“Tools of many kinds and well-chosen, are one of the joys of a garden” - Liberty Hyde Bailey

I am amazed at the end of the gardening season, what new tools I have managed to add to my collection over the summer. There is always that new tool, that promises to be the best ever. Some are duds, but sometimes there is one that surprises you and you can’t imagine how you got along without it. Over the years I have acquired quite a collection and I want to be able to keep them around for years to come. I will give you some great tips on how to make that happen.

Plant pathogens like bacteria, fungi, and viruses can linger on those tools. They can be transferred to and infect plants through tiny bits of soil left on your tools. So getting them cleaned up will help prevent the spread of disease between plants by thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting them.

Once the season is done, it’s time to get those tools cleaned up, sharpened, and stored for the season. The easiest and first thing to do is simply to clean the soil, sap, and other residues off them. Wash them off with soapy water and a stiff brush for a more thorough cleaning and then dry the tools to prevent rust. Make a 10% bleach solution, one part bleach with 9 parts of water in a container large enough to immerse your tool. This is best used for large hand tools, like shovels, spades, and rakes. The bleach solution can corrode metal and it is not recommended for pruning and cutting tools that require a sharp edge, as it can create pits and nicks in the metal. An alternative to use is Lysol All-Purpose Cleaner, research has shown that this formulation will eliminate bacteria, fungi, and viruses from tools. This is best used on small hand tools, like pruners, loppers, trowels, and tree saws. Sharpen tools if the blades look like they need it. You can use a mill file if you don’t have access to a grinder to get new edges on those blades. If there is rust on your tools, use a steel wool pad or wire brush before sharpening. Remember to sharpen only on the beveled side.

Finally, wipe the metal components of the tool with a lubricant such as a linseed oil, mineral oil, or Tung oil. You can also wipe down any wooden handles as well. Store your tools by hanging them up. Don’t let them rest of your garage floor as there can still be moisture on the floor.

Taking the time to get this chore done this fall, will make you a happy gardener come next Spring. You will be ready to hit the ground running and we are always ready and anxious in the spring to get those hands dirty!


Lorrie Rugg is the Steele County Master Gardener Coordinator.

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