Cleaning garden tools

Clean garden tools last longer and help to prevent spread of plant disease

My shovel and hand pruners suffer the most at the end of the growing season, but any hand garden tool can benefit from care. Garden tools used in moist situations, such as in the soil or pruning stems, are more subject to rust. In addition, if using pruners to clip off dead or diseased stems, the risk of transferring disease to another stem or plant is decreased by cleaning the garden tool between uses.

Wash after each use

This is a simple step. Hose off the tool after use and wipe dry. I use newspaper to wipe tools as a cost-effective approach. Some gardeners go one step further and dip or even soak the tool in soapy water. Using a bucket and a squirt of dishwashing soap, dip the tools in the bucket and use a scrub brush or sponge to clean the metal portion of the tool. Dry thoroughly. Leaving the tool in the sun can expedite dry time.

If snipping of diseased stems with hand pruners, wipe the blades after each snip. Use rubbing alcohol or water and bleach (90/10 ratio) to sterilize the cutting edge.

Removing rust

Tackle rust as soon as you see it before it has time to eat away the metal. For light rust, dip an SOS pad (or steel wool) in vinegar. Use a circular motion and firm pressure to scrub off the rust. If the rust does not easily come off, soak the rusted portion in vinegar for about eight hours and then again use an SOS pad over the rusted area.

Storing garden tools

I am guilty of not following my own rule to make sure tools are dry before putting them away and discovered some rust. To help prevent rust on garden tools, place sand in a plastic container and moisten the sand with oil like cooking oil or motor oil. Thrust the metal portion of the garden tool into the oil-moistened sand to keep it lubricated. Leave the tool in the sand until ready for use. Use a paper towel or newspaper to wipe the tool before use.

Lacking the space or desire to go the sand and oil route? Spray the metal portion of the garden tool with WD-40 and wipe over the metal surface using a paper towel or newspaper.