(02/03/2023) Benjamin Franklin said, “The best investment is in the tools of one’s own trade.” I would take that one step further and say that taking care of one’s tools is insurance on your investment.
Everything requires a little maintenance, and garden tools are no exception. Tools can become dirty with plant debris, soil and rust when working in the garden. In addition, tools such as pruners that are used to cut out diseased or dead wood should be sterilized in between use on diseased plants and healthy ones.
With frequent use, tools such as hand pruners, loppers and bypass pruners will rust, and the once-sharp blades will become dull over time. It is important to keep your garden tools clean and in good working order. In an ideal world, we would clean our garden tools after every use. However, time and energy do not always allow for that, so cleaning your tools a minimum of once a year is a good idea.
Wintertime is an optimal time to clean and sharpen your tools when the landscape and garden are not as needy. You will need a few things in order to get these jobs done. To clean your tools, it’s best to use a liquid detergent, something to hold soapy water such as a basin or bucket, and a soft brush, sponge or washcloth.
If you are cleaning tools that need to be disinfected, it is best to work with a 10% bleach solution. This can be combined with the soapy water. To make 10% bleach, use 1 cup of bleach in 9 cups of water. You will want to wash in soapy water first followed by a disinfecting dip.
Begin cleaning tools by brushing off any debris or soil on the blades. Next, clean the tools by dipping them in warm, soapy water. Use a soft brush, wash cloth, sponge or scouring pad to scrub and clean the blades thoroughly. Once you’ve finished washing, rinse and dip in the 10% bleach solution to sanitize the tool. Then dry the tool off completely with an old towel or paper towels. You must completely dry the tool off or you run the risk of accumulating rust on your tool. Use sandpaper or scouring pads to clean off rust and stains that remain.
Next, you will sharpen your blade. It is important to keep your blade sharp to keep your plants healthy. A sharp pair of pruners makes a cleaner cut that will ensure healthy healing of your plant, prevent susceptibility to insects and disease and help with the strength and vigor of the plant.
I recommend using a diamond-cut file to sharpen the beveled blade of pruners (cutting blade). There are several types, including coarse, fine and extra fine. Start with the coarse file then work your way up to the finer files. Begin by holding the file at the same angle as the beveled cutting edge — about 10 to 20 degrees. Start at the inside of the blade and, using good pressure, pull the file upward towards the tip in a curved motion following the shape of the blade.
Work along the beveled edge, pulling the file across the surface of the blade about 10 to 20 times, depending on the shape of your pruners. More neglected tools could take up to 30 passes. Next, switch to a finer grit and use the same number of passes as you did with the coarse file. Finish up by removing metal burs with a cloth or brush. Work on both sides of the blade to sharpen.
Lastly, you want to use a lubricant to prevent rust. Apply the lubricating oil to your blade and to the spring, then wipe down with a cloth or paper towel to dry off the tool. You will have a nice clean, sharp blade with a slight oil sheen when you are all done. Test your progress on the sharpness of the blades with a few twigs and sharpen further as needed.
Now you can get to those pruning projects of early spring. February is the time to prune roses. As Winston Churchill said, “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”
Brushes, scouring pads, sandpaper and lubricating oils are best for hand pruner maintenance. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Use a diamond-cut blade to sharpen the beveled edge. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Rust on pruners should be removed to keep them in good working condition. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Pull the file along the natural curve of the beveled edge of the blade to sharpen. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter