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What To Do With Dying Potted Plants – How To Save Your Pots & Soil For Next Year!

Wondering what to do with those dying potted plants sitting on your front porch, patio or back deck this fall – and how to best save your pots and old potting soil for next year?

Autumn has arrived in full force, and for most annuals growing in pots and containers, that means the end of the line is here. By the end of the growing season, for most flowers in pots, no amount of watering, fertilizing or care will help to revive the plants.

By late September and early October, annuals simply have nothing left. After growing all year, the foliage and stems are thin, wispy and often very brittle. And if there are any blooms, they are certainly nothing to write home about!

dying potted plants
By the end of summer – most container plants are starting to fade fast!

The same goes for the soil the plants grow in. By the end of summer, the roots have nowhere left to roam. They have all but filled the soil below, often coming out of the bottom looking for more. And any soil that remains in the pot? Well, it is all but lifeless, dry and worn out as well.

One thing is for certain, dying plants in pots, containers and hanging baskets are not exactly showcasing your landscape at this point – and that is exactly why it’s time to clean them out! Not just to eliminate an eyesore – but to recharge the soil and save your pots before winter can damage them.

Recycling Pots, Old Plants & Old Potting Soil – What To Do With Dying Potted Plants

Fall is the ideal time to clean out dying potted plants for several reasons beyond just appearance. By taking care of old plants and pots now, you can compost the old plant material to help make great compost for next spring.

At the same time, you can also recharge your potting soil to use again. And let’s face it – saving on having to buy all new potting soil next year can be a huge plus for the garden budget!

cracked flower container
Leaving flower pots out through late fall and winter can cause serious damage. Freezing and thawing water can easily break and crack pots, ruining them in the process.

But even more, cleaning out old pots now also also can save wear and tear on your pots – and give you a chance to clean and sanitize them to have them ready for next year. With that in mind – here is a look at what to do with your dying potted plants, pots and the soil inside of them this fall!

What To Do With Dying Potted Plants

Composting Old Plants

Although they may be lifeless and lethargic – believe it or not, the dying plants in your containers still have value. And a lot of it! The roots, stem and foliage are all excellent material for your fall compost pile. Not only will they break down quickly, they add excellent humus to the compost as it breaks down.

There are, however, a few things you will want to do before adding them to your pile. Before pulling plants from their container, clip off all of the blooms on your plants. Flowers, especially old flowers, contain a lot of seeds. And when added to a compost pile, they can come up everywhere as volunteer weeds next year.

Once the old blooms have been cut off, pull the plant from its container. If the plant shows any sign of disease or pest issues, keep it out of your compost pile. It’s just not worth the risk.

Both disease and pests can overwinter in compost piles that don’t get hot enough to kill them off. Unfortunately, most home compost piles simply don’t heat up enough to kill pathogens. Nor do they warm enough to eliminate many pest eggs and larva either.

dying potted plants
Before adding spent flowers to your compost pile, always remove the seed heads. If added to the pile, they can create hundreds of volunteer plants wherever you use your compost next year.

For plants that are simply old and dying off, however, this material is a great addition. To help speed decomposition in your pile, chop up the roots, stems and leaves and place them into your pile. Now it’s time to save that soil in the pot!

Cleaning & Sanitizing Pots & Containers – What To Do With Dying Potted Plants

Cleaning out and sanitizing flower pots is one of the most important things you can do to protect your pots – and next year’s plants that grow in them.

Leaving pots out all winter long is asking for them to be ruined. Not only does the weather fade and age containers, it can also break them. Freezing water and soil expands. And when it is in a pot, it can easily break plastic, clay and even foam containers.

Take time this fall to scrub down your pots and safely store them out of the weather. Once the soil has been removed and the container is clean, spray the inside with a simple solution of bleach water to sanitize them.

composting old potting soil

Disease can easily spread from year to year. But by spraying them down, you eliminate any chance of cross contamination. One teaspoon of bleach mixed with one half gallon of water will do the trick. As always, wear gloves and protection to keep yourself safe from the bleach water as you scrub the containers.

Saving Old Potting Soil – What To Do With Dying Potted Plants

Finally, whatever you do – don’t throw that old potting soil out! It may be missing a lot of nutrients, but it still has a lot of value. All it needs is a little recharging.

You can recharge your potting soil in a couple of different ways. For those that only grow a few potted plants, the best option is to usually place the old soil right into your main compost pile. Here, it can mix in with decaying plant materials and absorb nutrients to create great compost.

Old potting soil is actually a great addition to compost piles as it adds light soil to help bulk up the pile. Next spring, after all of the materials have decomposed, you can then mix the compost in with potting soil to create incredible soil for your potted plants.

If you happen to have a lot of potted plants – you can even create a separate compost pile just for your potting soil. This can be a great way to recharge the soil and use nearly all of it for repotting next spring. For more on that process – be sure to check out our article : How To Reuse Old Potting Soil From Your Hanging Baskets & Pots!

Here is to taking action now and clearing out and cleaning out your dying potted plants – and to saving big money next year by not having to purchase all new soil and pots! Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary.

Jim and Mary Competti have been writing gardening, DIY and recipe articles and books for over 15 years from their 46 acre Ohio farm. The two are frequent speakers on all things gardening and love to travel in their spare time.

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