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Monday, Apr. 27th 2015

Sanitize tools for good garden hygiene

 Just like surgeons and dentists, gardeners should work with clean tools. Sanitizing garden tools between uses will lower the risk of spreading diseases from one plant to another, says a University of Missouri Extension horticulturist.

“We are seeing more and more soil-borne diseases, such as bacterial canker in tomatoes,” said David Trinklein. “Sanitation is the first line of defense in combating diseases.”

Tools such as pruning shears can easily spread disease from an infected plant to a healthy one if not sanitized, he said. Contaminated equipment can spread bacterial, fungal and viral diseases, and even nematodes.

Regular cleaning also will protect metal blades from rust and wooden handles from rot, extending the life of your tools.

Trinklein recommends sanitizing tools with a solution of one part household bleach to nine parts water.

Before sanitizing, be sure to clean off soil and organic matter, which may neutralize the chlorine in the bleach.

“Then you simply dip them in the solution for a couple of minutes and then allow the solution to evaporate,” he said. “Once the bleach has evaporated, it is perfectly safe to go in and use the tools, even though you might still smell the chlorine.”

Sanitize stakes, pots and containers as well. Trinklein notes that clay pots are more difficult to sanitize because they are highly porous.

“Back in the day when we used a lot of clay pots in floriculture, we used to either steam them or put them in a vat of water and boil the life out of them,” he said.

Gardening can be tiring work and modern life is full of distractions, so it can be easy to forget about or put off cleaning your tools, Trinklein said. “Make it a ritual: As you put away a tool, clean and disinfect it. It’s a good ‘best management practice.’”

Gardening will be safer and easier if you keep tools sharpened, he said. That applies not just to shears and knives but tools such as trowels, hoes and shovels as well.

Trinklein notes that for the avid gardener, high-quality tools are a good investment. “Quality is something that costs, but properly cared for, a quality tool literally should last a lifetime.”


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University of Missouri Extension Master Gardener Program