A Greener View: Why—and How—You Should Be Sanitizing Your Pruning Tools

September 7, 2020 Updated: September 7, 2020
Try a crab apple, and you may find out that it is really good. (Kukuruxa/Shutterstock)

Q: Can we eat the crab apples on our tree? They are larger than other crab apples we have seen. They look good but are very tart.

A: The only difference between a crab apple and a regular apple is the diameter. If it is smaller than two inches across, it is a crab apple, and if it is larger, it is an apple. You will notice that inexpensive bagged apples at the grocery store will say that they are a minimum of 2 1/4 or 2 1/2 inches in diameter.

This rule has nothing to say about the taste or the use of the apple. Try a crab apple, and you may find out that it is really good. Several large crab apple varieties are sweet and can be used to make applesauce, pies, cider, and other treats, or they can be eaten straight from the tree. When I find one of these trees, I eat the crab apples, core and all, like they are cherries without a pit. Usually, the seeds are small enough to not be a problem, but you can eat them and leave a tiny little core.


The nice thing about the larger crab apples is that they are easier to handle due to their size. So, if you want to make applesauce, it takes fewer of them. If you have more patience, you can use the smaller crab apples, and after smashing them, you can strain out the peels and seeds.

If you decide to eat them, you will need to pick them. Some apples will let a lot fall if you shake the tree, and others don’t, so spread a sheet on the ground under the tree and start shaking to see what happens. Be careful on the heavily loaded branches to not break them.

If you have to pick them by hand, give them a slight tug, and if they don’t come off, you can use a pruner to cut them off. Pulling too hard will snap off the short spur branch that produces flowers on apple trees. Without spur branches, you don’t get flowers.

Q: One of my five maples (about 12 years old) has dead branches. There are a few clusters of dead leaves, but it mainly has dead limbs, and they are not very big. I am planning to have someone help me prune the dead branches. We will be using loppers and a tree pruner. You have mentioned in the past about disinfecting pruners as you cut, and I need to know what sterilizing medium I should use.

A: With all the talk about using hand sanitizers these days, you would think it is something new, but horticulturalists have been preaching the use of sanitizers for decades. Hopefully, people will finally start following our advice.

You can use rubbing alcohol or bleach to sanitize pruning tools between cuts and between trees or shrubs. Either one can be put in a spray bottle or applied to a rag. The bleach can be diluted up to about 5 or 10 parts water to 1 part bleach, but it can still stain clothes at these low rates.

Just spray the blades of the pruner and not the cut on the tree. We are trying to prevent the spread of disease organisms that stick to the pruner blades from moving to an uninfected plant.

I prefer using the alcohol types of sanitizers because the bleach will sometimes destroy the lubricant in the joints of the pruners, and it can ruin the sharpness of the cutting blades.

sterilizing tools infographic

Email questions to Jeff Rugg at info@greenerview.com. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Creators.com. Copyright 2020 Jeff Rugg. Distributed by Creators Syndicate.