It's no secret that this spring has been slow to get going and now in my area we've had another stall-out with a week of rainy, cool weather. So, what is an eager gardener to do while they have to wait for plants to wake up and the weather to clear?? Make sure their tools are in good working order so they can spring into action when the conditions allow!!
Just like the gardener, garden tools work hard. They are left out in the elements, dragged through the dirt, hung up wet, shoved in buckets, lost under garden benches, you name it! They get abused. So, if you set aside a little time to treat them right, they will serve you well for years to come.
Now, some might say this is a task for the END of the season when you're cleaning up and putting your garden to bed. I'm sure some people do clean and sharpen everything then, but I know not everyone does. In fact, I know that a lot of people don't do this on any regular schedule at all. Well, like any craft or tradesperson, a gardener's tools are an important part of their work so it's a good practice to make sure your loppers, pruners, shovels, rakes, tiller, mower, etc. are all set and ready to go for a successful season.
Pruners and loppers:
Clean your pruners and loppers by taking them apart (if possible) and giving them a good scrub in soapy water. Steel wool will help remove any rust that might have built up. It's not a bad idea to soak them in a dilute bleach and water solution (1:10) to sanitize and then rinse and dry. Once they are thoroughly dry, rub them with boiled linseed oil to give them a protective layer from oxygen and moisture and then reassemble.
Sharpen your tools so that they are easier to use and they make clean cuts. You don't want to risk damaging branches by tearing or ripping them because your pruners didn't quite do the job. There are sharpening stones you can get for your pruners or you can take them to a local hardware store and they will often sharpen them for you. Farmer's Markets often have vendors that will sharper knives and tools so you can look for that option too.
Throughout the season, after you use your pruners and loppers, give them a quick clean. Get the sap, dirt and grime off and store them inside and they will stay in good shape throughout the season.
Shovels, rakes and hoes:
Give these a good clean by knocking, brushing or rinsing off any dirt that might still be stuck on them from the previous year. Shovels can be sharpened so that they are easier to dig with. You're not looking for razor sharp with shovels, but having them "just sharp enough" will make digging those new garden beds and transplanting and dividing much easier. They will also benefit from boiled linseed oil once they've been cleaned and dried thoroughly.
If your shovels, rakes and hoes have wooden handles it's a good idea to check on those too. Over time they may start to crack, splinter and even break in two. If this happens, you can buy replacement handles and attach them to the head of the tool, rather than buying a whole new tool. For general care and maintenance you again want to give handles a clean, let them dry and rub them with linseed oil.
Tools with motors (mowers, tillers, etc.)For these tools, you can certainly take them to a small engine shop and get a tune up, or you can check out the operator's manual for details on how to do it yourself. This will generally include changing out the oil, filling with fresh gasoline, changing an air filter, change spark plugs, and sharpen the blades.
Now that you have everything in tiptop shape and are ready for the season to really start, remember that it is best to clean as you go. That way, many months from now when the leaves start to change and there is a chill in the air, your tool maintenance won't be such a big job and you can knock it out at the end of the season!! I should say, big kudos to those of you who do your tool maintenance early and often!!! To the rest of us, now is a great time too tackle it. Happy gardening!!!