Winter Gardening: tool maintenance

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 - 8:34pm

Keeping your tools ready to use is a good use of the quiet winter months, when you garden is under snow or frost.

The first step is an inventory: do you have all the tools you need? Is anything worn out, in need of replacement, broken? Now is the time to order them. Remember, two is one, and one is none. If you truly would be unable to tend your garden without a tool, get a spare. Pay attention to online reviews and steer clear of cheap tools. If you buy them in person, Steve Solomon, author of Gardening When it Counts, suggests you run a good hard something against the exposed metal and see if it gouges - a sign of soft metal. In his experience, usually the big box stores like Harbor Freight Tools, Home Depot or Lowes have cheap metal tools. Try a place that caters to contractors, like Northern Tool.

This is also the time to clean your tools. Now I know you disinfect tools in between beds and crops during the growing season to not spread wilts, nematodes, and other soil pests or diseases, but now is the time to oil the wood of the handles. Sand off any rust, and oil the metal. I like to store my tall tools, like spades hoes, and metal rakes, in a container of sand - but wall racks work too. The main thing is to keep them dry.

This is also the time to sharpen your own saws, blades, shovels, spades, and chainsaws. Sending them out to be sharpened is not only costly, but such places tend to use their files and abrasive wheels with a heavy hand. We get three uses out of a chainsaw chain sharpened by our local hardware store and 20 uses out of a chainsaw we sharpen with our own set of files. That's quite a difference. Grass clippers can be sharpened with a kitchen knife sharpener; a 10 in. long mill file works really well on hedge and pruning shears. Shovels and spades? We use a fine mil file on shovels, at a 45 degree angle.

Tip: I lost a hand rake to a lawnmower this year. It was the same color as the ground, including its leather strap I hang it up with. Now all my small tools have bright red ribbon hanging loops, the better to find them when the work is done.

Login or Register to post comments