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Cleaning and winterizing garden tools

David Lott
Horticulture Extension Educator

As gardens, flower beds, landscapes and lawns are being cleaned up and winterized for the end of the growing season, there is one job that helps finish out the gardening year. Winterizing gardening tools will help keep them clean and in working condition for the next year. By taking care of this job, the tools will be ready to use, and gardeners will save time and money repairing or replacing them next spring.

Ideally, tools should be cleaned after every use during the gardening season. Many times though, they are re-used without a thought about cleaning or maintaining them. Over time, tools become coated in soil, grease, plant resin and rust. They also can become dull, to the point that they don’t cut or dig as well as they did when they were new. Thankfully, neglected tools can be conditioned into workable condition at the end of the year. Cleaning and winterizing tools can be done outdoors as well as indoors. That is why this job is truly one of the last projects of the growing season!

Here are some easy garden tool cleaning and winterizing steps that can be completed without much time and effort from Linda Naeve, from Iowa State University Extension. Remove debris from hoes, shovels and spades with a steady spray of water, a stiff brush and soapy water. Clean the blades with steel wool, and apply naval jelly to remove rust spots. Sharpen the edges of hoes, shovels and spades with a file or a sharpening stone. Hold the file at an angle over the beveled edge. Push the file in a single-stroke motion along the edge away from the blade of the tool. Turn over the tool and lightly file the back of the blade to remove the “burr” on the edge. Wipe or clean blades with petroleum-based lubricants after the sharpening process to reduce the chance of rust accumulating.

Remove soil and debris from tool handles, and wipe the handles with a cloth soaked in boiled linseed oil. Remove dried sap from shears and pruning equipment with turpentine. Remove debris from tight places on these tools with an abrasive emery cloth. Sharpen cutting blades and shears with a ceramic stone. Hold the stone at an angle, and push across the edge away from the blade. File off the “burr” on the opposite side. Coat the sharpened blades with a spray lubricant to remove friction and prevent rust.

After following all these steps, it is important to store cleaned garden tools for the winter. Select a clean, dry place to store tools. Tall metal containers or tool caddies are great places to store tall tools with handles. Store them with the handles down in the container. Sturdy hooks on the side of a wall that will hold the tools are another good choice for large and small tools. Small tools can be stored in drawers as long as it is dry, and will not promote rust development over the winter.


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