Successful gardeners need more than just sunshine and a green thumb. Learning to properly maintain an array of garden tools is as important as the tools themselves. Tools made with higher grades of steel are often more prone to rust and can be costly to replace. With care, your tools can last a lifetime and save you the hassle of broken handles and dull shears.
It takes time and energy to care for your garden. Keeping your tools in tip-top condition is a necessary task for any gardener. Preventive measures can also be taken to avoid rust and damage before it occurs. If you find that your tools aren’t lasting as long as they should, try some of these tips for maintaining and cleaning your gardening tools.
Keeping Your Tools Clean
The first step to healthy tools is keeping them clean. Wet soil is a major cause of rusty tools, so spraying down your tools to clean them after use will improve their lifespan. While cleaning, it also may be appropriate to inspect your tools for any signs of wear or damage. Wood-handled tools may need sanding, metal tools may need sharpening, and a quick inspection during cleaning can help catch problems before they become more serious.
Most garden tools can be cleaned by simply spraying them down with water. After cleaning and being wiped down, tools can be left to dry in the sun. In some cases, solvents may be needed to remove sap from saw blades and shears.
After cleaning off the dirt and sap and grime from your tools, you may notice the beginning signs of rust— or if you’re just beginning to maintain your tools, they may be coated in rust. In either case, there are a number of ways to restore these weathered tools to working order. A drill with a steel wool attachment can scrub off rust with little worry of thinning or damaging the metal.
Dr. Leonard Parry, a professor of University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science, suggests soaking smaller hand tools in strong black tea. “Brew up enough in a pan or kettle to cover the tools, then let them, or blades at least, soak for a few hours after the tea is cooled,” Parry said. “Rust should wipe off easily with a rag.”
Oiling and Sharpening Your Tools
After cleaning your tools of dirt and rust, it’s important to sharpen and deburr metal edges before applying a coat of oil. A hand file can profile the edges of shovels, hoes, and trowels. Edged tools may require a whetstone or grinder to maintain cutting power. Tools can be sharpened once a season or after every use, depending on the amount of work they put in. More importantly, after cleaning or sharpening, metal tools and wooden handles should be oiled.
Regular oiling will not only keep your tools sharp but also prevent rust. Mix two parts motor oil to one part kerosene, lightly spray the metal or wooden portions of your tools with this solution, and wipe away the excess. Recycled motor oil and sand can be mixed in a bucket for easy oiling of hand and push tools. The sand portion of the mixture also lightly scrubs your tools.
Storing Your Tools
Storing your tools will not only help you stay organized but keep your tools away from the elements. A shed or garage is the best place to store your tools. Air circulation and dryness are also important factors when storing gardening tools. Hang them from the wall to save space as well as protect the metal edges and surfaces.
Treat your tools well, and they will last longer and work better. Better-working tools means a better-working garden, and the cost of replacing tools can add up over time. Getting into a habit of cleaning and maintaining your tools will make more expensive and better-made tools a lifetime investment.
Keeping tools clean can also help minimize the spread of disease if your plants get sick. All in all, it only makes sense that the better you take care of your tools, the better they’ll help you care for your garden.