If you have been gardening for any length of time, then you know the importance of having the proper garden tool on hand. As a good gardener, caring for those gardening tools is a requirement. Taking advantage of these winter months for preventative maintenance, repair and upgrade if need be is a smart move.
The gardening tools you use need to be sharp and clean. You don’t want them to cause the spread of disease or pest infestation. The tools are exposed to plants and soil that may include bacterial, fungal, or insects that can cause disease or infestations if allowed to remain on a tool’s surface. So good maintenance practice is essential.
To avoid any possible harm to your garden, it is important to perform certain maintenance activities on your gardening tools on a daily basis. For example,
• After digging in your garden, rinse the tools with water from the garden hose. Use a wire brush or putty knife to ensure that you remove all the dirt that may be stuck to the surface.
• Thoroughly scrub pruning tools with a nailbrush and apply soapy water.
• If you expose tools to diseased plants or to soil infested with pests, soak them in a diluted mixture of two cups of bleach and one gallon of water. After that, rinse the tools in plain water and wipe with a cotton pad that’s been soaked with rubbing alcohol.
• Use a clean towel or rag to dry off tools.
• Don’t neglect the wood handles of your tools. Use boiled linseed oil to condition the handles and protect the metal parts of the tools. The linseed oil creates a barrier between the metal of your tools and oxygen and prevents rust. It’s really a good idea to apply a lot of it over the whole tool, leave the tool alone for about 15 minutes, and then wipe off the excess oil with a dry cloth.
• Fill a bucket with sand mixed with plant-based or boiled linseed oil and a little water to assure that the solution is damp. Thrust the blade, tines or teeth of a tool into the sand a few times for a quick cleaning when they’re dry. The oil prevents rust and corrosion from forming on metal surfaces.
• Don’t use petroleum products like motor oil on your tools. If you do, the remnants of the petroleum will be introduced into the soil the next time you garden with the tools.
• Use disinfecting wipes to remove sap, bacteria and fungus as you garden with the tools.
• Store tools in a dry, well ventilated place like a shed or garage. You can plunge and leave smaller hand tools into a bucket of sand or small pebbles when you finish gardening. Larger tools should be hung or stored upside down to ensure that the blades remain sharp.
Sometimes pruner blades are clogged with sap, making them difficult to use. Use mineral spirits or turpentine to loosen and remove the sap. Use a cotton ball or cloth moistened with the spirits or turpentine, clean the blades with soapy water, and then treat them with linseed oil.
Gardening tools should be thoroughly dried before storing and treated with linseed oil or mineral oil to prevent rust. However, if rust does appear on your tools:
• Soak them in a mixture of 1:1 vinegar and water. Leave them in the solution overnight.
• Scrub the metal portion of tools with a circular motion with steel wool.
• Rinse in soapy water, and then plain water.
• Let the tools dry thoroughly, and then lightly rub linseed oil or mineral oil on them.
Not only should you perform daily maintenance on your garden tools, you should also perform seasonal maintenance too, especially on pruners or other cutting devices. Take pruners apart and deep clean them at the end of the growing season before they are stored away for winter.
The cleaning process should be thorough. So you will have to disassemble pruners. The process is as follows:
• Unscrew the nut that holds the pruner together and wash all parts separately in soapy water.
• Soak the parts in vinegar and water and then scrub them with steel wool to remove rust. After that, rinse the tool and then dry it.
• Soak in bleach to ensure that the parts are sanitized, and then rinse and dry.
• Rub the parts with boiled linseed oil, and then reassemble the tool.
Your seasonal maintenance should also include sharping your gardening tools. You want to be certain that cutting and pruning tools are sharp or you could rip or tear a branch making them more susceptible to disease. Use a special pruner-sharpening tool on pruners and a sharpening stone on other cutting tools. Use a sharpening file and sharpening stone to keep hoes, shovels, and knives sharp.
When using a file or sharpener, push in the same direction. Do not move it back and forth. The motion should carry the apparatus across the blade. Be sure to also follow the original bevel angle.
Once that’s complete, use a sharpening stone to smooth filed edges.
Be sure to wear eye protection and heavy gloves whenever you sharpen metal equipment to guard against any metal slivers.
Don’t neglect the wooden handles of your gardening tools. It is common for minor cracks to appear on them. Reinforce the cracks with heavy-duty tape like hockey-stick tape. Immediately replace any badly cracked handles to prevent injury. A cracked handle can break as you use the tool.