Top Garden Tool Tips for Winter

Get a jump-start on spring by tending to garden tools this winter.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Image courtesy of Gardener's Supply Company

Photo By: Image courtesy of

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Photo by Julie Martens Forney

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Photo by Debbie Wolfe

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Photo by Mark Wolfe

Photo By: Photo by Mark Wolfe

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Image courtesy of Gardener's Supply Company

Garden Tools

Dedicate some time while the snow flies to getting your tools in shape. Time spent on tool maintenance in the garden’s off-season gives you more time to garden when spring arrives. Learn what you should do to put your tools in top working order.

Clean Cutting Tools

Clean blades of cutting tools, like pruners and loppers. For large chunks of dried sap, scrape blades using a piece of metal with a straight edge. If pruners have sticky pitch or sap residue, wipe blades using a cloth dampened with paint thinner. Once blades are clean, dry them with a clean cotton rag.

Garden Gloves

Now is the perfect time to clean up garden gloves. Nitrile-coated gloves can be hand washed or tossed in the washer and line dried. Slip your hands into gloves to inspect for holes. Recycle worn gloves as scarecrows or garden fence ornaments. Brush dried soil from leather gloves. If seams are splitting, consider sewing them to extend the wear.

Repair Hoses

If your hose leaked last summer, replace washers now. For hoses on hose reels that have developed a leak, bring them into a warm basement or garage area with a drain and make the necessary repairs now. You may need to remove the hose from the reel to replace washers inside the hose-reel connection. For hose splits, purchase a repair kit and tackle the job now. If hoses are stored in an unheated shed, bring them into a warm spot for a few hours so they’re flexible and easier to handle.

Clean Digging Tools

Remove dried dirt from tools using a stiff-bristle brush. If rust is present, sand it off using 80-grit sandpaper (for light rust) or a wire brush (for heavier rust). Wear safety glasses when removing rust. Sharpen edges of digging tools like spades and shovels with a file.

Oil Metal Blades

Apply a thin coat of oil to clean digging blades, especially steel ones, to prevent future rust. Mix one quart of motor oil (nondetergent 30W) with 2 cups kerosene or lamp oil. This thins the oil so it’s easier to wipe or spray onto tools (use a spray bottle sold for household cleaning). Apply only enough oil to coat metal surfaces—you don’t want it dripping off the tool. The small amount of oil on tool blades breaks down quickly in soil, so no worries about contaminating garden soil.

Check Tool Heads

Double-check the attachment point of all tool heads. If heads are loose, add a small screw to help attach the tool head to the handle. If screws are already present, use a screwdriver to check tightness. Don’t overtighten, though, or you risk cracking the tool head.

Repair Tool Handles

Replace broken handles on garden tools. Save old handles for stakes or to create measuring sticks (mark off the handle in 6-inch increments) for planting.

Clean Pruning Saw

Use a stiff bristle brush to remove any lingering sawdust from pruning saws. If sap or other residue is visible on the blade, wipe it with a rag dipped in paint thinner. Dry the tool with a clean cotton rag.

Prevent Rust with Oil

Wipe down pruning saw blades with a layer of motor oil thinned with lamp oil or kerosene. Use a ratio of 1 quart non-detergent motor oil (30W is fine) mixed with one pint of lamp oil. The layer of oil forms a barrier between the metal blade and air to prevent oxidation and rust formation.

Sharpen Pruners

Sharpen hand pruners, loppers and other cutting tools. Using a whetstone isn’t too difficult; simply follow the directions that come with it. You can also try specialized tools featuring a diamond, ceramic or high-carbon steel sharpening edge. Look for these honing tools online or at garden centers.

Sharpen Mower Blades

Remove mower blades and sharpen them. Winter is the perfect time to do this chore—don’t wait until you need the mower next spring to discover the blade needs sharpened. You can easily sharpen the blade yourself, or take it to a local hardware store. It’s a good idea to keep two mower blades on hand so you always have a freshly-sharpened one at the ready.

Rust-Proof Cutting Tools

Apply a light coating of oil or lubricant to cutting blades of pruners and loppers. Spray on the oil or wipe it on with a clean cloth. Rub it off lightly with very fine-grade steel wool. Be sure to spray lubricating oil into joints and moving parts of cutting tools. Create a tool oil by diluting 1 quart of 30W non-detergent motor oil with 1 pint of kerosene or lamp oil.

Tend to Handles

Check wooden tool handles for rough spots or splinters. Sand away problem areas. Wipe down handles with linseed oil or paste wax to preserve the wood and help prevent splitting or cracking.

Strip Wheelbarrow Handles

Don’t overlook wheelbarrow handles when you’re treating tools. Sand off any rough spots and wipe the handles with with linseed oil or paste wax to prevent future cracks or splits.

Check Tires

Winter often causes some deflation on wheelbarrow tires. Check and add air as necessary. In coldest regions, save this task until very late winter to avoid having to do it again once warm weather arrives.

Organize Garden Tools

Take time now to organize and hang garden tools. Put everything away before the spring garden frenzy arrives. Create new storage places for new tools. Hanging garden tools gets them off the floor and out of the way—and makes it quite easy to grab and go.

Straighten the Potting Bench

Clean up your potting bench. Ruthlessly review empty plastic pots, which easily accumulate. Recycle used plastic pots in curbside recycling programs or by returning to a local garden center (ask first if they take them). Consider slipping hand tools into a bucket of sand soaked with motor oil to keep blades clean and rust-free.