If you’re into gardening, chances are that you’re constantly planting new plants and seeds in the soil. The problem is, your soil may not always be ideal for planting. It can contain all kinds of bugs and pathogens that may negatively affect the growth of your plant.
We know soils are meant to be dirty, but at some point, you’ll need to have clean soil for the sake of your plants. You’ll have to either buy a new mix or sterilize the soil. Here, we’ll tell you how to sterilize soil with boiling water.
Why Do You Need to Sterilize Soil?
You could go out and buy a new potting mix every time you want to plant some seeds or transplants, but this can be pretty expensive in the long run.
But why do you even need new soil in the first place?
You might not know it, but your gardening soil is likely housing plenty of pathogens that may harm your plants. Here are a few examples:
- Fungus Gnats and Nematodes: Fungus gnats and nematodes are so common that you’ll likely even find them in fresh potting soil. They love to hide in the soil and lay eggs, and they can be pretty harmful to your plants.
- Weeds: The seeds from weeds are commonly found in soil. When you plant a new seed, the last thing you want is for weeds to grow alongside it and compete with it for nutrients.
- Fungus: Have you ever wondered why potting soil from the store comes in bags with ventilation holes? This is because soil can easily grow a variety of molds and fungi in humid and moist conditions.
- Pathogens: There are endless kinds of bacteria and viruses that live in regular soil. Many of them can harm your growing plant, and they can remain in the soil for a long time and get transferred from one plant to another unless you eliminate them.
As mentioned earlier, even fresh potting soil can contain these pests and pathogens. So, sterilizing your soil is the best way to maintain your plants’ health.
You can always buy sterilized soil, but it’ll cost you a lot if you tend to do a lot of planting. That’s why it’s a good idea to learn how to sterilize your own soil at home.
If it’s too late and you already have bugs, check out my guide for dealing with pests on your plants.
How to Sterilize Your Own Potting Soil Using Water
The best way to kill pathogens and get rid of other soil pests is to sterilize your garden soil before you plant. There are plenty of sterilizing methods, but boiling water is the most common one because it’s easy, affordable, and effective.
To start, place the amount of soil that you want to sterilize in a bowl, then pour boiling water over it. Once the soil is moist enough, start working it around with a spoon. The high temperature will kill the pests and their eggs in the soil and leave it fresh for planting.
If you don’t want to use boiling water, you can always opt for the other end of temperature extremes: freezing. To do so, put your soil in a plastic bag and leave it in the freezer for a few days. The low temperature will ruin the insect life cycle and kill pathogens.
While I usually only use boiling water, some people prefer a double method of freezing the soil first and then using boiling water. It’s a bit of a hassle, but it ensures your soil is 100% free from pathogens.
Are There Any Other Sterilization Methods?
There are other methods of sterilizing soil if you don’t trust the boiling water. Here’s a roundup of the most effective methods:
1 – Using Steam
Like boiling water, using steam is another effective and easy method of sterilizing soil. All you have to do is fill a pan with water, put your soil on a rack, and place the rack above the pan. You can then close the lid and bring the water to a boil.
Once boiled, allow the steam to escape through a small opening, then leave the water boiling for 30 minutes. This will be enough to kill any pests in the soil mix.
2 – Using an Oven
Another easy method to sterilize the soil is to use your oven. You’ll need to get an oven-safe container and layer about four inches of soil into it.
Cover this soil layer with foil and place the container in the oven at between 180 and 200°F. Then, check the soil’s temperature after a while using a baking thermometer. Once the soil reaches a temperature of 180°F, you can turn off the oven and remove the soil. Leave it covered with foil until you are ready to use it.
I personally don’t prefer this method because overcooking the soil may result in producing new toxins. However, using a baking thermometer to monitor the soil’s temperature should do the trick.
3 – Using Your Microwave
Since heat is enough to sterilize the soil, you can use your microwave for the process. However, you’ll need to moisten the soil before doing this.
Additionally, you’ll need to choose the right container. It should be microwave-safe, with a lid, and with ventilation holes. Otherwise, the steam won’t escape.
When you have everything ready, place the soil in the container and heat it on a high setting—90 seconds per two pounds of soil.
Once you’re done, you can remove the container and tape over the vent holes until you’re ready to use the soil for planting.
4 – Using a Pressure Cooker
A pressure cooker is by no means meant for soil, but if you have no other option, it can do the trick. It’s actually pretty efficient because it’ll circulate the steam throughout the soil.
To use it, first put the soil in a heat-safe container, but make sure it’s not deeper than 4 inches. Then, put the container on top of the steamer pot inside the cooker.
Close the cooker’s lid and turn the steam valve on, then let the cooker heat on the stovetop. When steam starts coming out, close the steam valve and turn off the pressure cooker. Wait for it to cool down completely before opening the valve again and taking the soil container out.
5 – Grilling the Soil
When you hear the word grilling, the last thing that comes to your mind is soil, but it’ll do! If you don’t want to use your oven for this ordeal, you can always use an outdoor grill.
To grill the soil, preheat the grill to 180 F for 30 minutes. Then, line your baking pan with some foil and fill it with soil. Make sure not to overfill it because you’ll need to seal the soil inside the foil. This brings us to another issue: make sure the foil piece is large enough so that you can fold it and seal the soil inside.
After you add the soil, pour some water into it so that it’s slightly moist. Mix it well using a spoon, then close the foil sheet over it.
Put the baking pan in the grill and leave it inside for 30 minutes. Use a thermometer to make sure it doesn’t get too hot, and leave it inside the foil until you want to use it.
Most people plant seeds and young plants into the soil without thinking of the pathogens, fungus gnats, and nematodes that will have a field day feasting on the roots.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but even fresh potting mix from a store can contain these nasty little pests.
The best way to deal with these pests is to sterilize the soil using one of the methods I listed above. You can even combine two methods if you want to get the best results.
Boiling water is one of the easiest, but you can also freeze the soil, put it in an oven, or use your microwave.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.