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The Iowa Gardener: Fall is time for tool cleanup and storage

Good garden gear to have are, from left, a pruner, bulb digger, small leaf rake, a garden fork, and gardening gloves. (Mark Crosse/Fresno Bee/MCT)
Good garden gear to have are, from left, a pruner, bulb digger, small leaf rake, a garden fork, and gardening gloves. (Mark Crosse/Fresno Bee/MCT)
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The leaves are all raked. The perennials are cut back and the annual flowers and vegetables are pulled out. You’ve done the final mowing of the season. The bulbs are planted. Now there’s just one final chore: Cleaning and storing your garden tools and supplies.

Sure, you can just stash them, dirt and grime and all. But that’s a great way to rust metal parts, damage batteries and engines, or set yourself up for other wintertime damage. Give your tools a few minutes of care now to greatly extend their performance.

Cutting Tools

With hand shears, loppers, pruning saws and the like, wash off any dirt and debris with soap and warm water and a scrubby. Get the handles, too. Then wipe dry and let air dry thoroughly. Sharpen smooth cutting edges with a sharpening stone (Google it). Then spray lightly with WD-40 (including the handle) and rub down with a rag. This will prevent tools from rusting in winter storage and make sure you’re all ready to come spring.

Hoses

No hose should be left attached to the outdoor faucet. That’s a recipe for a burst pipe. Instead, unscrew the hose, drain it, and store it in the garage or other sheltered place. Hoses last longer if they get a few months break from UV rays and temperature extremes.

Power Tools

Run gas-powered types to empty the tank for winter. Check the owner’s manual (go online to find it if necessary) to see if any filters need to be cleaned or replaced.

Then do a little cleanup. Knock of any dirt or grime. Wipe off with a warm, soapy rag or scrubby. Allow to dry and then do a similar spray and wipe down with WD-40 as above.

With electric models, bring rechargeable batteries indoors for the winter. Sub-freezing temperatures can greatly reduce their life and performance.

Mowers

The blade of a mower should be sharpened two or three times a growing season. Remove the blade (if you know how) and either sharpen it yourself or take to a sharpener to have it professional sharpened. If you don’t know how to remove the blade, take the whole mower in to a professional.

Tip the mower on its side (with gas models, do this only after you’ve run the tank empty). Scrape out any matted dirt and grass and other debris. Wash down with a rag and warm soapy water, if necessary. Same for the rest of the mower. Then dry thoroughly and again wipe down with WD-40 and a dry rag.

Pros who maintain mowers can be hard to find these days, so Google it, ask on Facebook, or call around to places that sell mowers or maintain mowers, like auto mechanic shops.

Storage Tips

l Store all tools off up high and dry off garage and basement floors, where moisture can collect and ruin tools.

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l Don’t forget pots. Nearly any type of pot, no matter how durable the materials, will shatter in Iowa’s bitter winters if you just leave it outside. Empty the soil and turn it upside down and put it in a sheltered spot, such as in a garage or under a small tarp.

l Have a yard waste dumpster? After the last pickup of the season, it makes a great place to stash hoses, pots, and the like until spring.

l Pumps from ponds and fountains should be pulled out of the water and brought indoors. Clean up with warm water and a scrubby (no soap; residues can harm fish and plants). Store dry in above-freezing temperatures or store in water, depending on the type of pump. Check the owner’s manual.

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