Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Clean Tools.........Or Better Lab Techniques

 Clean Tools.......Good Lab Techniques  !!!

One of the last classes I took for my undergraduate degree was one titled "The Biology Of Weeds"...I know, I know... I thought the same thing as I stood in line to enroll, that was back in the day when we carried punch cards or data cards for enrollment. 

For the first 3 weeks of class the professor spoke at great length about proper care and cleaning of equipment. I thought I would surely go insane by the end of the semester, Ah !.... but there was a method to the madness, not only did we cover weeds, but also plant pathology and methods of disease and seed transmission. 

By the end of the class I will say for a fact I learned more about basic garden "culture" and horticulture that I had in all the rest of my undergraduate degree classes. Even today in our commercial and residential lawn maintenance divisions  we apply some of those techniques brought forth in my weed biology class...As a simple example all of our crews carry a 10% solution of bleach in a spray bottle, after each mowing the crew sprays the bottom of the mower decks, this prevents patch diseases (brown patch etc.) from being spread from one lawn to the next, simple but very effective. We also make sure each crew has at least 2 extra mower blades for quick replacement when the one on the mower becomes dull or worn, dull blades cut rough and leaves the turf plot unsightly and open to disease. 

Not too many days go by in the spring when I am working in my own yard that I do not reflect on the lessons I learned in that class from basic sanitizing of equipment to the cleaning shovels and trowels after using. I found this article which will walk you through some of the basics, and more eloquently than a rough old gardener could do, so enjoy and happy gardening!!

Ralph Edge

 How to Sanitize Garden Equipment

Sanitizing garden equipment prevents the spread of bacteria, mold and viruses between plants. Sanitize seed trays between plantings for better germination rates and to prevent damping off. Disinfecting transplanting flats and pots ensures the success of container plantings. If you suspect any plant you're working on is not healthy, clean your tools thoroughly before reusing them. Dip pruning shears and saws in a disinfecting solution before each cut. Making a sanitizing solution and tool cleaning kit for the garden is easy and will reward you with healthier plants.
Difficulty: Easy


Things You'll Need:

  • Household bleach without additives for color and scent
  • 1- or 5-gallon bucket
  • Measuring device (Use only for mixing solution, do not reuse or repurpose.)
  • Water
  • Gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Small capped bottle or spray bottle
  • Funnel
Get what you need


  1. Make a cleaning solution of bleach and water. The usual ratio is a 10 percent solution or 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Using a 1 cup measuring cup, this would be 1 cup bleach to 9 cups water. Use a heavy solution of 3 parts bleach and 2 parts water to disinfect tools used on plants that are known to be diseased.

  2. Make a large batch in a clean 5-gallon laundry bucket. Transfer bleach solution to smaller containers with a plastic funnel.
  3. Store well-labeled solution in 1 gallon containers, like laundry bleach bottles that have childproof caps, out of the reach of children and pets. Transfer to smaller containers and spray bottles when ready to use.
  4. Apply Solution During Garden Chores

  5. Using sanitizing bleach solution in the garden is easy. Carry a bottle of bleach solution and clean rags into the garden for small jobs like cutting flowers. Wipe your tool after use with bleach solution and a clean rag.
  6. When pruning or limbing, carry a 1-gallon bucket with bleach solution and clean rags. Wipe away plant matter from tools before applying the sanitizer. Dip shears and pruning saws in the bucket of disinfectant and leave for 1 to 2 minutes between uses.
  7. Fill a 5-gallon bucket with a 10 percent bleach solution and carry to soak shovels and gardening forks or other large tools.
  8. Disinfecting Containers

  9. Disinfecting seed trays, flats and small pots or large planters ensures successful container gardening by preventing the spread of plant disease. Soak trays, flats and small pots to loosen dried debris, scrub clean and sanitize with a 10 percent bleach solution applied and left for 15 minutes. Rinse thoroughly with clean water and dry; place in bright sunlight.
  10. According to Gayle Wood in her 2004 book, "1,001 Gardening Secrets," soak containers overnight in a weak bleach solution to remove minerals and kill algae or bacteria. "Fill a tub with hot water and add 2 tablespoons bleach for every gallon."
  11. Use a spray bottle with bleach solution for a large pot. Clean old potting soil and other debris out of the pot. Spray the cleaned inside of the pot, coating thoroughly and being careful not to allow the spray to blow back toward you. Wearing safety goggles prevents over-spray from getting in your eyes. Let the solution sit for 15 minutes, rinse thoroughly and let dry in bright sunlight.
  12. Storing Sanitized Tools

  13. Rinsing tools well in clear water after using a sanitizing bleach solution is important. Bleach is corrosive and can cause rust.
  14. Oil tools with machine oil or penetrating oil before putting away.

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