting containers in the solution and soak for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Upon removing the containers, rinse with warm water.
  • Scrub lightly with soapy water (using unscented dish soap) and rinse well until soap runs off and water runs clear. Inspect for remaining residue and repeat the procedure if necessary. (If stains or residue remain after the sanitation process, do not reuse the pot.)
  • Lay containers out to dry for 24 hours before using. If possible, dry pots in direct sunlight for some of that time. Exposure to the sun can help to kill off certain bacteria.


Thoroughly washing and disinfecting your containers will greatly reduce the odds that your seedlings will be weakened or killed by a disease causing organism. And although it seems like a lot of unnecessary work, the healthy seedlings you germinate and transplant will make your efforts well worth it.