Care for Gardening Tools
Stephen Brueggerhoff, CEA – Horticulture; Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Consistent gardening tool maintenance, like beauty, certainly is in the eye of the beholder. You may fall under the spell of gardening processes while practicing sustainable pruning or digging techniques, and do not forget that the practice is only as sound as the care you take in maintaining your garden tools.
Always make a habit of cleaning your tools after each use. There is a challenge keeping tools moisture free living in a region with increased humidity, and best to store them dry indoors in a covered shed or garage. Long handled tools such as shovels or rakes can be suspended on a mounted rack for adequate air flow, and hand tools can be stored on a peg board or in a drawer. Keeping tools dry means cleaning off the dirt or mud collected from use. Use a sturdy plastic long handle utility brush for surfaces of a shovel or on metal tines of a landscape rake. The hard stream setting on a garden hose spray nozzle should suffice for dislodging mud, and you may have to use scrubbing combined with spraying. Use rubbing alcohol to dissolve dried sap left over from pruning plants like banana trees, oleander or poinsettia. If you choose to use warm, soapy water in your process, make sure to give a thorough final rinse. Regardless of the method, dry completely with a cloth rag and apply a thin film of petroleum-derived oil like mineral oil or multi-purpose oils to metal surfaces. You can use non-petroleum products as a lubricant such as vegetable oil or food-grade silicone spray, and keep in mind these kinds of products may have to be applied more often as they will not last as long on tool surfaces. While more expensive, non-petroleum linseed oil can be used if stored properly, remember that linseed oil is flammable.
Over time you may experience a fine patina to deep, pitted flakes of rust on metal surfaces. Rust is a form of iron oxide, developing by the reaction of iron and oxygen with moisture. Once noticed, rust must be addressed as soon as possible to prevent metal corrosion that can form pits and further compromise metal surfaces. If a fine patina forms, you can use a wire brush, fine grade sandpaper or steel wool to remove the rust and then lubricate with an appropriate oil. Highly compromised metal surfaces will require more work to rehabilitate. One method to remove embedded rust is by submersing the affected surfaces in a mild acid bath. I took apart a pair of rusted pruners, removed as much surface rust as possible with a metal brush and then submerged the blades and bolt of compromised pruners overnight in a mason jar of white vinegar. I removed all remaining rust and residue the next day with steel wool, and then lubricated all metal surfaces. A leather scabbard is typically used to carry hand pruners when in the field and can be used to store pruners at rest in the garage.
Another storage method is dampening sand with mineral oil contained in a pail and embedding the blades, standing the pruners handle-side up for easy retrieval. Oil residue on blades will generally not harm pruned vegetation. Disinfecting blades between pruning is recommended for pathogen susceptible plants. While dilute bleach is used as a disinfectant, long-term use can be corrosive to metal. Prepared isopropyl alcohol or disinfecting wipes can be useful, as well as household cleaners such as brands Lysol or Pine-sol and are least corrosive. Regardless of the method of sterilization, always clean your tools and lightly
oil after every use. While your garden may rest for winter, we still have plenty of work to keep our tools looking sharp for the spring dance.
Be prepared and have the right kind of materials on hand, and always use best practices to protect your tools. Browse online to our website for more practical gardening information: https://brazoria.agrilife.org/horticulture/. I look forward to serving you soon with outstanding horticulture programs, and I will see you in the garden.