By Melanie Mathieson
The Gardening Guru
Just because the gardening season is over, and the early signs of winter are here, that doesn’t mean you just throw your tools into the shed until next spring.
The point of this column is to remind you to care for the tools that served you so well throughout the summer months.
You won’t need many supplies to get your hand tools into shape. You can start by scrubbing them with warm water and soap to remove the grime that has accumulated over months of use.
Just make sure you remove all of the caked-on dirt as this will encourage rust to develop. Rust will shorten the life of any tool, so removal is imperative.
A putty knife works well for smaller spots while larger ones might need steel wool and elbow grease (an SOS pad also can be used to get your tools gleaming).
Rust that’s allowed to accumulate eventually pits the metal. If some of your tools already have pits, these can be removed by sanding the metal with sandpaper.
Once clean and dry, the metal can be further protected with a layer of paint, or some gardeners prefer a light coating of oil or WD40 spray (some even spray “Pam” on their tools to protect them and keep the dirt from sticking).
Tools with wooden handles, meanwhile, need to have their handles protected to prevent them from drying out and cracking. You can repaint the handles with oil-base or latex paint or polyurethane.
You also can apply a good quality paste wax or Future liquid wax, or mineral or tung oil, to the wood and let it soak in and then buff away the excess.
At this time, you may discover some of your wooden handles are broken or starting to shows signs of breakage. Most of these handles can be replaced (check your local hardware or feed supply store for the correct replacement handle for your tool).
By doing this, you will be able to save a valuable tool and render it useful again.
Keep in mind that in some cases, the quality of garden tools has diminished over the years. As well, the availability of some traditional tools like five-tine cultivators, hay forks, and grub hoes has become greatly reduced.
By taking care of these tools and replacing the handles, as needed, you’ll ensure you will have a quality tool in working order for years to come.
Also make sure all your tools are sharpened before you put them away for the winter. Sharp tools reduce your labour effort and work more efficiently.
Bypass pruners can be sharpened using a stone for sharpening knives, or you can have your neighbourhood knife-sharpening business do them for you. Shovels, edgers, and hoes should have the edge that cuts into the ground sharpened as needed.
You should sharpen these edges at a 45-degree angle on the face edge. You can use a sharpening stone for this, or reduce your labour by using a metal grinder or Dremel tool with a sharpening stone.
You will be amazed at how effective a sharpened shovel, edger, or hoe will work.
To keep the tool sharp and safe while not in use, you should cover the sharp edge with either a piece of strong tape or a cover fashioned from cardboard or canvas. Some handy gardeners use a section of rubber hose over the sharp edges.
Lawn mowers appreciate a good scraping and spraying with the hose underneath the deck to release any caked-on grass clippings. A thorough cleaning on the deck and top of the lawn mower also is a good idea.
Any stubborn grease or gasoline stains can be removed with a de-greaser or vehicle engine shampoo product. Just make sure the mower is thoroughly dry before you put it away.
This also is a great time to remove and thoroughly clean the mower bag. Dump out all clippings and thoroughly spray out with the hose (again, make sure the bag is completely dry before you store it in order to prevent mould and rot over the winter).
Remove the blade and have it sharpened.
Fall also is a great time to perform a tune-up and an oil change, so it will be ready to go in the spring. And don’t forget to add a gasoline stabilizing product to the gas tank before you put the mower away for the winter.
You can follow the same maintenance program for your gas trimmer and tiller, as well.
One tool that can be used frequently throughout the summer, but often forgotten and not often considered a tool, is the garden hose. When storing the hose for the winter, make sure you drain any of the residual water from the hose and lay it out in the sun on a warm day to dry.
If you store a hose containing water, the water can freeze and expand in the hose, causing it to split.
Always disconnect the hose from the house and put it away. Also make sure you turn off the water feed to the outside tap from inside the house so your pipes do not freeze in the winter.
Before you close up the garden shed for the winter, you’ll also want to assess the rest of your gardening tools. If you are not using some tools, you should ask yourself why.
If you do not like the tool or have no use for it, then make sure you give it to another gardener, donate it, or sell it in your next garage sale. There’s no sense hanging on to tools that you are never going to use.
If the tool is broken and cannot be fixed, then discard it.
When storing your tools, you either should hang or store your tools in an organized manner so they’ll easily be retrieved during the gardening season.
By taking some time to make sure your tools are well taken care of at the end of each season, you’ll ensure they will provide you with service for many gardening seasons to come.