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Here’s The Best Use For Your Old Potting Soil

Here's The Best Use For Your Old Potting Soil

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We are preparing our gardens and pots for winter now. It seems a waste to throw out depleted potting soil, but is it safe to reuse it? And if so, how? There are a variety of answers and ideas out there, so let’s get started.

First of all, yes, you can reuse old potting soil. But, and this is a big BUT, you need to approach the potting soil reuse knowledgeably. Not all potting soils are created equally, but even those higher quality ones will most likely be nutrient depleted at the end (if not before) of the growing season. Organic potting soils especially may suffer. “In conventional potting soil, synthetic fertilizer can provide most of the food a plant will need for a while, but organic growers must rely on compost, which often doesn’t provide enough nutrients to last long in a pot” writes gardening expert Craig Idlebrook.

If you hope to reuse potting soil for your next growing season, you will need to choose a way to replenish nutrients. One way is to compost. Dump your old potting soil into a bin or pile and add manure (chicken manure in moderation is perhaps one of the best), leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds and old vegetables. Composting doesn’t work as well over the winter, since decomposition slows down when the temperatures chill. Plan to leave the bin or pile composting over the coming summer.

The Cheap Way To Re-mineralize Your Soil

Here's The Best Use For Your Old Potting Soil

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Or, if you have a method of keeping your bin warmer over the winter, it may be ready in the spring for potting. Some good ways to achieve this are to put a roof over it (to keep the rain and snow from chilling it), block the pile in with walls, and lay a tarp over it. This keeps the pile warmer. Also, make a bigger heap. The inner layers of the pile will continue cooking even in colder temperatures. The bigger the pile, the bigger the inner layers available for springtime use. If you aren’t able to compost, still dump your old potting soil into a bin. In the spring, you can mix the old potting soil with new. There’s no magic formula; some people do half and half. Be prepared to give plants additional food as needed over the summer.

Secondly, when reusing old potting soil, you need to be aware that soil can carry plant diseases, non-wanted seeds and bothersome pests. The longer a soil has been in use, the greater the chances that it contains some plant-harming substances in it. Sometimes leaving your soil out in freezing temperatures over the winter is enough to kill off any unwanted pests. You can also bake your soil or “nuke it” in the microwave. These methods will also kill beneficial bacteria, but the pros can outweigh the cons.

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If you wish to take a more relaxed approach toward your soil, you can evaluate each pot at the end of the growing season. If the plant displayed disease, then toss that soil or nuke it. If the plant seemed healthy, then potentially that soil is okay. In the spring, when you begin repotting, use the older potting soil for hardier plants, like some herbs. Use fresh, clean soil for disease-prone plants like tomatoes.

But what if you aren’t interested in reusing the soil for growing? Do you just throw it out? Hardly! An excellent use for old potting soil is for potting plants that you swap with others. The soil only needs to hold a plant secure generally for a short time before it reaches its new home and is planted in the ground, so the nutrient deficiency isn’t noticed by the plan. You can also use old potting soil to fill up potato bins. In the fall, toss your old potting soil into a bin and throw in some manure, shredded leaves and compost. In the spring you’ll have a nice barrel mix for potato growing. Old potting soil can work well in lasagna gardening as well.

I am sure other uses for old potting soil have been discovered, so please share in the comments below. In the meantime, let’s be frugal with our soil and cut down on the cost of outfitting pots next spring! 

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  1. I have saved my potting soil from my potato barrels for several years. At the end of the season I wait for some warm sunny days. I take the soil out of the barrels and put it in large plastic garbage bags. I leave those bags open in the sun and turn the soil until it dries. I then seal the bags and store them in a shed over the winter. Between the sunning and the cold winter temps in the shed, my soil is ready to reuse in potato barrels the next year. I add fresh peat and mix the old with the new, and add multipurpose fertilizer. I’ve always had great luck with my potatoes and it saves hauling lots of heavy bags of potting mix up to my cabin each year. – Margy

  2. Since moving to FL where I garden in containers I’ve always reused potting soil. I dump out the container, after removing all vegetation, on a tarp, let it dry out usually just overnight then add coir or peat, vermiculite, composted cow manure, Azomite, and an organic fertilizer. Mix well, put back in container and plant. Has worked now for over 6 years. Couldn’t afford to buy new potting soil each year for my 20+ containers as each takes about 2 cu ft.

  3. Just think… if the potting soil is depleted, what’s happening in your garden? Tilling under your own garden waste (you only picked the peas and corn, right?) can add back into the soil, part of what you took out. Chop up your leftover pea vines, corn stalks, etc, and add them all back into your soil. Got chickens? Add THEIR waste to the garden too!

  4. I do some landscaping jobs, and fall cleanup for pretty well to do folks. I take all the plant pots and haning baskets they throw out, and turn them upside down. Out comes a rootball the size of the container. I then throw them all in an old cement mixer and tumble them . All the potting soil gets knocked off the plant roots. I then reach in and remove the plants and roots, and all that is left is pure potting soil, usually a mixture of whatever various types they use. Then I

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