Late autumn seems to be the time of year that kayaks and inner tubes get put away; it's when skis are taken in for wax and a tune-up. It's when we call our friends at the New Holland dealership for help attaching the snowblower to the garden tractor. And it's when gardeners finalize winter clean-up and start putting their tools away for the season.
But, before you hang up your spades and rakes and put a tarp over your mower, prepare them for winter. You'll extend the life and the utility of your tools by caring for them properly.
Before storing your digging tools, be sure to remove all of the soil from the blades and handles. Hosing them off generally will do the trick. However, a five gallon bucket filled with sand and a quart of motor oil will help keep shovels, rakes, and garden forks clean as well as oiled and rust-free. Simply plunge the tools into the bucket several times to clean off the soil. You can store these implements right in the bucket, if you wish.
To remove sticky sap on your tools, you may need to use a solvent such as turpentine. For heavy rust on your tools, try sandpaper or a wire brush.
Although professional gardeners are known to sharpen their tools daily, we casual gardeners should at the very least do this annually. Learn how to use a sharpening stone or file on your shovel blade, hoes, pruners, shears and loppers. Or take them to a professional blade sharpening service.
Once sharpened, carefully coat the metal parts lightly with oil. If any handles are made of wood, you'll extend their useful life by rubbing the wood with linseed oil before storing.
Any tools that you might have used for fertilizing or chemical pest control also should be thoroughly cleaned. The ingredients in many of these chemicals - including those of the organic variety - can corrode metal parts in sprayers and applicators. Also, be sure to clean and oil your garden cart, cultivators, seeder and any other tools with wheels and moving parts.
Hoses should be drained, unscrewed from exterior taps and stored in the basement or shed.
Drain power tools of gasoline and take care of any needed repairs and maintenance so they'll be in good working condition next spring.
Be sure to bring in any garden extras such as birdfeeders, birdbaths and decorative metalworks if you are concerned about them taking a beating in the cold weather. Same goes for trellises, cages, cold frames, pest control devices, etc.
Well-cared-for gardening tools will give you many years of service as well as ease the more demanding gardening tasks freeing you to spend more time enjoying your high mountain paradise.
Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825.