Garden Tool Care

Dec 12, 2022

Evenings are growing dark and maybe it's too cold and wet to work in the garden. What better time for tool care? It's also a great time of year to drop some hints to friends and family for those expensive new pruning shears you've been wanting.

Tool care does not come naturally to many gardeners, but it's straightforward and you'll be rewarded with years of good service. Dull, dirty blades can crush plant tissue, damaging the cambium and creating an entry point for pests and diseases.

Here is a summary:
• Clean and sharpen dull blades.
• Lubricate garden tools and repair damaged grips.
• Cleaning can be done with soapy water and a wire brush or steel wool; air dry and apply a light coat of oil to prevent corrosion.
• Tools with wood handles can be sanded and rubbed down with linseed oil.
• File cutting tools, including shovel blades, to sharpen.
• Store tools in a dry, covered area.
• Have your lawn mower serviced to get a jump on spring tasks.

Tools may need some repair in addition to cleaning. Pruners can be taken apart for repair or cleaning.

Cleaning includes removing soil and grit, rust, sap (which could be from an infected canker), and disinfecting. Disinfection is essential to prevent the transmission of disease from one plant to another.

Sharpening does not have to be scary. You can buy a cheap, easy-to-use hand-held carbide sharpener or file from most hardware stores.

After sharpening, all metal surfaces should be oiled to prevent rust.

As you will see from the links below, there is more than one way to clean and sharpen your tools, but the principles are the same. There is some disagreement about disinfecting tools. If you know you used your tool on a diseased plant, debris must be removed first followed by several minutes of soaking in a 10% bleach solution. Lysol or Pine-Sol 10% solutions or 70% alcohol soaks have also been shown to work. Be sure to rinse the bleach solution off to prevent corrosion. Don't forget to disinfect or dispose of the items used to remove infected debris!

Detailed articles on tool cleaning and care:

Articles on disinfectants:

Excellent videos on tool cleaning and care:

Help Desk of the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County (EAS)