Tool Care 101

published on 06 February 2023

Now's the time to prep your gardening gear

Guest Contributor: Cassey Anderson, CSU Horticulture Agent

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Are your tools ready for Spring?
Are your tools ready for Spring?

Perhaps you’ve put in your seed orders, you’ve planned where you want said seeds to go in your garden/landscape/patio and you’re wondering what you can do next. It’s too early to start almost any vegetable crops in February, so your gardening energies are looking for an outlet. Not to worry! This is a great time of year to work on getting your garden tools ready for the season.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you finished up the fall season tired and fed up with spending time in the garden, so it’s possible that you tossed your tools: hori hori, shovel, garden fork, pruners, loppers etc. into a pile in your shed/garage/storage area and haven’t dared peek inside the area since. Perhaps that’s just my habit and you’ve already cleaned and prepared your tools, in which case I have fewer garden suggestions for keeping you active this time of year. Perhaps you can peruse a few more seed catalogs, you can’t have too many seeds right? (Here's some great info from Fresh Food Connect about choosing what to plant in  a Giving Garden!)

It’s a DIRT-y job

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If you are like me, now is the time to brave your storage area and pull out your tools. If there are still clumps of dirt and debris from last year, your first course of action is to clean that off. Your soil type can determine if this is a pleasant task, or f if you may have to put some elbow grease in (clay soils are prone to becoming sticky and persistent). For some, a coarse brush is all you’ll need to brush off those end-of-season bits. For more stubborn clumps, you may need a wire brush, or even a wash with warm and soapy water. If using water, be sure to dry the metal parts of your tools completely before moving on. 

Get the EDGE on your growing season

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Did you know that you can make your tools work better by honing a bit of an edge on them? New shovels from nurseries or big box stores are great because they are strong and new, but they tend to have a rather blunt edge which can make digging frustrating. Most tools benefit from about a 45-degree angle. You can accomplish this with hand sharpening files or mechanical sharpeners. Store your newly cleaned and sharpened tools so their edges do not touch the ground, this will preserve the edge for a long, successful gardening season. 

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If your pruning tools aren’t working quite as they used to, it may be time to hone or sharpen these edges too. If you’ve got pruners that you can disassemble, it’s best to take them apart for this step, as you’ll have more success sharpening the pruning blade. Do note, if you’re working with bypass pruners (the blades slide past each other) you typically only need to sharpen one side. If you’ve got gardening shears or scissors you may need to sharpen both blades. You can buy all-in-one tools that you run along the blade but for the best sharpening it’s good to use a sharpening file. 

With all your tools it’s a great idea to oil the blades after cleaning and sharpening, wipe off any excess oil with a clean rag. 


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Finally, a good organization system can keep your tools clean and ready. This can be as simple as a bucket that they all rest in, or as intricate as a wall with a spot to hang every single tool. It all depends on your space, but  it will be easier to keep tools neat and organized when they have a designated storage area. 

BONUS FUN - Dig deep

Still looking for more ways to prepare for spring? If you haven’t had the time in the last year and you have some of your vegetable garden beds that are exposed this time of year, take a soil sample and send it to a soil testing lab to see where you stand with your nutrients. It’s never a good idea to amend with fertilizer/compost etc. if you don’t know your soil condition. 

Keeping your tools clean and organized will help them last longer, and is a great way to make your gardening season more enjoyable. With just a few more weeks of winter to go, now’s the perfect time to get started!

Enjoy this last month before spring!  As always, contact your local county Extension office if you have further questions. 

What if every gardener planted just one extra plant to share?

One small donation can have a tremendous impact. Just imagine, if every gardener planted one extra plant to share, collectively, we would have an abundant source of fresh, healthy produce available to be distributed to families experiencing food insecurity in our own communities! The free Fresh Food Connect mobile app connects you to a local hunger relief program, then manages and tracks your donations of homegrown produce throughout the season.  Download the app today!

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