Getting your garden ready for winter is an important task, and one that can save a lot of grief in the spring — especially if you take care of your tools. Cleaning gardening tools is the key step in successful winterization, according to gardeners Joy Bossi and Karen Bastow, authors of Joy in Your Garden: A Seasonal Guide to Gardening (Cedar Fort, 2012). In this excerpt from the “December, January and February” section of the book, find tips on closing down your toolshed, winterizing your lawn and the crucial step to not forget about garden tool storage.
Joy in Your Garden Seasonal Advice:
As the end of November draws the curtains and starts the process of bedding down the garden for the winter, very few chores are left remaining outside in the garden. Rounding up (ahem, finding) all the tools used in various endeavors is one that shouldn’t be neglected. There is always the danger that a hoe or rake might sneak under your foot and throw you on your head. And next spring you will want to be ready for all things bright and gardening.
Basic tools for the garden like shovels, trowels, and rakes need the soil knocked off them. Scrubbing a little with steel wool or a kitchen scrubby pad and soap and water should take care of the stubborn soil in the crevices. A light spray or wipe down with oil will keep the working end of the tools in tip-top shape for next year’s most excellent garden.
Your hands—and the hands of any helpers you get to “volunteer”—will also be relieved if you spend just a little time on the tool handles. I’ve been told that the handles of my tools would need very little care if they spent more time upright in the tool closet and less time waiting in the soil/flower bed/herb patch with their handle on the ground or propped up against the tree. The tools were probably put down “just for a second” when I spotted yet another patch of Field Bindweed peaking out from under a rosebush on the other side of the garden.
To give the handles the care they deserve, first scrape or scrub the soil off of the wood—or plastic, or metal. For the wooden handles, a light pass or two with fine-grained sandpaper will remove most of the potential slivers. Give them a light rub with an old rag moistened with some boiled Linseed oil, and they’re ready to put away for the winter. You can stop at the scrape and scrub part for metal or plastic handles.
For tools that are already in good shape (that means were not left out in the garden way too often) use a technique that only requires a bucket of sand and some used motor oil. Pour about a cup of used oil into the bucket of sand and mix well. After you knock off most of the dried soil, push your cleaned tools, business end only, up and down in the sand a few times. The grit of the sand in addition to the tiny metal particles in the oil will buff the last of the lingering soil particles away. In addition, the oil supplies a nice protection from the moisture during the winter, banishing the possibility of any rust deposits on the tools.
If November and the first part of December have been exceptionally dry, then any new plants in the garden probably need some additional water. Check the soil first, and if it is moist, forget about it. However, dry soil should be watered slowly around the entire tree, shrub, or perennial, but not right up against the stem. If the soil is already frozen, wait a day when the temperature rises above freezing.
Hoses should be drained, coiled, and put away before the water in them freezes solid. Ho boy, is it ever impossible to coil a frozen hose! I’ve tried. On a warmish day when the temperature gets into the forties, I stretch my hose (after unscrewing it from the faucet) down my driveway. There is just enough of an incline for the water to drain out completely. I keep the hose close to the front of the tool closet, though. Just in case I do need to drag it out again during a dry fall or winter to give the trees or new plants a late season drink.
Leaves continue to fall from some trees well into December, and if a snowstorm doesn’t beat you to the punch and cover them, they should be raked off the lawn. Matted lawn under matted leaves can lead to conditions that not only make your lawn look scroungy in the spring, but also might cause some patches of grass to die out entirely.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Joy in Your Garden: A Seasonal Guide to Gardening by Joy Bossi and Karen Bastow, published by Cedar Fort, 2012. Buy this book in our store: Joy in Your Garden: A Seasonal Guide to Gardening.