It may not be the most glamorous of winter tasks but cleaning out greenhouses, gutters and water butts is an important one. Cleaning greenhouses, whether glass or plastic, greatly improves the growing environment for plants. By removing the algae, moss and grime it lets in more light and helps control pests and diseases too.
Glasshouses, plastic greenhouses, polytunnels and garden frames are all candidates for periodic cleansing.
Cleaning greenhouses, gutters and water butts
Set aside a good day for the task, ideally in dry, calm weather, then;
- Remove plants – a sheltered area with fleece protection is a suitable area to hold plants while cleaning is carried out
- Brush or vacuum to remove all debris for destruction or removal from the garden
- Clean the structural parts with disinfectant or detergent (hot solutions are often best – consult manufacturers directions for use):
- Hydrogen peroxide based products, often sold for veterinary purposes, are especially benign to users and the environment
- Garden disinfectants, such as Jeyes fluid, are satisfactory
- Specialist greenhouse cleaners, such as Just Glasshouse Cleaner and Growing Success Concentrated Greenhouse Cleaner, are also available
- Domestic cleaning products may be used
- Glazing material should also be washed inside and out, but for plastic materials test on a small inconspicuous area first to be sure the cleaning material does not damage the glazing. Scrub off any old shade paint on the outside of the glass from the summer
- Ease out dirt trapped between panes using a flexible scraper such as plastic plant label
- Replace broken parts such as vent controllers and draught excluders
Cleaning out gutters and water butts
At the same time as cleaning the greenhouse structure, it is also usually a good idea to clean out other structures such as;
These block easily with detritus so cleaning them out ensures the free flow of water and limits build up of unwanted material in water butts.
- Put on a pair of rubber gloves and run your hand along the inside length of gutter
- Scoop out any old leaves, moss and other debris that has accumulated
- Pay particular attention to the top of fall pipes – these may need unblocking with the aid of a wire coat hanger
- Sluice away remaining dirt with a hosepipe or watering can, diverting water to a bucket for disposal around trees and shrubs
- Place a wire mesh cap where the gutter meets the fall pipe to trap leaves and other larger debris. Clean this out regularly, especially after leaf fall
- Put any debris on the compost heap
Water tanks or water butts
Standing water in butts can become green with algae and uncovered tanks may harbour mosquitoes. Ideally they should be cleaned out once a year.
- Drain out any water by tipping the butt on its side to clear dregs and enable access for cleansing
- Scrub out the inside of the butt or tank with a coarse brush, if accessible, using a proprietary cleaning product such as Just Water Butt Cleaner or garden disinfectant. Tie a brush to a stick to reach into areas that are otherwise inaccessible
- Rinse with clean water
- Refill then add potassium permanganate crystals until the water is faintly coloured pink. This will help to keep the water clear of algae. As fresh rainwater enters the tank the strength will be diluted and so repeat the treatment from time to time. Alternatively, use a proprietary water butt freshener as directed by the manufacturer
- Water that is discoloured or smelly will not harm plants, although it is good practice to use tap water for vulnerable seeds and seedlings
- Fit filters to rainwater diverters to ensure butts are collecting clean rainwater. Old tights make a satisfactory filter where it is not possible to fit more sophisticated equipment
- Tight fitting lids that exclude light will help keep butts wholesome and also exclude young children and wildlife that can potentially come to grief in uncovered water butts
Weedkillers for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining weed, algae and moss killers available to gardeners; see section 2b and 2c)
Safety: Only attempt to clean gutters and glazing that are safe and easy to reach. Avoid putting your body weight against conservatory or greenhouse glazing. Long handled tools are available for safe working from ground level. Wear eye protection and gloves when handling glass or sharp metal fittings.