Garden Variety: How to winterize your garden tools and equipment
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The arrival of freezing temperatures is a good time to give attention to garden tools and equipment. Garden hoses should be drained, tools such as shovels should be cleaned to prevent the onset of rust, and mowers and other pieces of power equipment need to have fuel drained or treated. The last warm days of fall are also a good time to sharpen blades, clean filters and perform other tool and equipment maintenance.
Garden hoses are the first things that usually need attention in the fall. Be sure to disconnect them from water sources before freezing temperatures arrive, even if they will be used again this fall. If garden hoses are left attached to a water source, the water remaining in the line and hose can cause the spigot or outdoor faucet to freeze and break. Disconnecting garden hoses after every use in the fall can help prevent accidentally leaving them attached.
If you use your garden hoses during cold weather, water should also be drained from the hoses after each use. Water that is left in the hose will freeze when the temperature drops, and the expansion that occurs can cause the hose to split. An easy way to drain a garden hose is to lay it out on a hill or slope. Stand at the top of the hill or slope and gently pull the hose up the hill to roll it up.
For shovels, rakes, hoes, trowels, pruners and other hand tools, use a scraper to remove any soil that is on the equipment or wash them with water and a high-pressure nozzle. Allow tools to dry completely before storage.
Metal parts of garden tools can be treated with a thin coat of oil for extra protection. Wipe off any excess before storage. For tools with wooden handles, sand the wooden part lightly and treat with wood preservative, linseed oil or polyurethane for added protection and lifespan.
For gas-powered mowers, weedeaters, leaf blowers and other equipment, the most important thing is to empty or stabilize the fuel after the last use of the season. Depending on the weather and type of equipment, this may be several more weeks into the season. When the time comes, the easiest thing is to let the tank run dry. For example, mow the lawn one last time, then simply leave the mower running until it runs out of fuel on its own.
Fuel can also be siphoned. If you have another use for the fuel, use it as soon as possible. If it will be kept around for any period of time, use a fuel stabilizer to keep the fuel usable.
Fuel that sits for several weeks without treatment will separate and degrade. If it is in a piece of equipment, it can also damage the equipment as it breaks down by affecting the plastic and rubber parts in the system. It may also attract moisture that leads to corrosion of metal parts. Running the equipment out of fuel is the best bet for removing as much fuel from the system as possible before winter storage.
Cleaning mower blades and the underside of the mower deck is also a good idea. Grass clippings can cake to blades and on the mower deck and hold moisture against them that leads to corrosion. Use a scraper to remove as much plant debris as possible from the blade and mower deck. Wash the remainder of the debris off if necessary and allow the equiment to completely dry before storage.
After you clean the blade, it can be sharpened to get it ready for next year. Use a grinder or hand file and carefully sharpen the blade while trying to maintain the angle of the cutting edge. If the blade has a lot of deep nicks from hitting rocks, sticks and other hard objects, replacement may be a better option. Take the old blade to the store with you to ensure you can find a matching blade.
Air filters can also be cleaned or replaced. If cleaning, remove the filter and wash it with water and soap. Allow the filter to dry, then add just enough oil to moisten the filter before putting it back in the mower.
Some gardeners like to remove batteries from mowers and other equipment and bring them indoors over the winter. This can be done with batteries from lawn tractor-type mowers and from electric/rechargeable equipment such as weedeaters and blowers.
Spark plugs can also be replaced and oil can be changed in mowers and other equipment. These tasks can also be left until spring.
— Jennifer Smith works in regulatory horticulture and has worked as a horticulturist for various government entities. She has experience in landscape design and maintenance and as an educator.