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Garden tools need some winterizing TLC

It’s getting to feel a lot like Christmas. But it’s not so much Santa as Old Man Winter that gardeners and landscapers need to be thinking about right now!

First and foremost: Have you winterized your garden tools yet? If the answer is “Yes” reward yourself with a dip into the cookie jar. If not... well it’s almost too late but not quite. Here’s a quick run-down of what you need to do:

Hand tools. I’m talking about the non-power tools, such as shovels, forks, trowels and shears. Get a wire brush and scrub away at the metal parts to remove dried-on mud and the beginnings of any rust you might see. Then take a rag and rub some linseed oil into both the metal and the wood parts of each tool. This prevents the metal from rusting and the wood from drying out and splitting.

Gas-powered tools. The fuel tank should be emptied before gas-powered tools such as mowers, rotor cultivators and weed trimmers are put to bed for the winter. Gas left in the tank is liable to deteriorate, making it harder to fire up in the spring. The easiest and safest way to drain the tank: Start the engine and let it run until it’s out of gas. You might also want to replace the spark plug now instead of waiting for spring. Remove the plug, put a few drops of oil into the hole and pop in a new plug.

Garden hoses. It’s frustrating to find that a hose has split because water left in it over the winter has frozen, expanded and burst through the vinyl. The trick, of course, is to drain as much water as you possibly can from your hose and then store it properly. As you might know, I’m a big fan of self-coiling hoses which I described in detail in my recent column on gifts for gardeners. (If you missed it, go to www.landsteward.org then click on “The Plant Man” and scroll down.) If you’re still using a “regular” hose, coil it onto a hose support or hose reel and store it in a shed or garage if possible. If it must remain outdoors, at least cover it with heavy tarp or a specialized hose reel cover.

Sprayers. These need to be thoroughly washed and dried before storing. Pesticides in particular need to be triple-rinsed out of any sprayer, just to be sure you don’t have any residue that you might accidentally spray onto plants next spring! I like to store sprayers open and upside down so they can drain and air-dry over the winter.

Wheelbarrows. Clean off any dirt or debris with a rag and grease the wheel if necessary. Store in a garage or shed, or turn it face down (to prevent the collection of rainwater or snow) and cover with a tarp.

And now, there’s just enough room for another reader’s question...

QUESTION: “I have a water dilemma. I was trying to start a small scale hydro garden in one of my spare rooms. I purchased all of the start up equipment and with that came a Electrical Conductivity meter. The PPM (Parts Per Million) of my water before I add any nutrients is 875 PPM. I have sent a sample of my water to a university for study. Getting to the point, what should I be looking for as “harmful agents” to my outside gardens? I am very worried that some of my poor growth problems that I have tried to solve with compost and manure may have been a water salinity problem.” – Rich Brooks

ANSWER: With regard to the water, my wife Cheryl and I use regular city water in our nursery greenhouses with no ill affect to the growth of the plants. However, it might be an issue in your area and you are very wise to get an analysis. Furthermore, even though putting down compost and manure are good for your plants it might not be the only thing you need to do. You might also need to work to improve the soil in which you grow your plants. If you need some information on soil-improvement products, let me know.

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org