gardening tools

Take care of tools to save time, money and work

caring-for-your-gardening-tools-implementsFor cold climate gardeners, now is the time to bring in tender plants, clean and put away the tools, and curl up with seed catalogs to wait for spring. Here in Central Texas, where we garden and use our tools most of the year, tool maintenance should be a regular practice.

Even the most meticulous gardeners spin tool horror stories. Like the tale of the fish that got away, any gardener can entertain you with stories about pruners left in the rain or spades left in the compost. We’ve all done it. My best tool tale involved my tossing an uncapped construction paint can into a bucket where it immediately began spraying the Felco pruners in the bucket and the grass and everything else around it a bright, Day-Glo orange.

garden-tool-maintenance-removing-rust-from-shearsTaking care of your tools makes gardening easier. Rust-free pruners cut more easily and don’t crush and damage tender plant stems. Sharp shovels and hoes require less effort to push into the ground. A little linseed oil will go a long way to lessen the amount of elbow grease your need to accomplish your gardening chores. And if you’ve priced good bypass pruners lately, giving tools a longer life means more money for plants.

Designed to make clean up a simple habit, use these quick-care tips to lighten your gardening load

Rinse off your tools immediately after using them. Stuck-on wet soil, especially our terrible clay, sets the stage for rust to begin degrading tools. Use a scrub brush or S.O. S. pad to remove any stubborn remains. Wipe them dry with a rag and leave them outside for a while to fully dry.

Just as you carefully oil and ‘season’ your cast-iron skillet, oiling your tools will also give them longer life. Fill a small plastic container with sand and barely moisten it with linseed oil, or even motor oil. Then push your hand trowel down into the moistened sand, pull it out and let the gritty mix help you clean your tool as you rub it with a rag, removing all the sand.

For tools that have collected sticky plant sap or resin, use a little paint thinner on a rag to remove the residue before the sand cleaning process.

If your pruners are already sporting a nice burnished coating of rust, roll up your sleeves and start by taking them apart. The most important rule to remember – as you begin to disassemble – lay each part out in a line on the counter in the order in which you removed it. Use steel wool or sandpaper to begin removing the rust. Then wipe the tool off and finish with linseed oil.

Travis County Master Gardener Sheryl Williams recently hosted a tool cleaning and sharpening gathering for a small group of Austin garden bloggers. She showed us her techniques.

“I grew up in a hunting family,” said Williams. “My grandpa taught me early on how to sharpen a knife using a whetstone, and then later taught me how to sharpen a hoe and a shovel.”

“I know some novice gardeners who have simply thrown away their tools because they didn’t know they could be sharpened.”

To sharpen tools, clean them, then use a sharpening stone or a file to sharpen the beveled portion of the blade. For hand pruners, a 6” smooth file should work, while hedge trimmers and loppers will probably require an 8’-10’ mil file. For harder steel tools, you may finish with a diamond or ceramic hone as well.

Do not sharpen both sides of the blade; make sure each filing stroke goes down the entire length of the blade with the file parallel. Don’t file across the blade or on the back side of the blade. This can lead to nicks and damage to the blade.

Williams keeps her sandy bucket and rag by her tools and makes a quick cleaning part of her routine each time she gardens.

Williams summed up best motivator of all for developing proper tool maintenance habits, “If you’re using dull or dirty tools to garden, it’s going to take much more human effort to do it.”

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach, Diana Kirby, provides landscaping tips on Facebook at Diana’s Designs, at and writes a garden blog at

By | 2017-11-29T23:26:58+00:00 November 28th, 2015|Articles|Comments Off on Take care of tools to save time, money and work

October: Indispensable tools for easy gardening


There’s nothing worse than a dull pruner that leaves you twisting and yanking stems because it just won’t cut it. It’s frustrating, it’s time consuming, and frankly, it’s really bad for your plants.

Starting with a set of well maintained, essential tools can make your gardening a happier and healthier experience for both you and your plants. Check out our article, “The right tools make gardening easier” for a list of my personal favorites.

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:12+00:00 October 30th, 2013|Tips|Comments Off on October: Indispensable tools for easy gardening

The right tools make gardening easier

txaas_mastheadGardening is hard work. Digging, lugging and pulling can take their toll on you. But the right tools and techniques can transform a seemingly insurmountable job into a more manageable chore.

I used to buy garden tools wherever I could find them on sale, paying no attention to the brand or the style. With years of gardening trial and error behind me, I am a now a garden tool snob — with good reason.


Carry around a good soil knife to cut through clay soil.

