As any informed horticulturist knows, cleanliness in one’s garden—indoors or out—is essential. By keeping a cultivation area sterile, gardeners preemptively avoid disastrous issues with bugs, mold, mildew, and other plant-based pathogens.
While most cultivators agree on the necessity of cleanliness in the garden area, opinions become askew with more subjective and nuanced sterilization techniques.
For example, many indoor gardeners religiously bleach their entire growroom (and all the equipment in it) after each harvest. However, others are convinced that this level of cleaning is not necessary on such a regular basis, and only sterilize their walls and pots a couple of times a year.
Point being, almost every cultivator has their own method of “standard” or “normal” sterilization, and these often vary on a case-by-case basis.
The regular sterilization of pruning shears and scissors is one of the maintenance chores that varies in importance between cultivators. For most horticulturalists, the regular sanitation of pruning shears during the workday is a way to avoid the transmission of pathogens and diseases from one plant to another.
While the notion is common knowledge, the importance of this sterilization act is debatable. Therefore, for those novice gardeners out there, here is some information about sterilizing pruning equipment.
Types of Sterilization
There are a variety of sterilization chemicals out there that will kill off potential pathogens, bugs, eggs, or spores on one’s sheers. For the most part, gardeners opt with an extremely diluted bleach solution or rubbing alcohol. Others opt for pine oil cleaner, denatured ethanol, trisodium phosphate, quaternary ammonium salts, or Lysol.
A word to the wise, though: be sure to read up on water dilution ratios before using any of these chemicals for pasteurization. The chosen sterilization solution should be pre-mixed and kept in a handy position within the grow space.
Experts recommend that tools be dipped or soaked in the solution between each plant, with the solution being replaced after every 10 plants.
Read More: Sterilization vs. Sanitation in a Grow Room
Pros of Sterilizing Pruning Equipment
In horticultural studies undertaken at Washington State University, Linda Chalker-Scott found that the sanitation of pruning tools is beneficial in relationship to “diseases that invade the vascular system [of plants] or form oozing cankers.” Along this line of thought, Chalker-Scott identified the vascular disease known as “fire blight” can be spread through the unsanitary treatment of pruning equipment.
In a like fashion, she noted that dirty pruning shears can spread the oozing canker diseases known as “perennial canker, Cytospora canker, and Vasla canker.”
It is worth noting, however, that different types of plant subspecies react differently to these infectious diseases and that cross-contamination may only be possible with certain varietals.
Also, seasonal and environmental conditions greatly affect the efficacy of these pathogens, with humid weather providing optimal conditions.
Cons of Sterilizing Pruning Equipment
The downside of sterilizing pruning equipment is the wear and tear on hands and tools. The overuse of corrosive chemicals such as bleach on tools can lead to pitting on their surfaces as well as the slow decline of springs and other internal mechanisms.
There are also potential health risks concerning continued use of bleach and other substances when they contact the skin. When breathed in, they can also interact with the cardiovascular system.
Constant sterilization can also be seen as unnecessary work. To illustrate, aside from the control of vascular and oozing canker diseases, expert gardeners don’t put much emphasis on shear sterilization.
This is largely because soil-borne and airborne pathogens are just as easily spread by a gardener’s hands or clothing as by tools.
Some outdoor gardeners feel that “preventative landscape management” procedures—including the removal of all dead and unnecessary plant matter from a garden—are better forms of disease management than tool sterilization.
The best horticulturists are those who take the most pride in their gardens and their tools. How exactly you go about that, however, is up to you.
Read more articles about sterilization, sanitation, and gardening cleanup.