You have spent the spring summer and fall trimming and planting, pruning and transplanting, edging and weeding. The gardens are all cleaned up and ready to rest over the winter. There is nothing left to do. That makes this the perfect time to inspect, clean, repair, sharpen, and maybe even replace your garden tools. It sounds about as much fun as watching paint dry, but if you do just a couple quick tasks this fall, you will be ready to enjoy working in your gardens next spring!
First, hose off any clinging dirt thoroughly. This may take some prying with a putty knife if you’ve let clay soil dry onto your tools (oops!) or may even require a bit of a soak in a bucket of soapy water. For bladed tools like pruners and loppers, make sure dirt and plant debris is cleared from the pivot points. Remove any dried on sap with rubbing alcohol and fine steel wool. Allow to dry completely.
File off any chips or dents on the working edge of shovels, spades and trowels with a coarse file, then smooth with a honing tool or fine file (no need to put a knife-edge on them unless you’re worried about the zombie apocalypse, but a nice smooth edge will make digging chores much easier come spring!) Remove any rust with steel wool.
Sharpen bladed tools by following the original angle of the blade’s bevel, using a diamond honing tool. If your blade is very dull or chipped you’ll need to start with a coarse honing tool, then progress to a medium and fine tool. If this is not a job you are comfortable taking on, check with your local garden center - many offer sharpening services in-house, or will have a recommendation. And not all tools can take more sharpening; be sure to replace worn blades as needed!
If wood handles are rough, sand smooth, then rub with linseed oil (old socks are great for this chore!). Keeping your wood-handled tools oiled in winter will keep them from splitting and cracking in the dry air of winter.
Finally, coat the metal parts of pruners, cultivators and shovels lightly with vegetable oil or WD-40 and store in a dry place. In spring they’ll be clean, sharp and ready to go!
Store the cleaned, repaired and sharpened tools in a dry place, a garage or storage shed will be just fine for the winter. With a little bit of work at the end of this growing season, your tools will be all ready to go when spring arrives!