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Reusing Plastic Pots

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Thursday, February 22, 2007
Should I reuse pots and plastic trays for starting seedlings? I’ve had some trouble with seedlings dying. I believe it may be some sort of disease. I always wash the dirt of the containers but still had some problems with seedlings dying. I like to recycle and hate to throw out the old pots. Must I buy new pots and trays each season? — C.H. Plainfield

Seedlings can sometimes perish due to disease organisms which can survive in unsterilized soil and planting mixes. These same organisms can survive on residue left in pots and containers.

You can safely reuse containers each year if you clean and disinfect them properly. I reuse my own pots and trays each year to start seedlings. At the end of the growing season, I wipe and rinse away any remaining residue. I then soak the planters in a 10 percent bleach solution for at least 30 minutes to kill any disease organisms.

Next, I dry the containers with a clean cloth. This technique is very effective for sterilizing pots and trays.

Additionally, there are beneficial organisms that can be added to planting mixes. These helpful organisms grow through the soil- less mix and prevent detrimental organisms from growing.

I noticed some bugs crawling out of the firewood in my garage and basement. There were some ants as well as some other bugs that I could not identify. I usually bring in enough wood for the week and store the rest of it outside under a tarp. My neighbor told me that he doesn’t store any wood inside and only buys local firewood. Should I be concerned about bringing termites or ants into the house or other problem bugs ? Is it best to buy local firewood ? — J.S., Garfield

Invasive insect problems are extremely rare in firewood. More commonly, you may see different species of borers emerging from firewood, once they reach the warmer temperatures inside your home or garage. Some borers will emerge and fly around the house but pose no damage to your home. You may also find occasional carpenter ants in firewood. These worker carpenter ants are easy to distinguish, they are at least ¼ of an inch long, black and without wings. Carpenter ants do not actually eat the wood, they hollow out areas for their nests. If firewood is infested, the ants may use it as a base and send out worker ants out to the rest of your home to forage for food. Wood roaches can also be brought in on firewood. Wood roaches are dark brown and about 1 inch long with long legs and antennae. Wood roaches rarely survive for long inside of the home but may become more of a short term nuisance and congregate around drains as they search for water.

It is wise to buy local firewood and store it outside of the home. Bring in only enough for burning the same day. Buying local fire­ wood can help prevent the spread of invasive pests from one area to another. Some insects such as the Emerald Ash Borer and the Asian Longhorned Beetle are serious invasive pests and can spread from one location to an­ other through infested firewood. In New Jersey, areas infested with the Asian Longhorned Beetle are quarantined and no fire­ wood is allowed to be transported out of infested areas. The Emerald Ash Borer was recently found in Maryland and the movement of any ash wood from infested areas is prohibited. These invasive pests can sometimes exist in an area for some time before they are recognized and quarantined.

By transporting wood from unfamiliar areas, we also may be transporting pests to new locations. Therefore it is wise not to transport wood to or from camp sites. Always buy local firewood when camping and use up the wood at the campsite. Leftover wood of local origin should be left at the campsite as a courtesy for the next campers.

Never apply pesticides to wood that will be burned in the fireplace. The pesticides could volatilize in the heat and become dangerous compounds that you and your family could breathe in.

Bill Hlubik is a Professor and Agricultural and Resource Management Agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension- The New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, Rutgers University. He is also a host of the "If Plants Could Talk" television series on NJN Public Television.