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by Amanda

garden tool maintenance, tools
Keep your garden tools clean and sharp to prevent rust and keep them lasting longer.

They say a workman (or woman) is only as good as his tools, and that can’t be truer of gardening. A clean, sharp pair of pruners or shears makes a world of difference when battling an overgrown shrub. A shiny, rust-free shovel will make transplanting your daylilies that much easier.

The good news is the more you pay attention to garden tool maintenance, the easier your job will be in the garden and the longer your tools will last. This means less money spent and less frustration when you’re doing what you love most – working in the garden.

Garden Tool Maintenance: Clean As You Go!

One of the best ways to prevent your tools from getting dull and rusty – and helping them to last longer –  is to clean them each time you’re finished with them in the garden. Place a wire brush next to your hose to scrub off any dirt or debris that doesn’t simply come off with water.

If you’ve been working with a diseased plant, make sure to dip the tool in a diluted bleach solution as to not spread it to other plants in your garden.

Tools that may not have touched any soil, such as shears or pruners, should be wiped down after each use to make sure all of the sap and other plant remnants are off the blades. This helps keep the tool sharp for a longer period of time.

garden tool maintenance, hanging
Hang your tools after each use to prevent rusting.

Garden Tool Maintenance: Preventing Rust

Even the most expensive tools are prone to rust, but there are a few simple steps you can take to help prevent it:

  • Don’t leave your tools outside. Store them in a dry place such as a garage or garden shed.
  • Store small spades or trowels in a pot filled with sand and keep rust from forming on the metal.
  • Once or twice per season, condition all of your metal tools with linseed oil to help prevent rust. Linseed oil is a natural oil, which means that it will be safe to use in your soil. 
  • While you’re conditioning your metal tools, use the linseed oil to also condition the wooden handles.
  • Hang larger tools up on the wall with hooks or a pegboard. This helps keep them away from contact with concrete or dirt.
garden tool maintenance,rust
Winter is the perfect time to take stock of your tools, remove any rust and treat with oil.

Garden Tool Maintenance: Treating Rust

As much as you work to prevent rust on your garden tools, after several seasons sometimes it is just inevitable.

To treat a rusty tool, use fine steel wool, sandpaper or a wire brush (and some elbow grease) to scrub away until the rust has come off. If the tool is completely covered in rust, you can try a wire brush attachment on an electric drill for a more powerful scrub.

Once you’ve removed the rust from your tool, wipe the entire metal surface down with linseed oil.

garden tool maintenance, removing rust
For light rust, sandpaper should easily do the job.
garden tool maintenance, no more rust
No more rust!

Garden Tool Maintenance: Sharpening

Sharp tools are key for both ease and safety in the garden. A sharp pruning tool also makes a cleaner cut, making it easier for your plants to heal and regenerate. Before the season starts, and preferably several times throughout, it’s important to assess your tools and sharpen them as necessary.

A standard sharpening tool for most garden tools is a mill file, which you can purchase at your local hardware store. Shovels, shears, trowels, hoes and axes are easily sharpened with a mill file by sliding the file over the blade of the tool in one direction (away from your body) repeatedly.

A whetstone, which you can also find at your local hardware store, is the perfect tool for sharpening pruners. Wet the stone with a few drops of water or linseed oil before sharpening and rub the blade toward the stone in a curved motion.

We find the winter months to the perfect time to take stock of your gardening tools and clean, remove rust, sharpen and then treat with oil. It’s one less thing you have to think about when it’s finally time to get your hands dirty in the garden come spring!