The cold temperatures these past few nights have marked the end of the gardening season. However, not only do flowerbeds and vegetable gardens need winterizing. Power equipment and garden tools need attention before putting them away for the winter. Here are some tips to help you winterize your garden equipment so it will be ready next spring.
Power equipment, such as lawn mowers, string trimmers and chainsaws, can be a major investment. No matter the brand you use, most equipment needs the same attention and should be inspected thoroughly. Look for loose nuts, bolts, safety shields or other parts. If something is worn or is about to break, take the time to replace it now and not next spring when you need the equipment. Likewise, make sure all moving parts are in good, safe, working condition.
Next, spend time on the engine. A properly tuned engine is vital for efficient operation. Replace the spark plug, inspect and replace the belts and hoses as needed. Remove and clean the air filter. On some engines, the manufacturer recommends the air filter be treated with a few drops of fresh oil. This helps trap small dust particles when the engine is running. Likewise, replace the muffler if it is worn or not working properly. Most power equipment operates at noise levels loud enough to cause hearing damage. Anything you can do to limit engine noise will protect your ears. For mowers, remove the blade and thoroughly clean under the mowing deck.
Accumulated grass can cause rust to slowly deteriorate the mower, making it unsafe to use. Sharpen the blade and coat it with a light weight oil before reinstalling it. For chainsaws, remove the chain and have it professionally sharpened. Lastly run the motors to drain all other fluids. Replace the oil, coolant and hydraulic fluid. The fuel tank and line should remain empty. Gasoline can degrade over time when the engine is not being used. An alternative to emptying the tank is to add a fuel stabilizing agent. These can be found at most hardware stores and home centers.
Next, spend time on the non-powered tools such as hoes, shovels, trowels, and other garden tools. These can rust and the wood handles can deteriorate with exposure to weather. For that reason, it is always a good idea to keep your tools in a protected location -- preferably inside. The end of the season is a good time to clean up and protect those tool handles to keep them functioning for many years.
Weathering will raise the grain of wood resulting in splinters, so a light application of a wood preservative liquid will clean the handle as well as prevent splintering. Wipe on a light coating, allow to stand for a few minutes and wipe clean. Greasy accumulations on the handles will collect dirt, so do not apply heavy coats of oil-based materials. For the metal parts, remove the dirt and debris then lightly coat them with a light weight oil. If properly cared for, these tools should last a life time.
Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.