Get garden tools in shape for new year
Winter is the time for gardeners and the garden to rest. During this slower garden time, take time to check and prepare your garden tools for the work that begins in the spring. If you repair, clean and sharpen your garden tools now, they will be easier and safer to use and your investment will be saved.
An annual inspection of garden tools is recommended to keep them in good working order. First, determine if the handles need repair and if the tool is sharp and sturdy. Wooden handles can be revived by cleaning, gently sanding and then rubbing in boiled linseed oil. Apply a layer of oil with a rag and leave for five to 10 minutes, then reapply until the wood no longer absorbs the oil. Let it cure for eight hours before using the tool. Always wear gloves when handling chemicals. If the handle is cracked, look for a replacement handle. This is often cheaper than buying a new garden tool.
Remove rust with a wire brush. If the rust is strong, soak the tool in pure vinegar for a few hours to overnight. Brush off the remaining rust with a wire brush or grade 000 or 0000 steel wool. Repeat if necessary. The best way to avoid rust is to always dry the tools before storing them. It is enough to put them on a warm surface in the sun for a couple of hours. Coating steel surfaces with lubricating oil also helps prevent rust.
There are two types of pruning mechanisms: bypass and anvil. Bypass secateurs will cut when one blade “goes past” the other. Anvil secateurs cut when the blade presses against a flat bottom plate. Bypass shears are the preferred tool for pruning live plants, while anvil shears work best for cutting dry plant material.
Look at the blades to inspect the secateurs. If there are nicks or nicks, the tool may need professional sharpening. The divots are the result of pruning a tree or shrub that is too large for the tool. Typically, hand shears can cut 3/4 “diameter wood, while loppers can cut up to 1 1/2”. Use a pruning saw or wire saw for branches larger than 1 1/2 inches. Check the fulcrum of the cutting tool for smooth movement and shakiness. Tighten if necessary.
Once the tools are inspected and maintenance is complete, follow the process created by Ben Kotnik of Suburban Food Farm. Ben says, “Use this acronym to help you remember the tool maintenance steps: Scrub, Sharpen, Sanitize, or SSS. It is good practice to scrub, sharpen, and disinfect each time you use gardening tools and between prunings. “
The first step is to scrub the tool. Remove dirt from the tool with soap, water and a gentle scouring pad. A foaming bathroom cleaner is also effective. When pruning, tools accumulate sap that can “stick” to moving parts and leave residue on the cutting blade and anvil. Fertilizers and other chemicals can also be corrosive. Regular cleaning of the tools improves the performance and longevity of the tools.
Sharpening tools makes them easier and safer to use. The cuts will be smoother and there will be less torque applied to your hands, wrists, and arms. Also, a clean cut is better for the plant and a sharp blade is safer for you in case you should be cut.
Allen Buchinski, a UCCE master gardener from Santa Clara County and a gardening tool specialist, has this advice: “If you are not comfortable sharpening the tool, or if it is very dull or scratched, find a professional tool grinder who can Job done. If you want to do it yourself, there are various sharpening devices available. Options include carbide sharpeners, whetstones, and diamond hones. Pick one that works for you. Sharpen the bevel of the cutter on one side and in one direction, pivot to point, keeping the original bevel angle. One tip is to color the bevel with a marker and then sharpen it until all of the color is evenly removed. Sharpen both sides of the blade on anvil secateurs. “
For shovels, hoes, and other non-pruning tools, sharpen when the metal is bent back. Use a flat file or a coarse grindstone. Using a vise to hold the tool while filing is helpful. Bring serrated tools, such as a pruning saw, to a professional for sharpening.
Disinfecting garden tools prevents the transmission of diseases from one plant to another. This should be done before pruning and always between pruning of the plants. Dip the tools in a 10 percent bleach solution (1 part bleach and 9 parts water) and let them dry. Tools should never be put away when they are wet. Alcohol wipes and alcohol-based disinfectant sprays are also suitable for disinfecting tools in the garden.
Finally, oil all joints, blades or metal parts with lubricating oil. This helps maintain smooth movement of trunnion tools and reduces rust during storage. Wipe off any excess oil with a rag and make sure all metal surfaces are coated.
Clean, sharp, and disinfected tools make gardening easier and safer, protect your investment, and reduce disease transmission. Start the new year and spring with well-tended garden tools. Your plants will thank you.
Bay has been a master gardener at UCCE since 2012. She specializes in teaching new gardeners how to grow their own food and sharing her knowledge of tool care best practices.