A hit: Swipe with a wipe not enough to disinfect pruning tools

Sterilizing takes time but is not commonly needed

Hello Janet and Steven,

Just wanted you to know that something you answered in a musing way during a pruning talk I attended, was right on. You'd said you use bleach and water to sterilize your pruning saw or clippers. Someone asked if they could just use antiseptic wipes on their blade between cuts of a plant suspected of harboring disease. I think the plants being discussed were a cherry with black knot and euonymus with crown gall. You said, "Probably you could, but not just a simple wipe. It's probably like at the blood bank, when the nurse has to rub the skin with alcohol for x amount of time."

I just ran across a Cornell University bulletin that prescribes a minutes-long soak in 70% alcohol or 10% bleach. Doesn't seem like a swipe with an antibacterial tissue can approach that!



Thank you. That's great information.

Sterile tools can help prevent the spread of some viruses, and diseases that spread within the water conducting system of wood, but we don't think a gardener should become overly concerned about that. It's probably more important to:

  • Avoid wet weather when pruning plants that might be infected with fungus or bacteria
  • Remove infected plant parts as soon as you see them, cutting well below any suspicious area.
  • Make a habit of keeping blades free of sap.


As for cleanliness, it could be that our hands are more to blame than our tools, for spreading disease, and in that regard it also pays to prune only when it's dry and avoid handling diseased wood.

More about this, from Cornell and Washington State Extensions