The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

Local News

February 6, 2013

Sanitation: An Important Garden Chore

ROCKY MOUNT — So, what will tomorrow bring?  At this time of year, we are riding the roller coaster up and down as winter and spring duke it out.  While it is still too early to start most seeded varieties of annual flower and vegetable varieties, it is not too early to prepare for the upcoming gardening season.  In addition to cutting back ornamental grasses and targeting cool season weeds with herbicide spot treatments, it is likely that your gardening tools and equipment require a little pre-season attention.

A wonderful publication out of Purdue University, Sanitation for Disease and Pest Management, makes the point clear: "A clean greenhouse [and clean gardening tools] lead to healthy plants, and healthy plants lead to happy growers.”

For the gardener, the obvious tools include pruners, saws, shovels, rakes and hoes. Hopefully at the end of 2012 you washed all dirt and debris off of your equipment with soap and water and then applied a generous coat of lubricant to the cutting surfaces.  Although the visible dirt may be gone, invisible fungi, bacteria and viruses can sometimes remain on the assortment of hand tools, seed flats, pots and benches leading to infection in the upcoming crop.  The initial washing step is critical because soil and plant residues interfere with contact between sanitizer and the disease causing organisms. Soil residue and organic matter can also inactivate the sanitizer. Some of the most commonly used disinfectants include commercially available quaternary ammonium compounds and hydrogen dioxide in greenhouse operations and liquid bleach and alcohol on the homeowner level.  Each product will have different properties and will require different application methods and contact times.  Most products will require a swipe or a dip method followed by air-drying or rinsing.  It is also important to note that some products are more corrosive than others and can damage metal parts if not rinsed after treatment.  View the complete chart of "Treatments used for sanitizing tools, equipment, pots, flats, surfaces, and other related items" by Kelly

Ivors and Mike Munster, NC State University at http://tinyurl.com/cbme2ex.While we often resort to these chemical disinfectants, steam and

solarization provide another set of options. For steam, plastic items

should be heated to 150 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 minutes, while less sensitive items can be heated to 180 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. The second option is to place gardening tools and equipment on a clean, solid surface and cover tightly with clear plastic.  As a result of the sun passing through the film, the temperature will rise rapidly and solarization will occur.  Extension specialist Dr. Kelly Ivors notes that temperatures exceeding 140 degrees Fahrenheit for 4-8 hours per day over the course of seven days should kill most pathogens.

Other simple practices that will help to reduce the spread of pathogens include:

• Storing tools and equipment off of the ground when not in use,

• Avoiding the contact of hose ends and watering wands with the soil surface and hang all watering equipment on walls or suspended hooks between irrigation cycles,

• Removing diseased plant material from your garden immediately and wash your hands frequently to avoid transmitting disease organisms, and

• Using sanitizing wipes on pruners after each cut when disease is suspected.

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