Get Your Garden Tools Ready for a New Season

February is a good month to clean and sharpen the yard tools as well as service the power tools so you’ll be ready to hit the ground running come spring. Investing in a little off-season care can make your tools work better in the short term as well as last longer.

Five tool-care jobs to consider:


Dirt, sap, and mud can trap moisture against your tools’ metal parts, and that encourages rust.

If you don’t routinely clean your tools before putting them away, now’s a good time to scrub off any accumulated grime. You might need a wire brush or steel wool if soapy water and a rag aren’t doing the job.

A wire brush, steel wool, and/or a rust-dissolving solvent can be used to remove any rust that’s already forming.

If you really want to be thorough, take apart your pruners, loppers, and garden shears so you can clean all of the hard-to-reach little nooks.


Bacteria, viruses, and especially disease-causing fungi can move from plant to plant on your pruning tools.

After cleaning them, kill any over-wintering pathogens by dipping them in or wiping them off with a disinfecting solution.

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, the myth-busting horticulturist from Washington State University Extension and author of “The Informed Gardener” book, recommends household cleaners such as Lysol or Pine-Sol over the traditionally recommended bleach, which she says is corrosive to tools.

Disinfectants also can be used during the season to discourage diseases from spreading from one plant to another via pruning tools.


Once your tools are disinfected and dry, discourage rust by applying a thin layer of machine oil or mineral oil over blades and other metal parts.

Tools with wooden handles also can be wiped clean, sanded with sandpaper, and coated with a thin layer of linseed or mineral oil.

Some people keep the metal parts of their hand tools regularly oiled by storing them in a bucket of oily sand after each use.

Author and TV host P. Allen Smith, for example, uses a five-gallon bucket filled with play sand that’s mixed with a half-gallon of mineral oil. Others use coarser sand and linseed oil.

Avoid motor oil so you don’t introduce petroleum products into the soil from your digging tools.


Sharp tools work so much better, and they’re easier on your plants, too. Dull blades make tearing or blunt cuts instead of smaller, cleaner cuts that heal better and cause plants to lose less moisture through the wounds.

To sharpen, don your gloves and safety glasses, and use a bench grinder and/or file to carve sharp edges into your shovels, edging tools, pruners, loppers, garden knives, and even hand trowels.

Secure tools well with a vise so they don’t slip and cause injury while you’re sharpening. And try to follow the bevel or angle of the blades. Too wide of a bevel won’t make the blade sharp enough, while overdoing it the other way will make the edge too thin and prone to damage.

Tool sharpeners and sharpening stones are other options for smaller hand tools.

Don’t overlook your lawn-mower blades. Most mower manufacturers recommend that blades should be removed and sharpened about every 25 hours of cutting time.

Inspect, repair, and get ready

February is also a good time to look over the mower, weed-whacker, chipper-shredder, edger, and any other power tools in the garage or shed.

These all can be cleaned, and all should undergo the annual inspections and maintenance that’s recommended in their user manuals.

Do any need an oil change? New air filters? New spark plugs? Lubrication of wheels or tightening of any bolts and screws?

If you turn that work over to a service center, now’s a good time to do that, too, before everyone else decides to cut the grass for the first time.

While you’re at it, take an inventory of gardening supplies you regularly use (fertilizers, bug sprays, potting mix, weed preventers, etc.) and stock up on those so you can maximize good-weather time in the garden instead of shopping.

Read about the eight "must-have" tools for your garden.

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