News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Keep your tools clean and handy for easier gardening

Linn County Master Gardener

OSU Master Gardener.

A rainy-day activity to improve your spring/summer gardening experience is cleaning, sharpening, and disinfecting your tools. 

Most Oregon gardeners are guilty of running inside when a downpour comes, leaving a good tool out to rust. 

An effective rust remover is household 5 percent acid vinegar. Soak the tool a day or two, then wire-brush it, sharpen, and coat with a light oil. More expensive products are touted to remove rust, but are usually not any more efficient than a white vinegar soak.

Cleaning soil off tools right after their use makes them less likely to rust or transmit plant diseases.  It is best to rinse the tools after each use and allow them to dry quickly, but most of us just leave them lying where they were last used (so we can remember where they might be).  

Some gardeners spray them with an oil-based lubricant or dip them in a bucket of sand saturated with saved auto or lawnmower oil. The oil keeps them from rusting and makes them slide more easily in the soil or compost. Three-In-One, a sewing machine-type oil, is recommended.

Sharpening the cutting edge of garden tools with a whetstone or file helps them stab or slice more smoothly when they are used. Follow the angle of the bevel. Swipe the other side to remove burrs. 

Shovels can be sharpened on side edges, also, to cut a chunk of hard soil. A piece of sandpaper will smooth rough spots on the metal and reduce splintering on the handles.

Painting or applying linseed oil to wooden tool handles not only keeps them from cracking or splintering, but a coat of bright color helps us find where we left them. 

Winter tool checkup is a good time to replace loose screws or replace loose rivets with screws or bolts and nuts.

Disinfecting and sterilizing garden tools helps prevent the spread of plant diseases. The tools should be cleaned before disinfecting because soil and other residues reduce the effectiveness of disinfectants. Household disinfectants, such as Lysol, are easy to find and most are not corrosive. 

There is not much research on the effect household disinfectants have on plant pathogens and they may be more expensive than other disinfectants. We probably have some in our COVID-19 arsenal. 

Chlorine bleach is inexpensive, effective and easy to find. However, bleach is corrosive. A 30-minute soak in one part bleach to nine parts water can be used, with a rinse afterward to prevent corrosion and then a coating of oil. 

TSP (trisodium phosphate) is inexpensive, but very corrosive. A 10 percent solution for a three-minute soak may be effective, but care should be taken to read the label and avoid skin contact. TSP can cause burns, so wear gloves and goggles.

Ethanol or isopropyl alcohol can be wiped on tools, no soaking or rinsing necessary, and are immediately effective to disinfect tools. However, they are very flammable and should not be used with flames or while smoking.  

Pine oil products are not corrosive or dangerous, but also not very effective at disinfecting tools. 

When pruning, try the two-pruner method. Soak one while you are using the other, then switch when you change branches or plants (especially if disease is present).

By cleaning, disinfecting, sharpening, and painting tools in winter, they will be ready in spring. By hanging them on a wall of the garage or garden shed, we can find them easily, and see which ones have been left out there somewhere.  

A winter garden walk can double as a tool scavenger hunt when you notice a blank space.

A good tool, well cared for, lasts decades and has many uses, like my $40 Japanese horihori knife that has its own sheath and belt (so I will not misplace it as often as my favorite trowel that has no sheath). 

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