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

Prune now for second set of garden blooms


With this spring’s unprecedented (some might say relentless) rainfall, most garden perennials have flourished. Ample water followed by summer sun has ensured plentiful blooms in our gardens. But as the heat rises, many root-hardy, woody perennials are reaching the end of their bloom cycles.

Unlike cooler climates, we are fortunate to have two bloom periods between the beginning of spring and the end of fall. Because our fall weather is so temperate, we have plenty of time for another bloom cycle before the first frost.

When the scorching heat begins to abate in September, we begin to see cooler temperatures at night. This respite fosters renewed plant growth. Plants produce flowers as the precursor to seed production that begins the life cycle all over again. When we prune plants after they’ve finished their summer bloom cycle, we stimulate new growth and production of blooms.

The beginning of August is the perfect time to take your pruners in hand and give your perennials a good haircut. Unlike deadheading spent flower heads, which can be done all season long, perennials should be sheared — cut back all over – by one third to one half. Don’t worry if you cut off some existing blooms, a new flush of blooms can appear in as little as a few weeks.

After pruning, your salvia should look like this.

Not only will shearing help ensure a second bloom cycle; it will also help to keep the plants from becoming leggy.

Short-handled pruners or long-handled loppers are the best tools for shearing. Power hedge shearers are not as easily used on woody perennials – they are best used on large hedges. Manual pruners provide a clean cut and allow for more control. Be sure to sterilize your tools with rubbing alcohol between plants to prevent any possible spread of disease, and remove all plant clippings from around the plant.

Root-hardy woody perennials that can be sheared for a second bloom cycle include plants like lantana, salvia, esperanza, Turk’s cap, rock rose, Pride of Barbados and other perennials that die back to the ground during the winter, coming back from their roots in the spring.

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach Diana Kirby provides landscaping tips at http:/ and writes a garden blog at

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:01+00:00 July 25th, 2015|Articles|Comments Off on Prune now for second set of garden blooms

Prune Roses now for beautiful blooms

Carefree Beauty RoseJust as most plants in the garden are starting to shoot up, it’s time to whack back your roses. Oh no, you say, I couldn’t possibly do that. But if you want healthier plants and more prolific blooms, take your shears in hand.

It’s important to prune roses to reduce thin, weak or crowded stems and to increase airflow through the plant. Pruning off inward-facing canes improves circulation and helps prevent pests and diseases. Shaping the healthy stalks by cutting them back by one third or more helps maintain a compact plant.

Screen-shot-2013-05-28-at-2.06.24-PMIf you have climbers or one-time bloomers, wait until after they have finished their spring blooming because they bear flowers on last year’s wood. For continuous bloomers, a thorough spring pruning in Central Texas is usually done between the middle of February and the first week in March.  Don’t worry if your rose has already sprouted growth, it’s still important to prune them now – they will reward you if you do. The ever-blooming varieties will then put on a show all summer because they bloom on new growth, which is prompted by pruning.

Make sure you sterilize your pruners with alcohol before you begin.  This prevents the possible spread of any diseases. You’ll need to use curved-edge, scissor-like pruners, to prevent crushing the branches, and long handled loppers, and a pruning saw. You’ll also want to use long leather or extra thick rose gloves – sometimes I think those thorns actually reach out to grab me.  I’ve found a great tool for pruning my roses — it actually grips the branch after it’s been cut. Then you simply release the handle and drop the branch into your brush bag without endangering your digits.

Hybrid Teas and Grandifloras

First, begin at the bottom and prune off any dead, old, brown or non-producing canes.  Next, take out canes that are rubbing against or lying on other canes.  Then cut stems that are growing in toward the center of the shrub. Cut off any growth of suckers at the base of the bush.  Finally, cut remaining stems that are smaller than the diameter of a pencil.

The pruning and shaping cuts should be made at a 45-degree angle, about ¼ of an inch above a dormant bud, or eye, that is facing the outside of the plant.  The eye  looks like a small round and swollen bump on the branch and is not sprouting.  Other, growing buds are already on their way to producing – pruning these dormant buds will promote more new growth and result in profuse blooms.  The result should be a rose that is about two feet tall with about a half dozen canes.

Climbing roses

Climbing roses are pruned so as to encourage them to grow upward, instead of creating a compact bush.  With these roses, trim as you would with Grandifloras, but allow more long, vertical canes to grow unless they are dead, unhealthy or are outgrowing  their space.  Then trim the horizontal side branches to about 5-10 inches, making sure the cut is above a bud eye and is aimed up at a 45-degree angle.

Floribundas and antique roses

These roses are generally not pruned as dramatically as the others.  For these bushes, follow the same basic process, but cut fewer of the main canes off of the bush and prune only about 1/3 off the remaining healthy branches. For antique roses, you only need to remove the dead or crossed canes and give it a light pruning on last year’s growth. If they get too lanky, you can eliminate some of the older canes as needed.

Once pruning is complete, be sure to clean up and dispose of any leaves that have dropped around the base of the bush, just in case they contain fungi spores. Use a dormant spray, available at most independent nurseries, immediately after pruning. This will ensure that there are no remaining insects and fungi.

The American Rose Society recommends waiting 3-4 weeks before applying a rose fertilizer, but local sources recommend feeding right after the roses have been pruned.  In our warm climate where the plants are already budding out, it should be safe to feed immediately after pruning.

And, as with all plants, apply an ample layer of mulch around the rose bush, being careful not to place the mulch right up to the base of the plant.  This will prevent water evaporation, lessen the likelihood of weeds and protect the plant from extreme heat when the weather starts to warm up.

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach Diana Kirby provides landscaping tips at http:/ and writes a garden blog at


By | 2017-11-29T23:27:02+00:00 February 28th, 2015|Articles|Comments Off on Prune Roses now for beautiful blooms