Care and Maintenance of Garden Tools

Your tools will last for years with a little TLC. Over the years and seasons, we’ve come to appreciate that having the right tool for the job can sure make life easier. Also, taking care of those tools to keep them performing at their best makes a world of difference. In this article, we’ll look at how to keep your tools in their best shape for years to come by routine cleaning, oiling, and sharpening.


Keeping Tools Clean

We finish the planting and as a final act, we toss our trowel into a bucket, wheelbarrow, or maybe just jam it in the dirt and then head back to the house. It’s all too easy to forget. That trowel and other hand tools with metal parts will see better days if they’re kept clean and dry.

Rust never sleeps.

Even aluminum and stainless steel corrode. An uncleaned pair of pruners or loppers might easily spread disease as you prune from plant to plant. So after you’re done, wipe off the blades of your trowels, shovel, pruners and loppers with a clean rag as you go along.

We’ve done the old trick of filling a 5 gallon bucket with builder’s sand and mixing in a splash of used motor oil.  To clean the tool, just bury it into the sand/oil, mix up and down like churning butter, and you’ll clean the metal surface while keeping it preserved for the next time. We used to wipe down our wood handles with linseed oil but found wood floor wax paste is a bit safer (oily rags can combust for no good reason!).

Keeping clean also means not leaving implements in the dirt, laying around outside, or sitting in the wheelbarrow that gets rained in and puts the rust on overdrive. (Can you tell I’ve been after my son..? ;-))

Store your tools under cover, and if you have the space, organize them to hang on a wall or nest in a tool trolley. When we had a crew of landscape workers, it was important to know where the tools were and that they all came back from the jobs. We put hangers on a wall and used a marker to outline the shape of every tool. So after cleaning in the sand/oil bucket, it would be returned to its special place. After 30 years, we still have many of these tools.

We put hangers on a wall and used a marker to outline the shape of every tool.

By the way, we too have slipped now and then, leaving our shovels and rakes out in the elements, or leaning against the fence post. The most common leave behind location is the bed of our truck. Easy to forget. Yet, we do the occasional clean-ups and treatments and try to keep our tools clean, dry, and sorted.

The Price Difference Between Pruners

Back to pruners for a minute, my wife asked me why there’s such a price difference between the less expensive but popular brand of pruners (secateurs) and a brand like Felco. My personal preference, having owned numerous brands is based on quality. I have two pairs of the standard Felco #2 pruners. I’ve had both for well over 30 years and they are still working fine. I could, if needed, do a complete makeover on the oldest one with a new spring, blade and lower “jaw”, but with a little oil and some green pad scrubbing it just keeps working fine. Meanwhile, the “less expensive” models lose their springiness, get bent, get uncomfortable in the hand, and seem to gather rust more quickly.

The Swiss have been designing and manufacturing Felco pruners and other products since 1945, and they do it right. They’re sturdy yet slim and streamlined and they’re built to last, complete with a lifetime limited warranty.1)
I have a holster that fits on my belt and in my pocket, and when working around plants, they’re a steady companion.

On the next page we’ll cover garden tool care with a helpful article that further explains cleaning up and actually restoring your favorite garden utensils, from

References   [ + ]

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Coleman Alderson is author of the Mountain Whispers series and frequent blogger on "I see myself as an outlier, a free-market entrepreneur, an eclectic reader and devout learner, a devoted family guy, a plantsman, a home designer-builder-remodeler, a conscious environmentalist, and a friend to humanity." He holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. "But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And the beauty of gardening is that those lessons never end!"