Now that fall is here and winter is fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about winterizing garden tools. Many people don’t think about tool care and just keep using their tools until they wear out, then buy some new ones. But there may come a time when you won’t just be able to run down to the local hardware store to buy some new tools. Then you’ll be dependent on just how well you’re able to maintain your tools. Here’s how to do it.
1. Disinfect Tools
The nice thing about a cold winter is that it can kill off harmful insect larvae as well as exposed plant viruses and bacteria. Hopefully, you’ve removed all your dead plants from your garden to prevent diseased roots from harboring viruses and bacteria. But your tools can also come into contact with those same viruses and bacteria, and if you don’t disinfect them they can harbor those diseases until next spring.
Cutting tools especially need to be disinfected, preferably before every time they’re used so that they don’t spread disease from plant to plant. But at the end of the season, they’ll need to be disinfected too. A thorough wipe with isopropyl alcohol will disinfect cutting blades. You can also soak them in a bleach solution, although bleach will corrode metal, so you have to be careful.
Shovels, spades, hoes, rakes, and smaller hand shovels and trowels should also be disinfected, even plastic tools, as they can carry soil-borne diseases. Soaking smaller tools in a 10% bleach solution in a 5-gallon bucket for half an hour should be enough to disinfect.
2. Remove Rust
Your metal tools and cutting blades have been exposed to moisture from plants, soil, and the environment all summer long. By now they may be developing some rust. Better to clean that rust off before winter comes rather than let it continue rusting over winter. The last thing you want is to pull your tools out in springtime and see rusted, pitted, or rust-frozen metal parts.
Steel wool or bronze wool can be used to clean up small patches of rust. You can use them dry, or in conjunction with oil or other abrasive compounds to get particularly stubborn patches of rust.
3. Oil Metal Parts
Once you’ve removed the rust, you’ll want to oil the metal to keep rust from coming back. Any garden tools that have springs, such as shears and cutting tools, should have the springs well-oiled before being put away. Many people swear by WD-40, but machine oil, lithium grease, and even motor oil can be used to protect metal parts from rusting.
4. Oil Wood
Many garden tools sold today have handles that are made from synthetic compounds. But some garden tools still have wood handles. Wood will expand or shrink based on the humidity in the air, which can cause it to crack or split if it isn’t properly cared for. Boiled linseed oil is one of the more popular oils used to care for wood. Rub a little bit on every now and then with an old rag to keep the wood protected, and put a good coating on before winter.
Be careful when disposing of the rag – linseed oil-soaked rags can spontaneously combust. Leave rags outside, preferably soaked in water, and dispose of them in a plastic bag while still fully damp, in an outdoor trash can. There have been too many instances of oil-soaked rags combusting and causing massive amounts of damage for rags to be treated with anything less than full caution.
5. Store Inside
Finally, you’ll want to store your tools in some sort of indoor area. It doesn’t have to be heated, it could be in a garden shed, detached garage, or some sort of container. Just keep them protected from wind, rain, and snow, and if you’ve properly winterized them they should be ready to go come springtime.