It happens to the best of us. You were cleaning your outdoor furniture or the patio, and then, distracted by the satisfaction of ticking an item off your to-do list, grabbed the wrong container to water your plants with. Or maybe you were a little overzealous in your spraying, and some of the excess cleaning liquid splashed its way over onto your plants.
If you accidentally spray bleach on your plant, unfortunately it is likely to die, unless the bleach was very diluted. If you react quickly, you can place your plant in the sun and add extra water to the soil to help dilute the solution.
With bigger plants, the bleach may make it sick, but it can sometimes fight through the toxicity.
Keep reading to learn more about bleach and plants, and what to do when there is bleach in your soil.
What Does Bleach Do to Plants?
While not many people may know it, there are two main types of bleach: commercially oxygenated bleaches and chlorine bleaches. Oxygenated bleaches tend to be a lot less toxic and are safe to use around plants.
This means they are a great option for people who have a lot of plants in their home or outside in the garden and plan to use bleach in their vicinity.
However, chlorine bleach is not the same. It is incredibly toxic to plants. It causes something known as chlorine toxicity. This is when the soil of the area contaminated with bleach increases to a pH of 11. With a pH this high, plants struggle to absorb minerals and nutrients.
Some of the minerals and nutrients that bleach blocks absorption of include:
The plant becomes filled with salts, and the leaves often shrivel and fall off. This toxicity can remain in the soil for a long time as well, so you may not be able to plant there for a while after bleach gets in the area.
Will Bleach Damage Plants?
The roots of plants are less spread out than those of trees, and this makes them more susceptible to the quick and deadly effects of bleach. Bleach is a great solution in a scenario where you don’t want any plants to grow at all, such as on sidewalks and driveways. It can kill plants in minutes, and stop any other plants from growing in the contaminated patch for a long while.
However, bleach doesn’t distinguish between weeds and the plants you want to grow, so be careful where you spray it. It will kill grass, bushes, and flowers without any hesitation.
If you are purposefully trying to kill an area of plants, that is simple to do. Simply take undiluted bleach and spray it in the area. Spraying is recommended over pouring, as it stops you from over-bleaching and provides a more measured and consistent amount everywhere you want it.
Will Bleach Hurt Trees?
Chlorine bleach does have the potential to harm trees. While it might not necessarily kill them, it does have the ability to seriously weaken them. They may survive due to their expansive roots, but will likely not have a lot of leaves to count on to provide sunlight and allow for growth.
Even an equal mix of bleach and water can severely harm trees. Many people use this mixture to clean their roofs, not realizing the damage it can do to surrounding trees.
Bleach water can kill nearby leaves in under 10 minutes. The results will look as if the leaves are burning, as they quickly turn brown, shrivel up, and fall off of the branch.
How Do You Use Bleach Safely Around Plants?
If you need to use chlorine bleach and don’t want it to harm your plants, it is recommended you use a dilution of 1 tbsp bleach to 1 quart of water.
This will allow you to deep clean outdoor furniture without risking hard damage to your plants. If you want additional security, you can water nearby plants and soil again afterward to make sure that any spilled bleach is fully diluted.
Does Bleach Contaminate Soil?
Bleach does contaminate the soil. The biggest issue that occurs when bleach is added to soil is that it kills a lot of the organisms in the soil. This includes all the beneficial ones that your plants rely on for growth.
Although bleach only lasts in the soil for a few days, it kills everything growing there, and this can take months to repair, if not longer.
There is also the matter of the raised pH and the toxic salts now in the soil. Often, if the contact with bleach is a one-time occurrence, water and nearby microorganisms will help to dilute the soil and bring it back to the proper level. But if the quantity of bleach is too much, or contact occurs over a prolonged period, you may have soil that can’t grow anything on it without a lot of work to fix the problem.
How Long Does Bleach Last in Soil?
In sunny areas, the chlorine part of bleach will only last about 2 days on average. Sunlight makes the bleach break down into chlorine gas. Rain will also cause the bleach to break down faster.
However, there are still a lot of chemicals and particles that will remain in the soil that make it unsuitable for plants. This can last a whole season but may go away sooner if it has been rainy and your soil is healthy otherwise.
There are ways to test the bleach levels in soil, primarily through pH levels. So if you want to see how your soil is doing, you can buy tests designed for use in gardens.
How Do You Remove Bleach From Soil?
Bleach itself will usually only stay in the soil for a couple of days. However, the after-effects can last for several months.
For that reason, it isn’t the bleach you have to get rid of, but the salts and the alkalinity of the soil. If you have time to wait, this change will occur naturally.
However, if you need to plant things in the soil quickly, you can add a lot of water to the soil to help dilute the harmful effects. You can mix in more soil, either from another area of your yard or from a package of store-bought soil.
This can help to bring the nutrients back, and bring in micro-organisms again to promote conditions for healthy soil.
How Do You Stop Tree Roots From Growing Back?
Bleach isn’t always a bad thing to use with plants or on a lawn. It can be an effective way to kill pesky tree roots that may be causing damage to your home or garden.
There are many methods out there for preventing tree roots from growing back, but bleach is a definite go-to for us. However, depending on the type of trees you have, the job may require a more heavy-duty mixture.
Some alternative ways to kill tree roots include:
- Specific growth inhibitors for tree roots
- Removing the root
Depending on the method, it can take anywhere from weeks to several months. The more natural methods are safer for the surrounding areas but do take much longer.
If you need to kill the roots quickly, something like root killers, growth inhibitors, or bacteria killers are designed to work a bit faster.
If you can get bleach into the living part of a tree, such as by cutting into it a little and pouring the bleach in that area, you can kill the tree in a relatively short amount of time. However, the bleach has to be inserted regularly to provide the most effective benefits.
Once you have killed the tree roots, keeping the soil unhealthy is a great way to stop tree roots from growing back. To do this, you can use bleach to make the soil uninhabitable for plant – and root – life.
Bleach isn’t something to mess around with. It can harm people, animals, and plants. However, it does have many practical uses as well, such as disinfecting items, keeping weeds out of your soil, and killing mold and mildew.
If you do use bleach and manage to get some on your plants, it is best to act quickly and dilute it with extra water and sunlight. Not only does prompt attention increase the chance of saving your plants, but it will keep the soil healthier and usable.
If you are instead trying to kill plants, such as a tree that is causing problems or weeds in your walkway or driveway, bleach can be a useful tool. It not only kills plants in the area, but it will keep them from growing in the soil for a while, especially with regular treatments.