Clean up so you don’t get cleaned out

March 28, 2024 | 5 Min read
Coming to the end of harvest, and starting to think about pruning? Have you considered how you and your contractors will disinfect pruning tools?

Coming to the end of harvest, and starting to think about pruning? 

Have you considered how you and your contractors will disinfect pruning tools?

If you haven’t, Apple and Pear Australia has been coming up with the answers on your behalf.

Key points:

  • pruning tools can spread pathogens causing plant disease from a diseased tree to a healthy tree
  • when pruning, cut at least 20cm below any visible symptoms in branches and stems
  • disinfect pruning tools with disinfectant by spraying or dipping between cuts to help reduce the spread of plant diseases; at a minimum disinfect between blocks
  • remove any diseased pruned material and fruit from the orchard
  • sweep or mulch to remove infected pruning material and fruit
  • implementing best practice in your orchard now will help you be better prepared in the event of a pest (biosecurity) incursion


Why is cleaning pruning tools important?

Plant diseases, caused by pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and fungi, can be transferred to trees via soil and plant debris stuck on pruning tools, or from diseased trees to healthy trees if tools are not disinfected before cutting. 

These plant disease-causing organisms may be present in the internal parts of the tree or on the bark surface and they can become attached to the pruning blades as they pass through the branch or shoot being cut. 

A bit like if you are exposed to aerosols that transfer disease causing particles from one person to another. When the next cut is made with the contaminated blades, the pathogen may be transferred and a new infection established, spreading the disease through the orchard.

Organisms that cause disease are generally not visible to the eye, but the symptoms they cause may be. 

In plants symptoms can include internal discolouration (often grey or brown) of stems and branches.

Even where cuts are made below these visible internal symptoms, the pathogen may have grown beyond obviously diseased sections into what appear to be healthy plant tissues.

Disinfection of pruning tools, ideally between each cut, can help to reduce the unintended spread of plant diseases. 

While it can seem cumbersome and impractical to handle disinfectants when making multiple cuts on the same tree or pruning many trees, it will reduce the spread of diseases that may otherwise become more difficult to control later if they become more established in the orchard. 

Would you apply a used band-aid to a cut on your finger?

A range of disinfectant products are available from horticultural suppliers.  Choose one that works well for your situation. Pruning tool blades can be dipped, wiped or sprayed with disinfectant solution before moving from one tree to the next.

Common options include 70 per cent alcohol, rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) or methylated spirits.  Allow the alcohol solution to dry on the blade before making the next cut.  

Other options include hydrogen peroxide and copper fungicides. 

Bleach (sodium hypochlorite), while it is a reliable disinfectant when used correctly, is less desirable as it is corrosive to metal – and clothing.  Whatever you choose, be sure to read the product label and use accordingly.  The additional benefit is that cleaning plant residues and sap from pruning tools also extends the lifespan of the blades.

Other points to consider:

  • remove any debris from tools prior to disinfecting; organic matter can reduce the efficacy of disinfectants
  • disinfectants need to be used at the correct concentration and contact time to be effective
  • disinfectants are inactivated by organic matter and fresh solutions need to be used each day
  • alcohol is used at 70 per cent because anything less than this is too weak to kill pathogens effectively. Pure alcohol (100 per cent) evaporates too quickly so does not remain in contact with the pathogen for long enough to be effective. Keep solutions of 70-75 per cent alcohol in a sealed container to prevent evaporation

Having simple best practice procedures in place in your orchard will reduce spread of diseases through it, and also help to make sure you are prepared in the event of a pest incursion.






Categories Pruning

Read also

View all

Clean up so you don’t get cleaned out

Lighter, more compact pruning shears

Ausvine Kirogn pruners suit all tree crops