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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Proper tool storage helps ensure a good start to spring gardening

STILLWATER, Okla. – Your lawn mower, pruning shears, garden hose and edger have been your trusty sidekicks all through the gardening season. Now, as gardening activities begin to slow down just a bit, it’s a good time to think about how you’ll store these tools for the winter.

Although it takes some time to prepare all of your tools for winter storage, it’s time well spent and can save some headaches when gardening season picks back up next spring. Gardeners across the state know how much easier gardening can be when using tools and equipment that are in good repair and working order, said David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist.

“Just like you need sharp knives in the kitchen, sharp tools in the garden are a must because they make a clean cut rather than tearing or bruising the plants,” Hillock said. “This helps the plants recover more quickly and reduces the possibility of disease. After a season of use, spades, hoes, shovels and shears all could use a good sharpening.”

There are a variety of sharpening methods that can be used on various tools. A flat file is an inexpensive way to give a sharp edge to hoes, spades and shovels. Before you get started, always wear proper safety equipment such as gloves and safety glasses when handling tools. When using a flat file make long diagonal strokes away from your body across the cutting edge. This gives a more uniform edge than short strokes in one spot.

Hillock said power equipment, such as a rotary tool or bench grinder, helps complete the task much more quickly.

“Keep in mind, however, power tools can wear down the blade quicker if you aren’t careful and can heat the metal quickly causing the blade to be weaker,” he said. “Sharpen only the beveled edge and try to keep the same angle on the new edge as it was when it came from the manufacturer.”

Smaller tools such as loppers and hand pruners also can be sharpened in the same manner. In some cases, the tool may need to be disassembled to access the entire cutting edge of the blade.

Mower blades also should be sharpened regularly. Because you are sharpening opposite ends of the blade, it should be checked for balance before reattaching to the lawn mower. Do this by hanging the blade by the center hole on a nail. If one side hangs lower than the other, a little more needs to be taken off that side of the blade to bring it back into balance.

“Be sure to clean your tools before storing them for the winter. Clean the rust and dirt off blades and handles,” Hillock said. “Dirt can be scrubbed off with water or scraped off with a wire brush. If you see rust spots on your tools, fine sandpaper or steel wool will take care of them. Again, it’s always a good idea to wear protective eyewear.”

Apply a thin coat of oil to the blade and lubricate any moving parts. A five-gallon bucket of oily sand can be used to clean tools and apply oil so rust won’t form on the blade over the winter.

Handles should be inspected and broken handles replaced. Rough spots should be smoothed using a medium-grit emery cloth or sandpaper. After sanding, apply linseed oil to help preserve the wood.

Most small, gas-powered engines last longer if you drain or use all the fuel before storing for the winter.

“The alcohol in the fuel can eventually degrade plastic and rubber parts,” he said. “It’s a good idea to read your owner’s manual for specific instructions on storage.”

Homeowners can run the gas mower or other equipment until it is out of fuel. Another option is to add a fuel stabilizer to the full fuel tank. Then, run the engine for a few minutes to let the mixture circulate and top off the tank to ensure it is full.

Hillock suggests cleaning the frame of the mower before storing it, including scraping off any stuck-on dirt or grass clippings from the underside.

Another task that needs to be tackled is prepping your garden hoses for storage. Remove nozzles and drain the hoses. When they’re dry, coil the hoses to keep them from kinking and store out of the elements. If possible, store all of your gardening tools in a shed, garage or other area protected from the weather.

“Once the spring rolls around next year, you’ll be excited to get back out into your landscape. The steps you take now to preserve your equipment will help ensure you can get started right away instead of spending time repairing tools,” Hillock said. “It’s definitely time well spent.”

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Trisha Gedon
Agricultural Communications Services
Oklahoma State University
159 Agriculture North
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
405-744-5739 (fax)
trisha.gedon@okstate.edu

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078
405.744.5000

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