Fall tool care: Over the long Thanksgiving weekend when you may be putting out holiday lights, give a little thought to your gardening tools. Give your tools a holiday present by cleaning and sharpening them so they will be ready to serve you well again in spring. To remove crusted-on dirt, use a wire brush (be gentle!) or medium grit sandpaper. If you have light accumulations of rust, a coarse grade of steel wool works well. Shovels, trowels, edgers and hoes can be sharpened using an 8-inch- or 10-inch-long fine-toothed metal mill file. Sharpen at approximately a 30 degree angle. Keep in mind that mill files only cut on the forward stroke, so no pressure should be applied on the back stroke. Pruning shears and loppers with bypass blades can be sharpened on the blade’s cutting edge using a whetstone. When cleaning and sharpening are complete, spray tools with a light coat of WD-40 or silicon spray to keep them rust-free over winter. Don’t store tools in the garage with the metal ends on the floor if the floor is often wet with melted snow (and salt!) from vehicles as this can cause rust. UW-Extension has a fact sheet on this topic called “Maintaining Lawn and Garden Tools” that you can find at https://pddc.wisc.edu/ under the “Fact sheets” tab.
Lisa Johnson, Dane County UW-Extension horticulture educator