Sad, but true: All good things must come to an end – even the gardening season. The good news, though, is it’s not “goodbye” forever. Once Mother Nature plays nice again, we’ll all be back out in our planting beds before we know it. The question is: Will you be ready? The answer: If you take care of your gardening tools appropriately, you will be.

Dull dirty shovel

This shovel needs an extreme tool cleanup. It’s lost its pointy tip, it’s dirty and rusted. (A triple “Ouch!”)

Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco

Cleaning shovel

Use a rag to remove stubborn soil from your gardening tools.

Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco

Washing shovel

For an added boost of cleaning power, use another garden tool: the hose.

Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco

To make sure your tools perform well and last a lifetime, you need to keep them clean and stored properly after every use. When it’s warm outside and you’re in the garden almost every day, this may be a challenging task. But it’s still an essential job – especially at the end of the season. So before you stick your trowels, shovels and other gardening implements away for the non-gardening weather, make sure they’re in the best shape possible.

Clean your tools by removing all soil and plant debris with a rough cloth or piece of burlap. Soil that’s really caked on shovels and spades can be scraped off with the heel of your gardening boots. And don’t be afraid to use a steady stream of water to remove stubborn soil.

Why be so particular to remove soil from your tools? For starters, soil that remains on the blades can cause rust, especially along the sharp edges of a spade. If you want that spade to continue to make a clean, sharp cut when dividing perennials or easily penetrate the soil when digging, be certain to remove the soil and then dry it when you’re done.

Need another reason why to clean your tools? How about to keep your garden healthy? If you’re working on an infested planting bed, for example, clean the tools you’ve used in that bed before you do any other work in your yard so you don’t spread problems like weeds, insects or diseases. Sanitation is key, and that goes for tools, too!

After you’ve cleaned, hosed and dried your tools, consider an application of motor oil or WD-40® with a cotton rag to give the blades or tines some added protection from corrosion. Apply a thin coat – avoid heavy thick coatings that will only drip off. (You want that coating to remain!) Use linseed oil on wooden handles to prevent drying out and cracking.

Store your tools away in a dry shed or in the garage. Never leave them outside where they can be caught in the rain or snow.

And are you fanatical about the sharpness of your tools? If so, you may sharpen them after every use. (But if you do, might I suggest you find a more interesting hobby? You really don’t need to sharpen them that much.) As a general rule, sharpening depends on how much you use a particular tool. Ever try to cut meat with a dull knife? So why would you use a dull spade to dig or divide your plants? If you’re doing some heavy-duty digging or dividing, it’s easy to just check the edge of the blade and sharpen it if need be.

Periodically have pruning tools, spades and weeding hoes sharpened and oiled. At the very least, do so at the end of every gardening season. If you have a grinder or hand file in your garage, you can sharpen tools yourself whenever it needs to be done. To have tools professionally sharpened may pose a bit of a problem, depending on where you live. There are very few shops in my area that sharpen tools – either by hand or with a grinder. Look in the Yellow Pages under “Tools” or “Sharpening Services” for possible assistance. The bottom line: Properly cared-for tools are easier to use and require less exertion.

Finally, if you have some old, unclean garden tools that have seen shinier days, clean and oil them before just assuming they need to be replaced. If there’s any corrosion on the metal parts, try using a wire brush or steel wool soaked in motor oil. Brush or rub vigorously, then wipe down with an oily rag. Before long your tools should be good as new. And if they don’t clean up as nicely as you had hoped, it’s okay to throw them away. Invest in some new tools for the upcoming gardening season – then care for them as much as you care for your blooming garden!