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"Disinfecting" Plants

I have a 5 gallon tank (soon to be replaced by a 40 gallon) which has been
set up for several years.  There were no fish in this tank for over a year,
but about 2 months ago I put 3 goldfish in.  They seemed to be doing fine
until I put some Java Moss and Java Fern in the tank.  3 days after this
they quickly got sick and died.  I was told by several sources that it had
nothing to do with the plants and that 3 goldfish need a much bigger tank
and that probably killed them.  I waited a few weeks and then got 5 guppies.
They lasted a week, and 4 died.  The one remaining guppy had white spots on
him (it didn't look exactly like ich) and I put some Quick Cure drops in.
He survived.  In the meantime, I though I'd better start testing the water
(duh) and I discovered that the pH was below 6.0.  I had to add many doses
of pH up drops to get it up to 7.  Since I assumed the pH was killing the
fish, I got 5 more guppies.  After a week one gave birth.  I've had 2 babies
in there for 3 weeks now and all fish seemed fine until yesterday.  Same
white blotches on all adults and they are swimming funny.  The babies seem
fine.  Oh, I also have a small catfish in there which seems fine also.  I
started putting more Quick Cure in last night, but the fish seem worse.
I've done two 25% water changes in the past 3 weeks and there is no ammonia
in the tank.  I have a UG filter.  Right after the goldfish died I noticed a
lot of small white worms which I was told were harmless nematodes.  I did
notice some other small white worms (larger than the first batch) but never
inquired about what these might be.

My plan is to set up the 40 gallon tank and just start over, but I don't
want to lose the plants.  It seems to me there is something in my tank which
I can't get rid of and is hurting the fish.  Is there a way to
clean/disinfect/sterilize the plants so they don't carry any harmful
organisms to the new tank?  I was thinking of putting them in salt water for
a short time.  Would that kill off any harmful things and not hurt the