Most gardeners have a favorite tool, it’s probably one that they reach for most frequently when out in the garden. Though garden tools get used a lot, they often get neglected while we are busy tending the plants during the growing season. Winter is a great season to dedicate some time to cleaning and caring for your tools.
Cleaning your tools is the first step in tool care. It is best to remove soil from your tools after each use. Water is an easy way to remove most of the dirt from shovels, spades, and other digging implements. A wire brush or a brush with stiff bristles is great for removing anything that is stuck on your tools. You may also want to use steel wool or sandpaper if your tools have developed rust. If you have a tool that is covered in sticky sap, try removing the sap with alcohol, mineral spirits, or foaming bathroom cleanser.
After you’ve cleaned your tools, it is time to disinfect them. Disinfecting tools helps prevent the spread of plant disease. Frequently used tools should be disinfected through the season, especially if you are using them in multiple locations or on many different plants. One of the easiest ways to clean your tools is by using a diluted bleach solution containing 9 parts of water to 1 part of bleach. However, do note that bleach can be corrosive. This article gives details on a variety of disinfectant options and may aid you in deciding what to use on your tools.
Whatever disinfectant you use, tools should be fully dry before you store them in order to prevent rust. Hanging tools so they are not in contact with the ground may also help prevent rust. Applying a light oil to your tools is another way to avoid rust. For larger tools such as shovels and spades, try filling a 5 gallon bucket with sand mixed with oil. Motor oil is a cheap option for this, but any light oil will help. Dip the clean tools into the bucket of sand and oil. For smaller tools, you can apply oil with a rag or use a spray such as WD-40.
When you are spending time cleaning your tools, pay attention to any wooden handles. Use sandpaper to smooth the handles. Applying oil, such as linseed or mineral oil, to tool handles is also beneficial.
Finally, consider sharpening tools such as spades, shovels, and pruners. If you do not feel confident in sharpening your own tools, many hardware stores will offer this service. Many tool manufacturers provide online resources to help you disassemble and sharpen your tools. If you are sharpening hand pruners, click here for a useful article and how-to video.
Taking the time to care for your garden tools will extend their life. When spring rolls around, you’ll be ready to get back in the garden and take care of all the plants there.