3 Easy Methods For Sterilizing Shears & Why It Matters
Prune or propagate your plant, and you are basically performing a small surgery on it. Cutting into plant tissue creates an open wound, which leaves your plant vulnerable to pathogens.
Your pruning shears or scissors might look sparkly and clean, but the danger is invisible. Dirty pruning shears carry bacteria, fungi, and molds that can infect both your plant and cuttings.
I learned this the hard way when I pruned my big beautiful jade. My shears looked clean, so I assumed they were, and snipped several cuttings. One month later, black spots appeared on the mother plant and then on the newly potted cuttings. These plants were growing in different locations, so it was clear the bacteria was systemic. You can see the plant, cuttings, and black fungus spot below.
Here's how to prevent this from happening to your plant.
Prep Before Sterilizing
Prep your shears by cleaning off any obvious dirt. Heavy-duty gardening shears may need a light sanding or scrubbing to get rid of dirt or rust. Delicate houseplant shears can be cleaned with soap and water to remove any soil or stem pieces. Once the visible dirt is cleaned off, sanitize your shears using one of the methods below.
Soak In Water & Bleach
Mix 1 part bleach with 9 parts water, (10% solution), then soak your shears in this solution for at least 3 minutes. Note: Bleach is corrosive, so be careful not to over soak and damage your shears. Also, make sure not to get any of this bleach/water solution on your plant or cuttings.
Disinfect With Strong Household Cleaner
Lysol, Pine-Sol, or even Listerine will kill plant pathogens. Of the three options, Lysol is the most gentle on your tools. Household cleaners vary in strength, but are still effective and proven to work. You can even use these products at full strength.
Wipe Or Spray With Isopropyl Alcohol
I like this method the best because it's quick and powerful. Isopropyl alcohol is a strong smelling, synthetic alcohol used for medical wipes and disinfectants. It evaporates quickly, which is why it's also used to sterilize things like electronics and eyeglasses.
You can buy it as easy-to-use wipes or in a bottle, but just make sure it's a 70% - 100% solution, and not rubbing alcohol which is more diluted. You can see how quickly it disappears in the video below.
Make It A Habit
I recommend sterilizing your shears right after you've completed your project, then storing them in a clean dry place. This way, when you set out to prune another plant your shears are ready to go, and you can concentrate on giving your plant a nice shape or a new start.