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Learning to Grow: Autumn is time for tools

Published: Friday, Oct. 19, 2012 4:42 p.m. CST

Gardeners are supposed to take care of their tools because they are important to a successful gardening experience. We are supposed to clean them after each use, store them in a clean and dry place, and sharpen edges after each use – these are the recommended practices. But I suspect that most of you are like me and sometimes your tools are not cleaned and sharpened after each use and may not be stored in a clean, dry place. I often get interrupted when working in my garden and consequently my tools are left where I last used them. At this time of the year as I wander around my yard planning for next spring’s plantings and pulling the last of the season’s weeds I am also collecting my tools. 

Of course, the first thing I do is scrub the dirt and debris from them with a wire brush.  Then I inspect them for loose parts and dull edges. I like to sharpen the edges before putting them away for the winter because I want them in prime working condition in the spring. After all, a sharp edge is a gardener’s best friend.  It’s important to coat metal parts with oil to stop oxidation. WD-40 is a good choice.  Some gardeners use motor oil in a bucket of sand, but there is some controversy over whether or not this is good practice for organic gardening. For wooden handles, use boiled linseed oil to protect them from drying and cracking. Don’t forget to oil pivot points and springs.

And, don’t forget other important tools like hoses and wheelbarrows. Hoses should be drained and stored on hose reels to prevent kinking. Wheelbarrows, like hand tools, should be scrubbed and then inspected for loose bolts and worn surfaces. Touching up paint chips now will prevent rust and ultimately extend the life of this useful tool. 

Finally, remember to store all tools off the ground in a dry, protected area. A little preventative maintenance now saves time in the spring.  So, don’t put your feet up and relax until these last tasks before winter are done.

• Suzanne Thorne is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. Call the Extension office at 630-584-6166.

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