Q: A few weeks ago you said that we should disinfect our tools to prevent the spread of disease. How and when do we do that?

A: Dirt should be washed or wiped off on a regular basis, like when you are done for the day. Disinfection is a little harder to schedule. If you are out a lot, once a week might be a good idea. But, if you are cutting/trimming/digging anything that you think might be diseased, disinfect often. Some people recommend every cut, but at the minimum before you move to another plant.

Disinfecting doesn’t have to be a big deal. First clean off the dirt, which can harbor insects and diseases and prevents the disinfectant from reaching your tools. Then dip, spray, or use a rag or wipes to rub Lysol, Listerine or Pine-Sol (or generic versions of the same) on the tools. Tests have shown Lysol to be the least corrosive.

Some sites still recommend bleach, but that is not a good choice. It is very hard on tools and causes pitting. The pits can hold disease and other problems and make it harder to clean the tools in the future. It is also hard on us. Because we are all so used to the idea of bleach, we don’t always realize how toxic it is. It can be very harsh on skin and be very irritating to our lungs, causing breathing problems for many people. Plus it can ruin your clothes.

You may also want to take the time to sharpen tools. There are many sharpeners or files that are easy to use and can make your tools behave like they are new again. You may find that the reason gardening was getting harder was that the tools were aging, not you.