Do you have garden tools that have seen better days? Learn how to take care of garden tools to keep them from rusting away and make them work better.
Are you a lazy gardener?
Do you leave your tools out in the rain or throw them in a corner of your garden shed, caked in mud?
When you try to use a cutting tool, are you frustrated that it doesn’t cut well or damages your plants?
It really doesn’t take much to take care of garden tools properly. A bit of advance preparation and some good habits and techniques is all you need.
Let’s have at some easy things you can do to make sure your tools don’t end up in the garbage and need to be replaced.
Storing your tools outside will cause them to deteriorate in most climates. So you will need some indoors storage for your tools.
This could be your garage, carport, garden shed or greenhouse. Or even in your house in a mud room or basement, but not the living room or bedroom unless you live by yourself!
You want the storage ideally to be close to where you need the tools, but if you have a large yard you will anyways need to carry them around the yard.
There are storage carts you can buy that allow you to easily store your tools and wheel them around. Or just throw everything into your wheelbarrow to carry it to the job site as I have done.
Regardless of where your storage is, you need some way to keep the tools from banging into each other, especially tools with a sharp edge such as hoes, pruners, hedge and lawn shears, etc.
There are lots of options for hooks and such but my preference is for a pegboard and a good supply of pegboard hooks.
You may need to be creative with the hooks and use more than one for some of the more awkwardly shaped tools. Or drill a hole in the handle of a tool to hang it easily on a hook. Add a short piece of string through the drilled hole for even easier hanging.
You should have a shelving unit or some other shelving for tools that just don’t hang well on hooks. The key is having a place for everything and avoid having to move something to get to a tool unless it is one that is seasonal or that you don’t use often.
If you have small children make sure to store any sharp tools on high shelves/pegboard or ideally in locked storage. Toddlers are curious and might think a pair of pruners makes a great toy.
And finally protect your tool investment by locking the storage, so that someone doesn’t help themselves to your tools!
This is probably the most important maintenance task, not only for the longevity of your tools but also for another reason I will mention at the end of this section.
It is easy to skip these cleaning tasks, especially at the end of the day when you are dead tired from working in the garden all day. Plan some cleaning time when deciding at what time you stop working for the day. If you consistently make the time and effort, you will save time and effort later not having to buy new tools.
Make it a habit every time you finish using a tool to give it a good cleaning before you hang it back in your storage area. Scrape off the worst of the dirt over one of your garden beds (no sense wasting good soil) and then wash the tool thoroughly.
It helps to have a sink such as a plastic laundry sink with plumbed water in your garage, shed or greenhouse.
And if you can get running hot water installed – while a luxury – it will help make cleaning your tools in winter or the cool days in spring and fall more pleasant. It was a worthwhile cost for me to have cold and hot water lines extended from my laundry room into my greenhouse.
If you don’t have the luxury of having a sink with running water you can make do with just a garden hose. Just pick a spot where the excess water doesn’t cause any issues.
Have some brushes such as a cheap dish brush on-hand to loosen caked-on dirt and then rinse it off.
If you have sap on the blades of pruning tools or have rust spots on anything, have either some steel wool, a sanding sponge or a pot scouring pad on-hand. Sand can also be used to scour tools in a pinch.
Some gardeners also use a bucket of sand that is saturated with horticultural oil to dip their tools into to avoid them rusting. Alternatively there are natural based lubricants that you can spray your tools with to protect them from rust and to lubricate any moving parts such as pruner blades.
An added bonus of keeping your tools clean is that it helps stop the spread of diseases through your garden. This is especially important for pruning tools if you have used them on any diseased branches.
In addition to cleaning after a day of pruning, you can make a 5:1 solution of chlorine bleach and water and then dip the pruning tools in that before moving onto the next tree or bush.
Sharp tools always work better, saving you time but they also are safer as you will be less likely to have to force the tool to do it’s job.
You can easily sharpen hoes and spades with a metal file – you are not trying to get a razor sharp edge, just sharp enough to slice through sod, soil and the thin stems of annual weeds. They’ll likely keep a sharp edge for quite awhile and you may only need to “dress” them once a year with your file.
You can sharpen pruners with various sharpening devices specially designed for pruners. If neglected, a pruner blade will tear or crush rather than slice branches and stems of plants which can invite disease.
If you have a pruner with replaceable blades you may also want to consider simply replacing the blades if they get too dull or nicked. And never use pruners to cut wire unless they have a special wire cutting notch!
More info on maintaining pruners is available in this post.
Regardless of how careful you might be, tools do break. It’s easy to be over-enthusiastic trying to dig something out of the ground for instance and break a shovel or garden fork (the last one happened to me!)
If a tool breaks, especially if it was a relatively inexpensive one, you may at first think to just throw it away and buy a replacement. However it costs money and is wasteful. In most cases it is fixable.
If it’s a long-handled garden tool such as a spade, you can buy replacement handles or even cut down the existing handle if it won’t make the tool too short. You’ll need to check how the handle was attached to the tool and fasten it the same way. The only exception is if the handle was riveted to the working part of the tool – then you might want to replace the rivet with a screw or bolt but that likely involves some drilling.
Always be aware of what type of warranty you have on a tool. Make sure to keep track of when the warranty will expire. And don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturer or the store you bought it from if there are issues with the tool.
Most manufacturers will not replace/repair a tool that they think has been incorrectly used or mishandled. However that might be hard to prove and in some cases manufacturers just want to have happy customers. Happy customers might buy another product from them if they get good service.
So call or email them, ensuring you have the serial number, model number and purchase date handy as they will likely ask for that info.
If the tool can be repaired contact the manufacturer to find out if they can sell you the part. You might be surprised that they just send you the part, even if the tool is already out of warranty.
Oftentimes if the part is “off-the-shelf” you may find it by simply searching on the web for the part number or description. Alternatively for difficult-to-find parts you could consider 3D printing it (but will need to either create the 3D model yourself or find someone that can do so).
Worst case if you can’t repair the tool, you might be able to use it for some other purpose. You may need to put on your creative hat for that!
If you do have to throw it away find out if you can recycle it rather than throwing it in your garbage bin that is going to the landfill. My old shredder died and by taking it apart, I managed to salvage a few parts from it for a future project I have planned.
Investing some time and effort to clean and sharpen garden tools literally pays off. Your gardening work will be easier with tools that work well and your pocketbook will also be better off not having to buy new tools every few years.
If you enjoyed this article, have something to add or have any questions, please leave a comment below.
Wishing you all the best!
Tranquil Garden Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC