Taking care of your gardening tools is important for food safety, plant health, and tool longevity. Some of the key maintenance tasks for gardening tools include sanitizing, oiling, and sharpening. Sanitizing your tools helps protect against spreading plant diseases from plant to plant and from contracting a food illness if being used on food plants. Oiling and sharpening go hand-in-hand. These practices help your tools stay moving fluidly and sharp. Maintaining your tools will make your gardening safer, more efficient, and more effective.
To prevent spreading plant diseases and pests, it is ideal to sanitize your cutting tools in between plants, especially when a plant you are working on has any visible signs of infection. Visible signs of infection include mold and dark spots or rot. Signs of pest infection include chew holes, clusters of small insects or eggs, and insect droppings. In practice, it is not always practical or efficient to wash tools between plants; however, take special care if there are any signs of plant pests or diseases.
It is also a good idea to do a seasonal cleaning and sanitizing of all of your gardening tools, especially, if you’re like me and you often neglect to sanitize your tools during the growing season. An easy way to sanitize your tools is to follow these three steps:
- Wash off soil and large debris (leaves, roots, rocks, etc.)
- Sanitize your tools in a 10% bleach solution
- Dry thoroughly
To clean my tools, I hosed everything down to wash off soil, slugs, leaves and whatever else was clinging to the tools. Then I prepared a 10% bleach solution in a bucket. I dipped each tool into the solution and swished them around for 10-30 seconds, lightly scrubbing as necessary. Then I put everything out to dry, and, if needed, finished drying the tools off with a towel before storing away again. I then disposed of the bleach solution in our backyard. The chlorine from the bleach will evaporate, so this should not affect anything in the environment.
Oiling and Sharpening
Some brands of pruners, such as Felco, sell specific oil for treating hand tools. I usually use WD-40 on my tools, as needed. Occasionally hand tools will get a little rusty either from improper storage or heavy usage in wet conditions- it happens. I usually need to oil the joints and springs on my hand tools about once a year. Typically, I will do this in the late winter or early spring.
Sharpening may need to happen more often if you are using your tools often. Tools are more dangerous and not as effective when dull. Sharpening files are readily available at hardware stores and nurseries, and these files could be used on a per-use basis. If you have very expensive hand tools, it may be worth getting your tools professionally sharpened from time to time. If your hand tools are fairly inexpensive, regular sharpening should help extend your tools’ lifetimes; however, there may be a point where it makes more sense to replace the tool if it gets overly dull or rusted.