URBANA, Ill. – After the garden is cleaned up and put to bed for the winter, it is time to give your tools some attention. University of Illinois Extension educator Jennifer Fishburn says that garden tools should be cleaned, sharpened, and hung in the correct place after every use, but admits that does not always happen.
“I think most gardeners are like myself,” Fishburn states. “Use the tool and be happy that it ended up in the shed and not lying in the yard.”
Quality garden tools that are properly cared for will last for a long time. Not only will properly maintained tools last longer, but clean, sharp blades will make garden work easier. In addition, cleaning tools removes disease inoculum that can be in soil and plant debris left on the tool.
Before storing tools for the winter, first remove soil and debris. Use a strong spray of water, wire brush, or putty knife to remove caked on soil. Remove small soil particles and rust spots with sandpaper or steel wool. Lubricate tool pivot points and springs with machine oil.
Sharpen larger tools such as hoes and shovels with a #10 bastard mill file or power drill with a coarse grinding disk or wheel. “To prepare for sharpening, place the tool in a vice, wear a pair of leather gloves and don’t forget your safety glasses,” Fishburn says. The cutting edge should be sharpened to maintain the same angle as the original bevel. Start with the top edge of the tool, file away from you, and only file one way, maintaining a 45-degree angle. File the opposite side lightly to remove metal burrs. Finally wipe or spray metal parts with a petroleum-based lubricant and rust-inhibitor such as WD-40.
“If you haven’t sharpened a tool before, it takes practice. If you regularly file your tools, this job will be much easier,” Fishburn adds.
Now that the metal parts are clean, the handle needs some attention. Fiberglass handles simply need to be washed and dried. To prevent splinters, sand rough spots on wooden handles with a fine to medium sandpaper. Replace weak or broken handles. Most hardware stores carry replacement handles. Remove dust and rub linseed oil into wooden handles. Let it soak in. Apply until it doesn’t absorb into the wood any more, then dry off any remaining oil. Tighten nuts, bolts, and screws. Replace them if they are worn or rusty. Last but not least, apply a band of bright colored paint or tape to the handle. This will help you find tools that have been left out in the yard or in your neighbor’s garage.
Bladed tools such as pruners should be disinfected after each use with rubbing alcohol or a 10 percent bleach/water solution. Lubricate moving parts of clippers and pruning shears with oil yearly. Many pruners can be disassembled for sharpening. Use a whetstone to sharpen beveled blades and be sure to maintain the original shape of the bevel.
“Before disassembling, it is a good idea to take a picture of the item,” Fishburn suggests. “This will aid in reassembling the tool.”
Store tools indoors in a clean, dry area with blade ends off the ground. Hang tools or store blades upright.
“Don’t forget about chemical sprayers,” Fishburn says. “These should be cleaned after every use. Before storing for the winter, thoroughly wash and rinse all parts. Most chemical manufacturers recommend triple rinsing of sprayers. Check the owner’s manual for other maintenance suggestions such as applying oil to all moving parts. Hang the sprayer upside down until thoroughly dry.”
Garden hoses are often forgotten in the fall. Be sure to drain all water from the hose and store it in a dry location. In the winter, water left in plastic hoses will cause the hose to freeze and crack. Store hoses on hose reel supports or coil loosely.
Wheelbarrows, carts, and wagons should be thoroughly cleaned. Touch up paint-chipped surfaces with spray paint to prevent exposed steel from rusting.
Refer to the owner’s manual for specific instructions on cleaning and storing power equipment. Avoid costly mistakes such as storing a power washer in an outdoor shed. In general, power equipment such as lawn mowers, tillers, and chippers should be thoroughly cleaned. Remove caked-on soil, plant material, and grass clippings from equipment. Tighten loose screws and nuts. Sharpen blades.
If you don’t have the tools or know-how to sharpen mower blades or pruners, take them to a professional. It is best to do this in the fall when they aren’t as busy.
“Just think about how nice it will be next spring when you go to the garden shed or garage and find all you garden tools ready for use,” Fishburn says.