Spring cleaning happens every year in my home and my landscape. I dust my photo frames, scrub the bathroom and polish the furniture. Then, I head outside to sweep the dead leaves off the porch and clear out my flower beds of winter's pesky bits of debris.
Through the years, I've realized a weekend of heavy-duty dusting, scrubbing, sweeping and shining refreshes my mind - and my home - before the warmer climate and growing season begin.
But why organize only one mass cleaning spree a year? I could use a fresh start before the cold winter months, too. In terms of tree care and maintenance, late fall and even early winter are perfect times to clean pruning tools and yard supplies - when they're not in use.
Although your plants are dormant, active plant diseases may linger on pruning blades until spring. While your trees and shrubs rest in winter, take the opportunity to sterilize and repair your pruning tools.
Although non-sanitized hand pruners, hand shearers and loppers do not necessarily spread pest problems from tree to tree, dirty tools can spread diseases. "Fungal diseases can attach to the blade on a pruning tool," says Greg Mazur, tech advisor for The Davey Tree Expert Company.
Fungi-infested tools can spread diseases to similar, unaffected plants while pruning, Mazur explains. Diseases that commonly spread from tree to tree via non-sanitized tools include fire blight on pear trees, oak wilt on oak trees and Dutch elm disease on elm trees.
To sterilize pruning tools, Mazur encourages homeowners to use a 10 percent bleach/90 percent water solution. "Make contact between the solution and the blade for about one minute, then rinse off the solution," he says, adding that other household cleaning supplies will not kill fungal spores as effectively as the bleach solution. "Apply oil to the cutting blade on a pruning tool to keep it from rusting," he adds.
Hand pruners, hand shearers and loppers are all common pruning tools that require proper, thorough cleaning. But even if you regularly clean your pruning tools (after each use is highly recommended), you can still use the winter months to work on repairing and preparing them for future use in spring.
"Sometimes people use a lopper to cut branches that are too large, which bends the blade," Mazur says. "So sometimes it's a good idea to sharpen blades and realign your tools in winter. Otherwise, your tools won't be able to cut as cleanly when you need them."
The same applies to lawn mowers. For several reasons, homeowners should occasionally check their lawn mower blades for dulling. Mazur says sharper blades reduce the opportunity for diseases to invade turf by 20 percent: "Because the shredded ends of grass blades - which provide more opportunities for diseases to invade the turf - won't exist, sharper blades reduce the mower's fuel consumption by 20 percent."
So, just because the cold air and bone-chilling breezes are here to stay for a while, proper tree care practices don't have to end now. Spruce up your pruning tools while they're not in use and be grateful you did when you need them next year. Better yet, your trees will thank you for your efforts when their healthy, pruned structures blossom in spring.