Nobody works harder in the garden than you, with one exception, of course: your tools.
Tools are a necessity as they cut, chop, dig and make our lives easier. Just as we care for our bodies, we should show the same respect for our tools. The offseason is a good time to make needed repairs.
Keep them clean. Mud and dirt on metal and wood surfaces will trap moisture, resulting in rust and rot. Metal parts and blades should be washed to remove caked-on mud. A wire brush is helpful. Wooden handles can be wiped down in the same manner with a rag to remove the garden grime.
Once clean, wipe metal surfaces with a protective coating of household lubricating oil. Wooden handles that may have rough wood can be lightly sanded to remove potential splitters. Then wipe the wood with tung or linseed oil to restore and protect.
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Another option is to paint your handles. Some gardeners like to paint their tool handles with bright colors. The color stands out when the tool is laid on the ground, making them easier to find. I cannot tell you the number of times I set my trowel down only for it to blend into the growth and mulch, leading to a time-consuming hunt.
Sharp tools make the job easier. Dull blades do not work as efficiently and can lead to garden accidents. A sharp blade will leave a clean cut that will help the plant recover more quickly from the wound left behind. Take time to sharpen mower blades, knives, shovels, hoes, pruners or other tools that slice and dice. Sharpening can be done at home with a grinder or file.
Local hardware stores may also sharpen tools for a small fee.
Garden tools should be stored properly out of the elements; that means the garage for most of us.
Winter is a good time to make sure you have them organized for spring. Small hand tools can be stored in a bucket, ready to pick up and head out to the garden. Larger tools can hang on racks or panels for easy access. Another trick for shovels is to store them in a bucket of dry sand. Each time the shovel head goes in and out of the sand, it helps remove stuck-on dirt.
This might also be the time to cull the tools. Some may be broken, damaged and dangerous. Replacement handles can be purchased, but many times they are almost as expensive as buying a new tool. Make the decision now to repair or replace. That way you are ready to go to work once spring conditions arrive. Tools that are properly cared for will last longer and make the garden chores more enjoyable.