Yard and Garden: Prepare your Garden Tools for Spring

Make sure your garden tools are ready for spring with these handy tips

March 17, 2023, 10:24 am | Aaron J. Steil

AMES, Iowa -- With spring around the corner, now is the time to clean up the garden shed and prepare tools and supplies for the gardening season. In this article, horticulturists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offer information on how to clean, sanitize, sharpen and prepare your garden tools for spring.

How do I clean and sanitize plant containers for reuse?

Reusing plastic, clay and other containers is a great way to save money and reduce plastic waste going into landfills. Plastic plant containers cannot be recycled in traditional single-stream home recycling programs and, unfortunately, programs to collect and recycle plastic plant containers are not common. It is important to clean and disinfect old pots each time you use them. Disease-causing fungi and other organisms, including insects, can remain in old containers and infect the new plants potted in them. 

Stack of used plant containers.To disinfect the pots, use a stiff brush or rag to remove all the loose soil particles. Soak the container in a solution containing one part household bleach to nine parts water for a minimum of 10 minutes. Then wash pots in soapy water (dish detergent works great) and rinse clean.

Mineral deposits can frequently form around the upper inside rim of the pot near the soil line. Remove this mineral deposit from pots with a scouring pad. Tough-to-remove deposits can be scraped away with a knife. Smooth any rough edges with steel wool. Rinse the pot and it is ready for reuse.

How do I sanitize my pruners to prevent the spread of some diseases?

Proper cleaning and sanitization of pruners and other garden tools is important to prevent the spread of disease issues. At minimum, when removing disease-infected plant material, pruners should be disinfected between plants. Ideally, pruners should be disinfected between each cut.

Always start by removing dirt, sap and other debris from pruning equipment before disinfecting.

A 10% solution of household chlorine bleach prepared by adding 1 part bleach to 9 parts water can be used for disinfecting pruning blades. The solution should be used within two hours of mixing, and the tool should be soaked for at least 10 minutes in the son. 

One of the easiest ways to sanitize pruning equipment is to use ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. To sanitize with alcohol, wipe or dip the tool into the alcohol. No prolonged soaking is needed. Rubbing alcohol (70% isopropyl alcohol) and ethanol can be readily purchased from most drug stores and other retail outlets and can be used directly from the container with no dilution necessary. Disinfecting with alcohol is preferred for homeowners to most other methods because it is easy to use, easy to find in stores, relatively inexpensive and does not require prolonged soaking.

How do I clean and prepare my garden tools?

Proper care of garden tools and equipment prolongs their life, prevents costly repairs and improves their performance. Remove caked-on soil from shovels, spades, hoes and rakes with a wire brush or stiff putty knife. Wash the tools with a strong stream of water, then dry. Wipe the metal surfaces with an oily rag or spray with WD-40 to help prevent corrosion. Sand rough wooden handles, then wipe with linseed oil to prevent drying and cracking. 

Over time, cultivation tools like hoes, shovels and spades get nicked and damaged by stones and soil. Sharpening the blades of cultivation tools will make them easier and safer to use. To sharpen cultivation tools, start by securing the tool by the handle in a bench vise with the front side facing up. Using a metal file, Holding a pair of pruners.sharpen the edge by pushing the file away from you across the blade. Hold the file at the same angle during the entire process, using the existing beveled angle at the tool's edge as a guide. Work slowly and evenly so that a shine appears about one-quarter-inch back from the blade's edge along the entire edge. Then turn the tool over and remove any burrs from the underside of the blade edge by lightly pushing the metal file away from you with the same smooth and even motion as before. Depending on the amount of use, most cultivation tools only need sharpening once a year.

How do I prepare my lawn mower for spring?

Spring is the best time to service the engine and sharpen the blades to ensure the mower runs smoothly and cleanly cuts the lawn. Start by checking the oil. Some mowers benefit from changing the oil once a year. Others only require the oil to be topped off in the spring. Check your owner's manual and follow those instructions to check or change the oil. Check all filters, including the air, oil and fuel filters, and clean or replace them as needed. Ideally, the fuel tank was drained or run dry in the fall, but if it wasn't, it is important to remove the old fuel and replace it with new before starting up the mower for the first time in spring. Check and replace the spark plug every one to three years. A fresh spark plug will allow the engine to run better and start up easier.

Take the opportunity to sharpen the blades and clean the mower deck while the fuel tank is empty. Dull mower blades make the engine work harder and tear or rip grass blades rather than cleanly slicing them. The ragged edge of a grass leaf cut with a dull mower blade will turn brown and allow some disease pathogens to infect the leaf more easily. To remove the blade, wear heavy leather gloves, disconnect the spark plug (or remove the battery on an electric mower), and jam in a short 2x4 to keep the blade from turning. Loosen the bolt at the center of the blade using a socket wrench. It may take some leverage to get it loose! Once removed, you can sharpen the blades yourself or take them to a hardware store or outdoor equipment retailer for sharpening. While the blade is out, this is also the perfect time to clean the mower deck. Use a strong stream of water and a putty knife to remove built-up debris from the underside of the deck and wash or blow leaves and grass from all the other areas of the mower. 

Shareable photos: 1. Garden pruners. 2. Used gardening containers.

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