But, tool maintenance is just as important as tool selection. Perhaps more so. And this is the perfect time for tending to that tool maintenance. Spend a little time with your tools now — when it’s too cold for gardening anyway — and you’ll be all set for the spring thaw.
Must-Do Garden Tool Maintenance
Keep them clean
In an ideal world, we’d do this every time we used our tools. Every day in the garden would end with a brief rinse for our shovels and clippers, and then a quick wipe down with dilute bleach or vinegar to kill any potential pathogens. In the real world, when the garden chores slam right into the dinnertime chores and the cleaning-the-house chores and the walking-the-dog chores and so much more, this definitely doesn’t happen every day. I aim for once a week during the actual gardening season, though sometimes my schedule gets so jammed that once a month is all I can manage. W
However often you’re able to work this into your garden schedule, here’s the way to go about cleaning your just-dirtied garden tools. It’s really quite easy:
- For shovels, rakes, hoes, etc: Rinse dirt and other debris off your shovels and larger blades with the hose or an outdoor faucet. Use a coarse metal brush if needed to remove all the grit. Then, either dip the blade into a bucket of sand mixed with vegetable oil, or wipe the blade down with vegetable oil or beeswax using an old rag. You want a very very thin layer of oil.
- For pruners and small-bladed tools: Skip the water rinse (unless the tool is filthy), and instead jump straight to the oil-soaked rag. Carefully wipe the blade, hinge, springs and other moving parts with a fine layer of oil or beeswax. Be sure to remove all sap and other plant debris.
- If you’re worried about disease or pathogens: If you suspect your garden might be dealing with any sort of soil- or plant-borne diseases, it’s important to practice good tool hygiene. Wipe your tools’ blades down with rubbing alcohol or white vinegar to kill any lingering pathogens. For best results, do this before applying any oil to the blade.
- Don’t forget about the handles: Wooden handles need a bit of TLC from time to time as well. This is especially important on those days when you realize you forgot that wood-handled shovel / rake / how out in the garden during that summer thunderstorm. Oops. The treatment for handles is identical to that for blades. Simply wash and brush off any dirt or debris, and wipe them down with a thin coat of vegetable oil or beeswax. If the handle is looking particularly rough, you may want to give it a quick rub with some fine sandpaper before the oil.
Keep them sharp
Ask any chef about the value of sharp blades, and you’ll get a lesson on safety and efficiency. The same goes for gardening tools. Sharp blades cut better and cleaner, which saves you effort and helps reduce the risk of injury when a dull blade slips and perhaps ends up somewhere unexpected. Most blades can be sharpened with a basic (and inexpensive!) flat file, but smaller blades will benefit from a finer file, like this sharpening tool made by Corona.
Keep them stored
This is honestly the area where I struggle the most. I don’t yet have a home for all my garden tools, which means that the small tools often end up jumbled in a drawer while the larger tools are left to fight it out for space against the garage wall. This disorganization increases the odds of damage as the tools’ sharp and heavy blades jostle against each other. I’ll be building some proper storage this spring, once the weather is friendly enough for cold-weather-wimps like myself.
Here are a couple options that I’m liking:
What Are Your Tool-Maintaing and Organizing Tips?
I’m looking forward to tackling the tool storage mess that is my garage. Definitely a task for an early spring day. Do you have a tool-storage area in your garage or shed? I’d love to know what worked for you!