from the WSU Master Gardeners of Clark County
Keeping your garden looking good not only requires the right techniques, but also the right tools. Tools were invented to make your work easier, and the better job that they do, the less work you’ll have to. With proper care of your tools many of them can last a lifetime. During the winter season most gardeners will find a little extra time to catch up on other projects. One of those projects should be taking inventory of your garden tools, and performing some much needed maintenance.
Maintenance of your tools is just as important as selecting the right tool. Many people are unaware how some of their tools work or even that they require some maintenance. Once you get in the habit of doing it on a regular basis, you’ll find that the job gets easier and you’ll like having all your tools cleaned, sharpened and ready to use.
Listed below are many of the tools that the average gardener has in their inventory and some of the maintenance that may be needed for them.
Blowers should be kept clean and serviced once a year. Check the muffler and air intakes to make sure they’re in proper condition, and replace the air filter.
Chain saws require the most maintenance of any seasonal tool. Clean the chain by removing it and dipping it in mineral spirits. When reinstalling the chain, be sure to set it to the proper tension. Clean out the cooling fins. Inspect the engine on gas chainsaws, and clean the air filter and change the spark plug.
It is a good idea to check your extension cords and all the cords on your electrical equipment. Check for frays, exposed wiring and loose connections. Defective plugs can easily be replaced with parts from your local hardware store.
These get a lot of use, so the first thing to do is give them a good bubble bath. Use a wire brush to remove built-up grime. For fine soil and rust, steel wool works great. For stubborn rust, try sandpaper. Rinse them well and dry them thoroughly. If you don’t plan on using them for a few months, give them a coating of oil for protection.
Sharpen the blades with a file and lubricate with a silicon spray to prevent rust. On electric trimmers, inspect the power cord for nicks or other damage. Clean the air filter and change the spark plug on gas-powered trimmers.
Hoses should be completely drained and disconnected from the faucet. Water left in the hose can freeze and cause tears. Now is a good time to inspect the valve fittings and replace those that are worn or about to fail. Coiling your hose for storage will help prevent leaks and breakage. And don’t forget to protect your outdoor faucets. A freeze can cause them to crack causing severe water damage and expensive plumbing repairs. Foam insulator caps are very inexpensive, easy to put on and a quick solution for winterizing your faucets.
Routine maintenance will extend the life of your mower. Before storing for winter, drain the fuel tank or run it until it is out of gas. Gas left in the mower can get gummy and clog up the engine and fuel line. Empty the grass catcher and clean the underside of the deck (this should actually be done after each use). Using a hose on full power will loosen most of the build-up. On mowers equipped with battery-powered electric starters, remove the battery and store it inside during the winter to prevent freezing. Lubricate the throttle cable. Inspect the mower’s nuts and bolts, tightening those that appear loose, especially those holding the wheels in place. You should have your mower serviced and fully inspected at least once a year by a professional. A typical service will provide a new spark plug, a new air filter, new engine oil, and a cleaning or inspection of various parts, including the battery, the air intake, various belts and cables, and safety switches. Have your mower blade balanced and sharpened every year, because a sharp blade ensures healthier grass.
Remove any vines, roots, or string that have wrapped around the shaft of the tiller. Check the condition of the tines. If the ends come to a point it usually means that the tines are worn and should be replaced. If your tiller has a belt, inspect for cracks and wear and replace as needed. If your tiller has a chain, lubricate and check for proper tension. Consult your owner’s manual for specifics. Tighten all bolts and lubricate any moving parts. Drain the engine of fuel, and check the fluid level in the transmission. Check and replace as needed the fuel filter, air filter and spark plug. Use a silicone grease or spray on all exposed bare metal to prevent rusting before storing.
Empty, wash and rinse your sprayers at least three times to remove all residue. Don’t forget to also clean out the spray nozzles.
Sharpen the cutoff blade at the head of the trimmer with a file. Inspect the spool and replace it if it’s worn out, and check the integrity of the safety shield. If it’s a gas trimmer, clean the air filter and change the spark plug.
Trellises and wooden stakes
If you plan on using them again next year, hose off any debris, let thoroughly dry and give them a coating of linseed oil. Store them in a shed or somewhere sheltered from the rain.
Give your wheelbarrows a good scrubbing and inspect for rust and wear. Inflate the tire to the proper air pressure. Spray lubricant onto the wheel’s axle and wipe off the excess. If it’s made of metal, coat with an oil spray before storing it on it’s side or upside down.
And while you’re at it, take time to thoroughly clean your garden shed or storage area. If possible empty the shed out completely. Sweep out the floor and all those nasty cobwebs. Take inventory of what you have stored in there and take note of what you’ll need to replace for next spring. This is a good time to toss out items that are past their prime or haven’t been used in a while. Dispose of old chemicals at the proper facilities (check with your local waste management department, most will accept these at no charge). Many garden products have a shelf life and may lose their effectiveness over time or with fluctuations of the temperature.
Next time: Sharpening Your Garden Tools by Hand