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I’m a little weary of winter. Aren’t you? Yes, I know it has been warmer than normal. And where I live, we had almost no snow in February. Yet the wind still blew and temps were not conducive to working in the garden. After whiling away January deciding on seeds (most of which have arrived), at least I can start to germinate some of the ones that need more than 8 weeks to be ready for planting. My go to mix for that job is Coast of Maine Sprout Island Organic Seed Starter.

Yet the teaser days of temps close to 50 and above make my fingers itch to get busy in the garden. So what to do? Get ready, of course by tuning up your tools.




The first order of business is to clean everything up. Remove loose dirt, debris, and rust with the help of a wire brush. You may have to use a chemical rust remover. Wipe down wooden handles with a rag. Once clean, inspect all tools for broken and damaged parts. Decide if it’s time for replacements: sometimes it’s cheaper. If they are keepers, check wooden handles for roughness. It might be time for a light sanding to restore the wood to a smooth finish to prevent potential splinters. Rinse and dry everything.


Once the metal surfaces are clean, you can lightly wipe them with a rag dipped in vegetable oil to prevent rust.

Boiled linseed oil is often recommended for wheelbarrow handles. Just remember to wipe off the excess and allow ample drying time. That one chore alone will add years to the life of your wheelbarrows.

You can also paint your handles, especially if you work in a community garden where tools get “borrowed.” A bright color may be all you need to be sure your tool finds it way back to you.


Next on your list is sharpening. Spend time on all the edges and blades you use. Sharp pruners are safer, easier to use, and make a clean cut which is better for your plants. Sharp shovels and hoes work the soil in lickety-split time compared to digging tools that haven’t seen a sharpener in years. Sharpening can be done as a DIY chore with any number of sharpeners available in the market. You can also use a grinder or file. Consider using a local hardware store that offers fee-based sharpening services. Sometimes they also lubricate the working parts and oil the blades as part of their service. If not, that job is up to you.



The time you spend on oiling handles and moving parts will be pay you back all season long. Use the correct oil designed for the joints. But the oil you use on blades, trowels, and the bucket of your wheelbarrow should be vegetable based if you are growing edibles. Do you really want contaminants in your food?



I vividly remember the many seasons I started with flat wheelbarrow tires. Not anymore! Two years ago I got tired of maintaining pneumatic tires and replaced ours with “flat free” tires. They are made of dense rubber or micro-cellular polyurethane. All I sacrificed was downtime and repair costs. I still get the same bounce from non-marking tires and the benefit of no flats.


Remember to check your cordless tools. See if the battery can still take a charge. If not, replace the charges and/or the battery.


Do it now before the grass needs a haircut. You can take it to a professional shop or do it yourself. I’m no expert but there are dozens of web-based tutorials on doing this. The one I like is THIS ONE from Roger Cook of This Old House: short and to the point.


Once you’ve done all of this maintenance, your tools should be like new, only better. They fit you and you know what to expect from them. But it’s likely the season will still be a few weeks away. So store all your newly tuned-up tools out of the elements either in a garage or shed. If that’s not possible, make sure to cover them with a tarp held in place by a rope or a bungee cord. You don’t want all this effort to go to waste.


Written by Lorraine Ballato, author of Success With Hydrangeas: A Gardener’s Guide

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