Maintain your garden tools at the end of the season

By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
- posted Tue., Sep. 13, 2011
- Contributed Photo

This year’s gardening season is just about over. Time to make some hot mulled cider and settle down with a good book – a gardening one, of course – right? Well, not so fast. Before you hang up those gardening tools and put away that lawnmower, a few maintenance tips will make your gardening chores a lot easier next spring.

By developing proper maintenance habits, your tools will last longer, perform more efficiently and make your gardening tasks easier. Caring for your gardening equipment need not be a time-consuming affair. A few hours on a Saturday afternoon will have your tools in fine shape for the gardening season to come.

Hand tools such as shovels, spades, trowels and hoes should be cleaned of soil and plant debris. Hosing down is usually sufficient, but a stiff brush might be necessary for caked-on soil.

Some rusting is common on most garden tools and usually disappears with use. More serious rust problems occur when tools are left outside for extended periods of time. Rust spots can usually be removed with steel wool and a wire brush, or by using a power drill with a wire brush attachment. It is a good idea to coat the metal parts of your tools with penetrating oil before storing. This leaves a thin film of oil to prevent rust.

Wooden handles can be protected with boiled linseed oil. Do this when the wood is dry, as it will absorb the oil better. Oil can be applied with a soft rag.

Pruning shears and loppers should not only be cleaned of debris, but often require sharpening. Any tools with a cutting edge, such as pruners, hoes or hand-trimmers are beveled to form a keen edge. The sharpness is dependent upon the angle of the bevel. Always follow the original bevel angle when sharpening.

To sharpen tools, you need a vise to hold the tool firmly, files of varying coarsenesses, and a whetstone. An electric drill can also be fitted with a grinding disc specifically designed for sharpening tools.

A single cut or mill file is best for gardening tools, as it removes less metal. Remember, files are meant to be pushed, not pulled. A knife file is used to sharpen pruning saws. Because this file fits between the teeth, you may want to bring your saw down to the hardware store to select the proper size.

Pruners and loppers can often be taken apart for sharpening – a convenient attribute, which is why I love my Felco pruners. These tools are beveled only on the outside of the blade. Often, the bottom blade, or “hook,” is square-shaped and should not be filed.

Use a whetstone for honing fine edges of tools like shears, axes, pruners and loppers. Files can also be used for sharpening hoes, tiller blades and lawn mower blades.

Run lawn mowers until the gas is used up. Some folks like to remove the spark plug, put two drops of oil into the cylinder, and pull the starting cord a few times to lubricate the cylinder and prevent rust buildup over the winter.

To clean under the deck, tip the lawn mower straight back or stand it on saw horses. It is not advisable to tip it sideways. A putty knife is useful to scrape off grass clippings and, once cleaned, a silicon spray will prevent grass from sticking.

A dull lawn mower blade rips the grass instead of neatly slicing it. Besides looking ragged, dull lawn mower blades can facilitate the spread of turf diseases by creating greater amounts of potential entry sites. If your blade needs sharpening, take the time to do it.

Replace the spark plug and wipe down the motor with a clean rag. Now is a good time to change the oil and oil filter, if you own a 4-cycle mower. Lubricate any moving parts and you will be all set to go when warm weather returns.

If you have questions about garden tools, or any other home and garden question, call the UConn Home and Garden Education Center, toll-free, at (860) 486-6271, visit the Web site at, or contact your local Cooperative Extension Office.

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