Gardening Guru: Garden Tool Care

To the home gardener, gardening tools are a big part of our investment in gardening. You spend a lot of time working with these tools, so taking care of them is like taking care of your investment. Your tools will last longer and work better if you spend a little time keeping them clean, sharp and oiled. And what better time than hot summer months when we don’t feel like working in the yard?

Cleaning: It is a good habit to clean your tools before you put them away. Just wipe off the loose dirt with a rag. For tougher or ground-in dirt, fill a bucket with warm water and use a wire brush to scrape the dirt off. Be sure to rinse well and then dry them to prevent rust before storing them away.

Sharpening: Some tools need to be sharpened occasionally. I sharpen my pruners each time before I use them. It is amazing what a difference it makes.

A good sharpening tool to use is a file or a sharpening stone. Hold the file in one hand and strike it along the blade of the pruners about three times on each side. This will scrape off any jagged edges. Always work in one direction only, moving from the handle end towards the point, rather than back and forth. Try to file the blade at the same angle that is already there so that you don’t make the blade too thin. Wear eye protection in case a sliver of metal comes flying towards your eye.

After sharpening, it’s important to disinfect your pruning tools to prevent the spread of disease from one plant to another. You can spray your pruners with a household disinfectant or dip them into a 10% bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water). You can also use alcohol to disinfect your tools by either wiping or dipping them in a solution that is 70% to 100% isopropyl or ethanol alcohol. An advantage to using alcohol to disinfect is you don’t have to rinse it off, and it’s immediately effective.

Other gardening tools can be sharpened as well. Shovels, hoes, loppers, and hedge clippers are examples of tools that may need to be sharpened occasionally. For larger tools, clamp the tool to a work bench or table with a vise grip to hold it while you use the file. Make sure the tool is secure before you start sharpening. The goal in sharpening your gardening tools is to bring the cutting edge back to its original condition, removing any nicks that have occurred during its use. After sharpening, wipe your tool with a rag to remove any loose shavings.

Oiling: Sometimes, if the pruners or other tool aren’t working smoothly, a little oil at the point where the blades attach can help. Use a plant-based oil, such as linseed oil. Petroleum-based oils can be harmful if transferred to the soil in your garden. Plant-based oils are not as harmful to the soil. Oiling also helps to prevent rust. If your tools do become rusted, use steel wool and a little elbow grease.

Handle repair: To keep the wooden handles of your garden tools smooth and splinter-free, you can occasionally sand them lightly with sand paper to make a nice smooth surface. Use a medium grit sand paper and sand lightly back and forth. You could also use a small electric sander.

Making tool care part of your gardening routine, whether it is each time you garden or once or twice each year, will help keep your tools in good condition and help them work better for your needs. Happy Gardening!

Due to the shelter-at-home guidelines, the Master Gardeners have canceled all public events for the time being, but their phone lines are still open: 559-684-3325, Tuesdays and Thursdays between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m.

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