Ridding my office of stinky plant soil
December 19, 2007
Every time the plants in my office are watered, I am bombarded with a foul-smelling odor. I wondered if some kind of mold was growing in the soil and, if so, if it was harmful to my health.
I looked at the soil closely and examined the inside of the decorative containers and drainage saucers to see if they were causing the problem. There was nothing rotten growing on the soil, containers or saucers, but the soil itself smelled foul, even though the plants looked great.
I began wondering if I could wash away the odor. First, I tried thoroughly rinsing the soil with warm water. That didn’t do the trick. I just had more of the rotting smell.
Next, since soap acts as a disinfectant, I tried rinsing the soil with soapy water and letting it sit in the soil for 20-30 minutes. That helped a little, but I wanted to rid the plants of any mold and potential health risks the mold might pose.
When all else fails, read the directions – or in this case, look it up.
So, I did an Internet search for “moldy houseplant soil.” The search yielded sites that talked about fungus and overwatering. All my readers know I preach about avoiding overwatering and rotting roots. But, both plants in my office are thriving, so I know the roots aren’t the problem. My plants are not overwatered – the soil just stinks.
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Most sites had recommendations for controlling fungus on leaves, but not on soil, using things such as apple cider vinegar or hydrogen peroxide solutions. Since the leaves weren’t causing my plants’ problem, I kept on with my search.
I decided to Google “smelly houseplant soil.”
One site said the plant was overwatered, the peat moss was rotting, and the plant had to be repotted. Since I haven’t repotted my plants in years, I thought that perhaps it was time.
However, being the lazy person I am, I don’t really like to repot plants. I think I will try dousing the soil well with a vinegar solution or 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution, followed by a fresh water rinse (sounds like a beauty parlor).
I will keep you posted on the results.
I know that repotting the plants using sterilized houseplant soil, sterilized pots and sterilized saucers is the ultimate course of action that I will eventually have to take. But, I wonder how long I can put it off.
For more information, e-mail email@example.com or call me at 887-2252. You can “Ask a Master Gardener” by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at http://www.unce.unr.edu.
• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.