Soils naturally contain various organisms including fungi, bacteria, pests, and weed seeds, some of which can harm or kill your newly grown plants. Sterilizing the soil helps in killing these organisms to give plants a better chance of survival.
Unfortunately, sterilizing soil can also kill beneficial microorganisms that are essential for the health of the plants and soil. If you are using fresh potting soil from a reputable source you may not need to sterilize it. Such potting mixes are made from ingredients that are already sterile.
In general, you should sterilize soil if you are:
- Starting seeds indoors. Seedlings are more susceptible to pests and diseases than mature plants, starting them in sterilized soil will give them the best chance of success.
- Reusing potting soil. You should always sterilize potting soil that you are reusing to kill any harmful organisms.
- Growing plants in a greenhouse, terrarium, or other enclosed space. The damp conditions in these areas can encourage the quick breeding and spreading of pests and diseases.
- Making your own potting soil. Even if you used sterile ingredients, your homemade potting soil may get contaminated due to mishandling.
How to Sterilize potting soil
There are several ways you can use to sterilize potting soil. You can use the oven, microwave, or a pressure cooker.
Using an oven is one of the easiest ways to sterilize your potting soil, especially in relatively large amounts. With this method, you’ll need an oven-safe container, a baking thermometer, and a roll of aluminum foil.
- Spread the soil on the baking pan or oven-safe container to a depth of not more than 4 inches.
- Cover the pan or the container with aluminum foil and poke a few holes for aeration.
- Insert a baking thermometer into the soil to help monitor the temperature.
- Set the temperature to 180°F and start the oven.
- Bake the soil for about 20 to 30 minutes or stop when the thermometer reads 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Turn off the oven and let the soil cool down completely before removing it.
- Uncover the soil from the foil only when you are ready to use it for planting.
Sterilizing soil in a microwave is a suitable option for small amounts. You only need a microwave-friendly container and a plastic lid with holes or plastic wrap.
- Mist the soil with some water to make it slightly moist.
- Place the soil in a microwave-friendly container
- Cover the container with a plastic lid and leave a small opening where steam can escape from. Alternatively, cover it with microwave-safe plastic wrap and poke in some holes.
- Heat the soil for about two minutes or until the temperature reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Remove the soil from the microwave and allow it to cool completely before using.
Hot steam sterilization
To sterilize soil with stem, you’ll need a steaming container or a pressure cooker, a shallow pan, aluminum foil, and a steaming rack.
- Fill the pressure cooker with water. You may also use a steaming container.
- Place a steaming rack inside the pressure cooker or the container.
- Place the soil in on shallow pan (no more than 4 inches deep) and set it on the rack.
- Wrap the pan with foil to cover the soil.
- Close the pressure cooker or the steaming container but leave the venting hole open.
- Heat the soil for about 15 to 20 minutes and stop when the temperature reaches 180°F (Approximately 82degrees Celsius)
- Allow the pressure cooker to cool completely before opening it and remove the soil.
Note: Be careful not to overheat the soil. The potting soil won’t absorb water when overcooked. Extreme heat can denature the structure of the soil making it unsuitable for plants. This is why you need a thermometer to help in monitoring the temperature level.
Can you use hydrogen peroxide for sterilizing soil?
Hydrogen peroxide is a strong disinfectant. It can kill various microorganisms in the soil, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. However, you may still have the problem of weed seeds if you use hydrogen peroxide to sanitize or sterilize your soil.
To sterilize the soil, you’ll need to mix 1 part hydrogen peroxide with 10 parts water. This diluted solution will be effective at killing microorganisms without harming beneficial bacteria in the soil. Spray the solution evenly in the soil and allow it to cure for 24 hours before planting your seed.
Although heat treatments unselectively kill all the microorganisms in the soil, they are still the best in sterilizing potting soils. You may also use chemicals to sanitize your potting soil but their residual effects may harm the plants.
My name is Diane M Lewik, and I am the founder of this website. I am a degree holder in plant biology from the University of California – Berkeley. Over years, I have cultivated a vast collection of succulents and I have learned a great deal about how to grow and care for these unique plants.