Gardening Tips for Seedy Characters: Week 50

What to do this week

This week, I would like to talk about taking care of your garden tools. This is a good week to do it. The best time to get your tools cleaned and in good working order for the next season, before you store them away, is just after the gardening season is over.

Start by gathering up all your tools from wherever you’ve left them — lying in the yard or piled in a corner of the garage, likely still dirty from the last time you used them. You don’t want all of that sap and goo and dirt and rust on them all winter. It will be much harder to clean them in the spring, trust me. If you clean and maintain your garden tools, when you go to fetch them in spring and they’re not in a messy heap —  rusted out, coated in sap that has had all winter to harden — in a dirty corner of the barn, you will be very proud of yourself.

Ray Beer [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Ray Beer, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Let’s start with your pruning tools. This would include your pruning saw and secateurs. Secateurs is just a fancy term for clippers and shears. You want to get all the plant sap off these tools. I use a citrus-based solvent for that. You could use any solvent, even paint thinner, but I prefer to use something a little less toxic for my garden tools. You can find citrus-based solvent at most hardware stores. Once the sap is cleaned off, you can apply a mineral oil to the metal and mechanical parts of the tool. This will keep them protected during the winter, and stop them from rusting.

Let’s move on to your shovels and hoes. Knock off all the mud and grub. Take a sanding block and scrub off all the rust and loose metal. The shovels should be pointy and sharp. The hoes should have a nice clean edge. After they are cleaned up, cover them with mineral oil as you did with your pruning tools. In the case of shovels and hoes, you should also oil the handles, if they are wooden. This will prevent them from drying out and splintering.

Any other small tool you have for planting seeds or hand-weeding can be cared for following these same guidelines.

And finally, rather than that piling them on the floor in a corner of the barn, you might want to hang the tools up in a dry place so they don’t just get rusty again during the winter. Now is a good time to organize them so that you are not rummaging around in the spring. I keep all my orchard and pruning tools together because I will be looking for them first when spring comes. If you will be doing any grafting, store all your grafting supplies together. And organize and set aside everything you use for planting seeds and seedlings so you can find them all together when you need them.

Good tools, well maintained, will last a lifetime. Even inexpensive tools, taken care of, will last.




Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.