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Prepare Tools Now, Before Your Garden Grows Again

Joel M. Lerner, APLDSpecial to The Washington Post Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

A common inventory of garden tools includes leaf and garden rakes, hoes, shovels, trowels, pruners, gloves, garden hoses and a lawn mower. These tools must be maintained, and now is your opportunity. Soon, you will be pruning, planting, mulching, mowing and weeding again.

For those who favor the old-fashioned way, people-powered reel-type push mowers need little maintenance. Just keep the blades sharp and spray a little WD-40 lubricant onto the cutting surface and axle shafts. Hang the mower in the shed or garage. As long as your lawn is cut regularly, a new version of the push mower will do an excellent job and is easy to use. For those who prefer mowers powered by gasoline rotary motors, these are the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute’s guidelines for winterizing and safely using them: Outdoors or in a well-ventilated area, drain or run gas tank dry of fuel. Disconnect spark plug wire and remove spark plug. Pour a small amount of light oil into the cylinder and pull starter rope to turn engine several times. Replace the plug. Clean caked-on grass and wipe down mower deck, handle and controls. Store mower and gas in well-ventilated area away from all flames, including pilot lights. After every 20 to 25 hours of operation, take the rotary blade to a mower shop to have it sharpened and balanced. Change the oil and clean or change the air filter. Every 100 hours, remove and clean the spark plug, or replace it if it’s burned or corroded. Lubricate mower wheels with No. 2 multipurpose lithium grease, if the wheels and blade housing have fittings. Electric mowers get their power from an electric outlet or a rechargeable, on-board battery. They’re low maintenance. All you need to do is keep the housing clean, power source charged and blade sharpened and balanced. Before your first mowing after winter, clear any rocks, cans, wires and any other debris from your lawn. Always mow in long pants and sturdy shoes.

The tools for applying lawn and garden nutrients are spreaders and sprayers. Thoroughly clean sprayers and spreaders after every use. Many landscape chemicals are corrosive. If you fail to thoroughly rinse these pieces of equipment soon after use, you may need to buy new ones or replace parts.

There are lots of hand-held manual pruning tools. Because winter is the time for many pruning tasks, they should be prepared for heavy-duty use. Bypass pruners cut like scissors. Put a little oil on the pivot point; clean them and sharpen blades. I prefer a sharpening stone or a fine-textured, flat metal file. Use it to remove burs and sharpen the bevel. Don’t sharpen any pruner razor-thin or change the angle of the bevel on the blade. This will cause it to lose its edge quickly. Don’t remove deep nicks in the blade, just little ones. This will extend the blade life. Of the myriad clipping-type pruning tools, I prefer the Felco line of bypass pruners. They make pruning enjoyable, are about $35 and up and can last a lifetime. Anvil pruners have a single blade that cuts into a flat surface placed in its jaw. The cut of an anvil pruner depends on how the blade hits the flat surface. If the blade doesn’t squarely hit the anvil, it will not make a clean cut on the part of the plant you are pruning. The anvil is a part that can be replaced if it has deep grooves in it. A lopper-style pruner is a difficult tool to keep aligned and sharp because it tends to be used for large branches that require a saw. The lopper can twist or snap due to the leverage that can be applied because of its long handles. The most practical aspect of loppers is the long-handled reach. Be careful of the thickness of the branch you choose to cut with this tool (not more than about one inch). Loppers and hand pruners also come with ratchet action, which is excellent if you need the extra pressure to prune through a branch. Don’t squeeze this type of pruner tightly. It will break the ratchet device. Pruning saws are the handiest tools for cutting branches from about three-quarters of an inch to three inches thick. I prefer a folding pruning saw that fits in your pocket. For pruning higher than you can reach, use a pruning saw fashioned to fit on an extension pole. Blades are curved, narrow at the end and wider as you move toward the handle. The coarse crosscut blade is very effective when sharp. Good ones are inexpensive and designed to cut by pulling toward you rather than pushing away. When the blade is dull, replace it. Use a tree company to safely prune large trees. Do not climb the tree yourself.

Prepare the digging edge of your shovel by honing it to remove burs, nicks and dullness. Use a fine-textured, flat metal file. Leave the shovel edge somewhat blunt or thick at the end so you won’t wear the edge down too quickly, especially if digging into rocky soil. It should still be sharp enough to dig through tree roots. I prefer a round-point spading shovel with a 48-inch handle for digging a hole or turning soil. An all-steel or steel reinforced, straight-edged garden or nursery spade with a 27-inch D-grip is my favorite multipurpose digging tool. It requires almost no maintenance. The digging head is 14 inches high, and with a simple touch-up to maintain the bevel and sharpness of the blade, it’s extremely useful. It has made tasks such as transplanting trees and shrubs, dividing perennials, edging beds, skimming sod and weeding easier for me. One with a heavy steel blade and steel handle is built to withstand slamming through rocks and roots. It will cost $60 or more, but my all-steel Wolverine straight-edge spade is like new and has dug and lifted rocks and root balls for more than 13 years.

To get wooden handles in shape and reduce the chance for splinters, sand them with a fine sand paper and rub in a mixture of linseed oil and kerosene. Dilute the linseed with enough kerosene so that it soaks into the wood. All your wooden tool handles will last much longer and will be a pleasure to use after being oiled. Work outdoors or in a well-ventilated tool shed.

Now it’s time to get into your workshop and organize. Tighten up all the nuts and bolts on your garden equipment so everything is ready to use when you need it. Don’t forget to check wheelbarrows, rototillers and any other tools you come across. While you’re at it, make sure your hoses don’t have any leaks. With your well-maintained, high-quality tools, the real satisfaction will come when you work with them in the garden. Joel M. Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md. E-mail or contact him through his Web site, http://www.gardenlerner.com.


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