Jessica K. from Windsor asks: Do you have any suggestions for cleaning my new and used garden tools?
Keeping your garden tools clean will help prevent rust, keep the edges sharp, and remove caked earth and juice. Good tools can be expensive. To avoid frequent replacements, keep them clean and in good condition.
All garden tools should be cleaned and wiped clean after use to remove dirt. If certain tools are not going to be used for a long period of time, they should be thoroughly cleaned and inspected before storing them away. If secateurs or saws are used to prune or remove a diseased plant, they should be cleaned and disinfected before using on a healthy plant. A squirt of Lysol spray will work. Some gardeners say that dipping the tool in bleach diluted with water and wiping it dry before using it on the next plant also works. Be aware, however, that bleach can damage the blades, so rinse and clean the tool thoroughly when you’re done.
Use a strong spray from the garden hose to remove soil. Scrape off any stuck mud with a trowel or plastic scraper. To remove any debris, fill a bucket with hot water and add about a tablespoon of dish soap per liter of water. After removing the clinging earth, put the tools in the bucket and let them soak for 15-20 minutes. Rinse the tools off and dry them with a microfiber cloth or an old towel. Thoroughly inspect each tool for signs of rust. If you find rust or pitting, use a stiff wire brush or steel wool to scrub it off. Wipe the tool with a little vegetable oil to loosen the rust as you scrub it off. If a tool feels sticky to the touch, the safest product to remove is a citrus-based cleaner. Turpentine, lighter fluid, or goo gone are good backups. Pay special attention to the hinge areas when cleaning.
In the case of tools with wooden handles, at some point these handles begin to dry out, split and separate from the metal parts. Once or twice a year, use medium-grain sandpaper to sand down the handles to remove the rough spots and splinters. Rub the handles with linseed oil to create a protective barrier that will repel the water. If they are in really bad shape, most wooden handles can simply be removed from the metal part and replaced with a new handle.
Tools with moving parts, like secateurs or scissors, need oil in order for the moving parts to function properly and smoothly. Put a drop or two of machine oil on the hinge parts. It’s also a good idea to disassemble these tools once a year and rub the screws and bolts with a machine oil. This will help remove the hard-to-see rust and any mineral build-up.
All of your edged garden tools – like hoes, secateurs, and shovels – need to be sharpened from time to time. The large blades and edges can be sharpened with a 10-inch flat burr file. The smaller, finer edges can be sharpened with a whetstone.
Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are gardening consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors at [email protected] The Garden Doctors can only answer questions through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online on pressdemocrat.com.