An efficient procedure for the extraction of high-quality RNA from woody plants without the use of phenol, organic solvents, or alcohol precipitation is described. The method employs commercially available spin-column matrices and mitigates the inhibitory effects of plant polysaccharides and polyphenolic compounds commonly observed on subsequent polymerase chain reaction amplification when conventional extraction methods are applied to woody plant species. The method described has been successfully used in the development of highly sensitive reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) techniques for the detection of a number of viruses in their woody hosts. The viruses detected included apple stem grooving capillovirus (ASGV), apple stem pitting virus, Prunus necrotic ringspot ilarvirus (PNRSV), grapevine fanleaf and Arabis mosaic nepoviruses, and grapevine leafroll-associated closterovirus type 3. The method described was equally effective for the extraction of viral RNA from either budwood, leaves, or flower blossoms as determined by the equivalent RT-PCR detection of ASGV and PNRSV from these tissues. Detection of viral RNA in samples of total plant RNA prepared using this method was found to be as sensitive as was previously described for the immunocapture RT-PCR technique.