Prep your garden tools for winter

I've finally finished the fall cleanup in my garden, so now I'll turn my attention to cleaning up the tools that helped me all summer.

Garden tools can be an expensive investment, unless you acquired yours as family heirlooms or bought them at a garage sale. In any case, they should receive good care so they will continue to serve you well. Maintenance is the best prevention against having to repair or replace them.

Tools should not be put away dirty, especially for the winter. Fertilizer and other chemicals can erode the metal, and dirt left on the metal can cause them to rust and become pitted. So, before putting them away, wash off the dirt, bark and sap with a blast from the hose. Clean off any remaining grime with a pad of steel wool dipped in turpentine. If necessary, use a gentle, non-chlorinated scouring powder and an old toothbrush. Rinse and dry thoroughly.

Sharpen hoes, trowels and shovels with a file or stone meant for that purpose. Wipe them with a thin coating of lubricating or vegetable oil to prevent rust, then hang or store them in a dry area with the metal part off the floor. You might also consider keeping some clippers and other small tools in a basket to have handy if you need them during the winter.

Another way to keep tools in good condition is to fill a large, old pot or bucket with dry sand. Mix enough lubricating oil or WD-40 with the sand so it is thoroughly dampened. Use a putty knife or brush to remove any clumps of dirt from the tools. Now plunge your hoes, shovels, trowels, forks, etc., into the sandy mix. Keep in a cool, dry place for the winter and let the mix do its work. In the spring, remove the tools and give them a rubdown with a piece of burlap or other coarse cloth.

Wooden handles left uncovered out in the weather become cracked, splintered and dried out. In the course of the gardening year and at the end of the season, treat them to a rub of linseed oil.

Most of us learn from experience that buying cheap tools is not a bargain. Buy the best you can afford. It's better to pay twice the price for one that will last 20 years than to buy a cheap one that will only last two years.

One last tip to keep your tools working efficiently is to keep them sharp. Hand tools such as pruners and loppers should be sharpened periodically to keep them at their best. A professional scissors sharpener usually will do that job for you. Make it a habit to sharpen your hoes and shovels frequently as you use them during the gardening season, and not just when you are storing them.

Now that you have put your tools down for a long winter's nap, it's time to kick back, put your feet up and dream some summer dreams as you look at all those catalogs that have been coming in the mail.

Let's see, what new thing shall I plant next year?

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at

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