There’s nothing worse than a dull pruner that leaves you twisting and yanking stems because it just won’t cut it. It’s frustrating, it’s time consuming, and frankly, it’s really bad for your plants.

After watching a television ad for a pruning saw a few years ago, a Black & Decker Cordless Alligator lopper found its way onto my Christmas list. Purported to make easy work of pruning with a mid-range rechargeable power tool, I was eager to try it. Imagine my horror when the blades started whirring and churning as it literally chewed through my shrub.

Tools do make a difference.

Start with good garden tools to make the work easier. These are some of Diana Kirby’s and including a child’s rake, … read more

IMG_1780These are some of the tools I wouldn’t garden without.

Soil knife. Great for cutting, digging in small spaces and trenching, I am never in the garden without my soil knife in hand. The sharp point and serrated edge make penetrating clay soil much easier work. It’s great for digging small holes. It can cut through weed barrier, remove small agave pups and little roots that might be in your way. If I were stuck on a deserted island, this would be my one garden tool. My soil knife is from

Telescoping pruners. I’ve always had loppers — long-handled pruners for reaching in to trim shrubs or small trees. But my latest pair is expandable — with handles that unscrew and lengthen to reach just a little bit farther without having to get a ladder. At 5-foot-2-inches and with a fear of heights, anything that keeps me off of a ladder is a good thing.

Tomato cages. If you plant indeterminate tomatoes, you know they can grow up to be top-heavy monsters that can literally lay down a traditional round tomato cage. Then I discovered the extra-tall tomato towers by Gardener’s Supply Co. They are square, so they are sturdier than a 3-legged, cone-shaped cage. The extra tall ones can easily handle a vigorous grower, and they fold flat for storage — a real plus. They’ve recently added a new feature — coating the metal so they don’t rust. They are from

Rechargeable blower. Gardening is messy. You’ve got to have a broom, and a blower. I have three blowers. I started with the standard electric model, but the cord was always too short or in the way. So a few years later I bought the lightest-weight gas blower I could get. That was a mistake. Always messing with the pull cord and the primer and the fuel mix … ugh. The third one was just right. It has a little less power than the others, and the battery charge doesn’t last a long time, but it lasts long enough to clear off my front porch, sidewalk and really long driveway on one charge. It’s lightweight and easy to handle — so much that I gave one to my 83-pound mother-in-law, who loves it.

Bypass pruners. There are a lot of good pruners on the market — Fiskars and Dramm to name a few of the top brands — but I am a Felco girl. Yes, they are expensive, but they work. They handle well and have at least a dozen models that are specifically designed to fit your hand, no matter what size it is. They even have a full line of pruners for left-handers. With chronic tendonitis in both my arms, an easy-to-handle pruner that fits my hand makes a big difference.

Compact pruners. You need those curved bypass pruners, but you also need a pair of straight ones for deadheading and for cutting softer stems that tend to get bent in pruners for larger stalks. This little tool makes quick work of the snip, snip, snipping of spent blooms. There are many different brands of small and straight-edged pruners — my favorite pair is from Dramm.

Weeder. You can’t just pull weeds. Not in this kind of Central Texas soil. (Although our recent rains have made it easier, if only temporarily.) The clay and limestone we live with gets a death grip on weed roots and all your work will be for naught if you don’t take the time to pry a little of the root. My favorite tool for this is the CobraHead. Because of the way it’s made, the angle at which you use it is so much more comfortable for my hands and arms. Instead of holding a straight weeder with your thumb on top, pressing down and trying to pry upward, you can use the real power of your body to smack it down into the soil to pry loose the weeds.

Children’s tools. I have two different children’s garden tools on my rack in the garage — a hoe and a tiny rake. These are not well-made, but they often make working easier. The small hoe can come in handy in the vegetable garden where plants are often planted very close together. It’s also much lighter weight than a full-sized version. The rake is great for getting leaves out from between perennials and shrubs in garden beds.

Trowel. You might think a trowel is a trowel. Not so. When I first got my Fiskars “big grip transplanter,” I thought it was really heavy-duty and I didn’t know if I would really need that thing. That “thing” is great. Like the soil knife, its beveled, sharp, pointed end is perfect for slicing into unforgiving soil. And it’s big – it holds a lot of soil for a trowel and works well for digging a hole too large for the soil knife.

When I discover fabulous tools, I give them as gifts to my gardening family and friends. You can find the soil knife, tomato cages, pruners and blower at my parent’s house and my mother-in-law’s house. Other tools have found their way into friends’ Christmas stockings!

My motto: when you find something that really works, buy two.

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:12+00:00 October 30th, 2013|Articles|Comments Off on The right tools make gardening easier