Prep Your Tools for Winter

by Ann Barnes

Early December can have stretches of mild weather here in Durham, and it’s hard to keep a gardener indoors on a nice day.  Many of us take our pruners and shovels for granted during busier months, so early winter is a great time to pay some attention to your tools. Well maintained tools will make gardening easier and less damaging to your plants.


There’s nothing like pulling out a hose to water spring seedlings only to find that it has sprung leaks in locations that soak gardeners more than plants. To help prevent this, drain water out of hoses before storing them for the winter. If water freezes in your hose, it expands and creates weak spots that may burst.  Don’t hang hoses on nails or hooks. Instead, coil your hose or use a hose reel to prevent creases and kinks. Store in a dry place such as a garage, shed, or crawl space.

Rinse sprayers and lawn sprinklers with water. If any of the openings are clogged, a wire or needle can be used to remove debris. If your sprinkler or sprayer has a filter at the end that attaches to the hose, you can remove, rinse, and replace the filter before storing.

Hoes and Shovels

Spring garden chores will require less muscle if you take the time to sharpen shovels and hoes. Sharp tools will cut through weeds with less effort and will make clean cuts through roots. First, rinse soil and debris from your tools. Use a wire brush or steel wool to remove rust and any dirt that didn’t wash away with water.  Once your tools are clean, it is time to sharpen. Using a flat file, make long diagonal strokes on the cutting edge of each tool. Finally, apply a light coat of oil on the tools to prevent rust. I use the kind that comes in a spray can, but wiping tools with an oily rag or dipping them in a bucket of oily sand are other methods. No matter what method you prefer, cleaning and protecting your tools after each use will prolong the life of your tools and will make this winter cleanup process faster.

Pruners, loppers, and other hand tools

Dull pruning tools crush and tear plants rather than making clean cuts, so keeping these sharp will help to keep your plants healthy. Start by cleaning your tools. As with shovels and hoes, water and steel wool will remove much of the dirt and rust. Some experts suggest a foaming household cleaner or turpentine to remove stubborn plant sap and resin from blades. Certain tools may need to be taken apart in order to clean all surfaces; others may need to have nuts or screws adjusted. Use your flat or round file to sharpen blades, then give them a light coat of oil before storing.

As always, use caution and proper safety equipment (such as gloves and eye protection) when sharpening tools.

Very detailed sharpening instructions:

Other Sources: