Beginner’s Guide to Maintaining and Protecting Your Gardening Tools

For those of us who ditched our tools in the shed and walked away last year there’s likely more than a little dried soil and rust stuck to the blades. Both professionals and amateurs tend to feel exhausted at the end of a long growing season.  Running inside to warm up and rest weary muscles sounds so much better than cleaning your gardening tools.  Now is the time to take the proper precautions to ensure your garden tools are clean and in good working order to keep plants and gardens healthy and beautiful all year round.

Your garden will be much happier with clean & sharp gardening tools

Cleaning your gardening tools can stop rust and keep edges sharp.  Just give them a quick wipe down with disinfectant. You can alsothe rest of us, gather a hose, wire brush, putty knife, and some steel wool.

  1. Initial Cleaning:
    • Start by spraying your tools down with the hose.
    • Scrub away any remaining dirt with the wire brush until the surface is clean.
    • Use a putty knife to scrape off any stubborn grime caked on the blade.
    • Rub rusted areas with steel wool.
    • Remove any sap with lighter fluid.
  2. Disinfection:
    • Once your tools look clean, it’s time to disinfect them to eliminate any bacteria, fungus, or viruses.
    • Disinfect at the beginning of the season and immediately after your tools come into contact with a diseased plant.
    • Use a bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) or rubbing alcohol (at least 70% alcohol). Soak the tools in the solution for five minutes.
    • After soaking, rinse and dry your tools thoroughly.
    • Store them in a dry place

By following these steps, your tools will stay in good working order, keeping your plants and gardens healthy and beautiful.

Make things easy for yourself

Tool maintenance, like anything else, is easier with convenience. If you make it simple, you’re more likely to build good habits.

  1. Think about setting up a garden tool cleaning station!
    • Many people set up cleaning buckets by their sheds or garages.
    • Create your own by mixing one bucket of sand with one cup of vegetable oil.
    • After using your tools, dip them in the bucket to remove dirt and protect the finish.
  2. Disinfect Regularly:
    • Keep disinfectant wipes or your disinfectant solution and rags handy to remove sap, bacteria, or fungus from your shears.  This helps prevent the spread of diseases from plant to plant.
    • Remember, homemade disinfectant solutions lose their potency after a day, so only mix what you need.

By making these small adjustments, you’ll find it much easier to keep your tools clean and in great shape.

Sharpening your garden tools

Any tool with an edge should be sharpened periodically throughout the season. Sharpening makes gardening tasks more efficient, protects plant health, and increases the longevity of your tools.

Why Sharpen?

Dull tools require more effort and can damage plants by tearing tissue instead of making clean cuts. Jagged cuts are more susceptible to disease.  Sharp tools make clean cuts that heal faster, reducing the chances of damage.

Using a dull pair of shears requires extra force to cut through a branch. This extra force can bend and break your tools, shortening their lifespan.

Many gardeners avoid sharpening, but it’s quick, easy, and well worth it. The key is to go slow and follow the factory bevels.

The garden tool sharpening process

  • Start by wiping down the blade with WD-40 and ensuring the tool is free from dirt.
  • Choose the right file: a smaller file like a carbide multipurpose sharpener for hand pruners, and a ten-inch mill file for shovels.
  • For shovels, sharpen only the inside edge. Sharpening both sides reduces effectiveness and stability. Be careful not to remove too much metal.
  • After sharpening, oil the blade to prevent any further rust from forming on the tool.

Maintenance Frequency

  • Pruners should be sharpened every six weeks.
  • For gardeners who prune only a few hours a week, one good sharpening a year may be enough.

By regularly sharpening your tools, you’ll enhance their performance, protect your plants, and extend the life of your equipment.

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Reviving your gardening tools

  1. Prepare your shears:
    • Hold your shears with the blade pointing away from you.
    • Place your sharpening tool on the blade, matching the angle of the tool with the angle of the bevel.
  2. Sharpen the blade:
    • Draw the sharpening tool from the back to the front of the blade.
    • After 4 or 5 strokes, you’ll notice the tool begins to shine.
    • Repeat these steps on the other side of the blade.
  3. Finish and protect the blade
    • As a final step, wipe down the blade with machine oil.
    • A helpful tip for following the bevel: colour the edge with a marker and file until the colour disappears.

With these simple steps, your garden tools will be sharp and ready for use.

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Other helpful garden tool maintenance tips

Wooden Handles

  • Wooden handles can dry, split, and cause splinters over time.
  • Once or twice a year, sand the handles to remove rough spots and rub them with linseed oil to add a protective barrier.
  • If a handle is beyond repair, most wooden handles can be replaced.

Proper Storage

  • Always store your tools inside and out of the elements, even if you plan to use them the next day.
  • After cleaning, return them to your shed or garage to keep them dry and rust-free.

Regular Maintenance

  • Whether your tools are brand new or heirlooms, regular maintenance and TLC can help them work better and last a lifetime.
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