Home & Garden

How to clean, sanitize and sharpen your garden tools

Dirt and contaminants left on tools can contribute to the spread of plant disease, so they should be cleaned at the end of gardening season.
Dirt and contaminants left on tools can contribute to the spread of plant disease, so they should be cleaned at the end of gardening season. Courtesy of UC Regents

With the winter months looming ahead and the cooler temperatures already upon us, gardeners everywhere may wonder “now what?”

Before settling in for the winter with a stack of seed catalogs to drool over, why not first gather up all the garden tools for some much-needed TLC? There will be no better feeling next spring than opening up the tool shed to find clean, sanitized, sharpened tools that are ready to go.

Dirt and contaminants left on tools can contribute to the spread of plant disease. The first step is to thoroughly scrub each tool with a wire brush or steel wool to remove caked-on dirt from all metal surfaces. (Safety first, folks! Please wear eye protection!)

Using rough sandpaper will help remove rust spots. Once cleaned, disinfect tools. There are several different agents readily available that can do the job (bleach, alcohol, Lysol), each with their own pros and cons. Washington State University researcher Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott conducted a study on disinfectants and found Lysol to be the least corrosive to the tools, with bleach being the most corrosive.

Once the tools are clean, they are ready to be sharpened. A hand file, belt sander or table grinder will work well on the big stuff (hoes, shovels, etc.); otherwise a whetstone can be used to obtain the desired sharp edge on pruners and other bladed tools. The final touch for cleaning tools is to lubricate all metal parts. Wipe on a thin layer of boiled linseed oil on metal surfaces as well as on wooden handles.

OK, so now where to put these shining beauties? Hanging racks work wonders in keeping tools organized and out of the way. This in turn keeps the tools from being piled up in a corner somewhere waiting to attack us when we go to grab one of them. Keep hand tools in garden totes or buckets and store all tools in a dry environment to prevent rusting.

To achieve a shed full of clean, sharp and organized garden tools would be a great accomplishment. To not lose one’s mind in pools of sheer happiness over all the incoming seed catalogs would be another.

Got a gardening question?

In San Luis Obispo call 781-5939, Arroyo Grande, 473-7190 and Templeton, 434-4105. Visit us at http://ucanr.org/sites/mgslo/ or email us at anrmgslo@ucanr.edu. Follow us on Instagram at slo_mgs and like us on Facebook. Informative garden workshops are held the third Saturday of every month, 10 a.m. to noon at 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. Garden docents are available after the workshop until 1 p.m. To request a tour of the garden, call 781-5939.

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