As the days get shorter and cool winds signal the coming of winter, I scurry like a squirrel to complete this year’s gardening chores. At the top of the list this week is taking care of garden equipment and tools.
Most importantly, drain any remaining fuel from gas-powered lawnmowers, string trimmers, tillers and other garden equipment. If you plan to use them again this fall, wait until after the last use, but make sure to do it at some point. Gasoline that sits in a fuel tank and engine for long periods of time (winter) often becomes thick and gummy and may prevent the engine from running effectively — or at all.
The easiest way to drain the fuel tank is to leave the motor running until all the fuel is burned (preferably after the tank is already close to empty). Adding a fuel stabilizer is the only alternative to draining the fuel. Fuel stabilizers are usually available at the same places as small engine equipment and parts. If you use small amounts of fuel during the season, you may wish to use fuel stabilizer throughout the year. Read and follow all label instructions when using fuel stabilizer.
Second priority is to clean any remaining soil and plant debris from all equipment and tools. Soil and plant debris hold moisture against metal surfaces, causing them to rust. Putty knives and window or paint scrapers work well to loosen soil. Tools can also be rinsed with the garden hose, but make sure to dry them completely before storing. Apply a spray lubricant like WD-40 for extra protection on metal parts.
To remove plant debris from walk-behind lawnmowers, tilt the mower on its side (after draining gas) or lean it back to gain access to the underside of the deck. A putty knife works great to dislodge the chunks of solidified grass clippings often found here.
Avoid using a pressure washer to clean tools or equipment as most are not designed to handle the force and could be damaged.
For protection of wooden tool handles or other wooden parts, apply a wood preservative such as boiled linseed oil.
While the mower is tilted up for cleaning, you may wish to remove the blade and sharpen it. Blade sharpening can also wait until spring, but remember that they should be sharpened after every 10 hours of use to maximize the efficiency of the mower. Dull mower blades tear the grass rather than cutting it.
Lubrication of the spark plug cylinder is also recommended before winter storage of gas-powered equipment. Remove the spark plug, add a teaspoon of oil or less, and crank the engine a few times to help spread the oil inside the cylinder. Consider replacing the spark plug now also, although that is another task that can wait until spring.
If any of your lawn and garden equipment has a battery, remove it for storage over the winter. Clean the battery’s terminals with a wire brush and connect it to a battery monitor to keep it charged up for winter.