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Cleaning gardening tools

Scrape off the dirt before you put them away for the season

When I’m done with the gardening season I tend to put the tools away and forget about them till next spring – and then I have to scrape off the dirt when I’m ready to use them again. It would be easier if I just cleaned them up now so they’re ready to go.

Dixie Sandborn is an Extension specialist with Michigan State University. She says it only takes a few minutes to do the job.

"Shovels, rakes, those kinds of things they can be just sprayed off with a hose, make sure the dirt’s off them. Once they’re completely dry you could put some oil on them to keep the moisture from penetrating in even in the winter," says Sandborn. "They should be hung to be stored, not leaning on a garage floor. They can pick up moisture that way so hanging them is the best."

Rub linseed oil into wooden handles to prevent the wood from drying out and cracking. If your garden tools have rust on them, scrub it off with steel wool or a wire brush and lightly coat them with a lubricant or used motor oil.

Be sure to thoroughly clean any tools that have been used for chemical applications. Fertilizers and other chemicals will rapidly corrode metal parts.  

Sandborn says cleaning your tools now also helps protect your plants next year.

"Even though it’s recommended to clean them every time we use them, we’re busy gardeners and we don’t always to that. It will help get rid of diseases and things that might be on the tools, especially if there’s old dirt," she says. "That old dirt can harbor viruses and diseases that would be carried into your garden the next year."

General garden work throughout the season will dull the edges of your tools. So after you’ve cleaned them up, take some time to sharpen them. Use a file to take out any nicks and put a slight edge on the blade of the spade or shovel.  

Find more tips on caring for your garden tools

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