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    Garden Tools: Cleaning Gardening Tools

    Authored by Leah Chester-Davis

    Garden tools are an investment for any home gardener and when properly cared for, can last for years. While it’s easy to put them in the garden shed and forget them, taking some time to give them a little TLC will keep them in good working order. Not only do they need to be cleaned to keep them in good repair, disinfecting them can help prevent the spread of pathogens and diseases in the garden. Here’s a guide to help you stay on track for this often-overlooked gardening task.

    Storing your tools for the garden

    Adequate storage is key in keeping you organized and motivated to ensure tools are in good repair. When you have a designated place for tools, whether it’s a gardening shed or a corner of your garage, take some time to hang a pegboard with hooks to hold hoes, rakes and shovels. A bucket can be helpful for storing smaller tools such as pruners, folding saws and weeding knives. Use a holder for hoses - such as a bracket, hose reel, or a large container - to help keep hoses organized and untangled to prevent kinking, which can shorten their life.

    How to clean garden tools

    When storing tools, don’t put them away caked with soil or debris. To prevent any chance of rusting, don’t store them wet. Use a rag or a stiff bristle or wire brush to clean them. Once or twice during the gardening season, and especially at the end of the season, rinse tools off with water after using, then use a rag or stiff brush to remove dirt and debris. A product like an antimicrobial bathroom cleaner is also helpful in helping loosen any extra debris, and the bonus is that it disinfects. After removing debris, rinse again and dry.

    Disinfecting garden tools

    While cleaning tools after use is important, sometimes it’s not only helpful but necessary to use some type of disinfectant to clean tools. For example, say you have a problem shrub that has some type of disease. If you prune that shrub and then use your pruners on another plant in your garden you may be spreading a problem from one plant to another. 

    According to University of Kentucky plant pathologists, some common household products can be used to help kill disease-causing microorganisms on gardening tools.  A few of those products:

    • Rubbing alcohol or alcohol prep pads (available as 70% solution; do not dilute) 
    • Hand sanitizer
    • Household disinfectant cleaners 
    • Antimicrobial bathroom cleaners

    Step 1: 

    Remove any organic matter from the tool by using some type of brush and soapy water. Rinse thoroughly to remove soap and any residue.

    Step 2:

    It’s important to get thorough disinfectant contact with blades or other tools. This can be done by soaking, dipping, or spraying. The University of Kentucky says that most products require a 3- to 5-minute soak to effectively sanitize. 

    Step 3: 

    After garden tools, containers, or other gardening supplies have received good contact with a disinfectant, rinse them thoroughly to remove any residue. Then dry tools thoroughly with paper towels or other water-absorbing cloth. Lay tools in the sun to complete drying before storing.

    How to sharpen garden tools

    Sharpening any garden tools that are used for cutting and chopping is another important maintenance chore that can prolong the usefulness of your tool. It also results in a more efficient tool that requires less energy to use. Sharp tools, such as pruners, are also better for the plant. Sharp, clean cuts help the plant heal more quickly and simply look better than cuts made with dull pruners that tend to leave plant cuts and tissue ragged, prolonging the time it takes a plant to heal and increasing the chances of diseases.

    A rule of thumb when sharpening tools is to stick with the angle or the factory bevel of the tool. Do-it-yourselfers may use flat mill files, round or half-round files, or grinding or sharpening stones. For those who prefer to turn this task over to someone else, many hardware stores and some farmers markets offer tool sharpening services.

    Oiling gardening tools

    After sharpening, or after cleaning and disinfecting tools at the end of the season, is a good time to apply a light coating of oil to your tools. Before applying oil, remove any rust with a steel wool pad, rinse with water, and dry thoroughly. Many gardeners use boiled linseed oil because it is made from natural products. It can be used on both metal and wood. While we often think of keeping metal tools rust-free with a light coating of oil, wooden handles can also benefit from a coat of oil to keep them from drying out and becoming brittle. If you don’t have linseed oil, vegetable oil from the kitchen will work for both metal and wood.

    A little extra attention with pruners and any tools with an open and close mechanism can be helpful. Use a 3-in-1 oil and apply to the mechanisms and then open and close several times so the oil will move throughout the mechanism.

    Any tool benefits from regular maintenance and before storing at the end of the season. A little time on this gardening chore will keep your tools performing like new.