Taking Care of Garden Tools

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There’s much more to gardening success than using expensive tools. But there’s also no doubt that well-maintained hand tools are easier to use, kinder to your plants and keep working reliably for longer. You’ll usually get better results by using low-cost tools which are well looked after, compared to expensive ones allowed to deteriorate. This means caring for your garden tools throughout the year, as well as maintaining them before winter storage. Here’s what to do in both cases:

How to Maintain Gardening Hand Tools

Keeping your hand tools in good condition should be a regular part of your gardening routine. It needn’t take long, and these three steps make an excellent basis for year-round care.
woman using a hose to clean the dirt off of a hand trowel

1. Clean your tools at the end of each gardening session. Hose down spades and trowels, give pruners and shears a run over with a clean rag, or even better, an antiseptic wipe. Use a stiff brush to remove compacted grime, and use detergent for particularly dirty tools or ones used for pruning.
woman using WD-40 to lubricate the moving parts on a hand pruner

2. For tools with moving parts, add a little lubricating oil after cleaning to prevent them seizing up while they’re stored.
an assortment of gardening hand tools hanging individually by hooks on a wooden wall

3. Once cleaned and oiled, store your tools in a dry, well-ventilated area to reduce the risk of rust. Hanging them up on a sheltered wall is ideal.
Making a habit of this maintenance means that when the colder months arrive, your tools will already be in great condition, and preparing them for winter storage will be much easier.

Storing Garden Tools During Winter

Once the growing season is over, follow these five simple steps to ensure your tools stay in great condition until spring arrives.

1. Give Your Garden Tools One Last Cleaning

man disassembled a pair of hand pruners for deep cleaning

After they’re used for the last time, give your tools an even deeper clean than usual. Disassembling any tools with moving parts will let you clean more thoroughly, but be sure you know how to put them back together afterward.
For this annual clean, be as complete as possible, removing all traces of dirt and using a detergent to deal with bacteria and fungus residue.

2. Prevent Rust on Garden Tools

woman removing dirt and rust on hand pruners using steel wool

After cleaning, soak the tools in an equal mixture of vinegar and water for a few hours to help ward off rust. Gently scrub any tarnished or rusted areas of metal with steel wool to remove all traces of corrosion. Dry the tools thoroughly.

3. Care for Wooden Handle Tools

woman oiling the wooden handles of gardening hand tools with linseed oil

If needed, lightly sand wooden handles to smooth out any minor damage or signs of splitting which could worsen over the winter. Apply linseed oil or another conditioning treatment to wooden handles.

4. Sharpen Tool Blades and Oil Moving Parts

man sharpening a pair of hand pruners using a stone

Fall is a good time to sharpen blades, so they’ll be ready for use in the spring. Apply oil to garden tools with moving parts, wiping a film of oil over exposed metal areas.

5. Where to Store Garden Tools

storage drawers for holding garden hand tools in a garage

For overwintering, careful storage is even more important than at other times of year. Ideally, take your tools indoors. Keep them in a cool, dark and dry place, such as a basement or garage.
For smaller hand tools such as forks, trowels and cutters, you can push the blade ends down into a bucket of sand mixed with oil so that they’re completely covered. The combination of darkness and oil will prevent rust and help keep the cutting edges keen.
It usually pays to buy the best tools you can afford, but correct maintenance is much more important than a few extra dollars spent at the hardware store. Taking care of your garden tools is an excellent habit to develop, and one that your plants will thank you for.
Garden hoses are one of the most important tools you’ll own for maintaining your landscape. Our Guide to Garden Hoses will teach you everything you need to know to pick out the garden hose and accessories best suited to your situation.
garden hose neatly rolled and hanging on an exterior wall by a faucet


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