Care for your garden tools |

Poor honest people, my father was the son of a carpenter and a gardener. From an early age he was taught that he could not work without tending to his utensils and therefore would not eat.

Growing up, I saw all the utensils carefully cleaned and put away. Water was not always available in the fields to clean tools as needed. Dad devised a clever way to remove not only dirt but also rust from large farm tools. He put sand in a bucket and poured oil on it. He then repeatedly poked his shovel and pitchfork in and out of the sand. The sand’s abrasive nature removed not only dirt remnants, but also rust formation. The oil provided a protective coating and rust protection. All that was left was to wipe it down with a clean cloth and store the tool in a protected area. A quick transition to smaller versions for hand pruners and spades.

Rust is not the only enemy of gardening. Using pruning shears and garden tools can spread diseases from plant to plant. Disinfection of tools is mandatory.

A solution of 10% bleach and 90% water successfully kills most of the bacteria and plant viruses that threaten your garden’s health. A 30-minute soak is recommended for complete disinfection, especially on rough surfaces. Bleach wipes are prepared for quick and easy use in garden settings and are effective in 30 seconds in most cases. Negatives of using bleach include its corrosiveness to tools, requiring tools to be rinsed after soaking. There are also health risks from smoke inhalation and skin irritation.

Note that the bleach dissipates to half strength in 2 hours and is no longer effective. It can be soaked for 30 minutes with 70-100% alcohol concentration and wipes are available. There is no need to rinse the tool afterwards and the health risks are minimal.

A third, and again, less corrosive product to do a tool soak is the pine oil product.

Whatever product you use, the final steps after disinfection are to replace the protective coating of oil and store your tools away from moisture concerns. Sanitize and keep it from rusting.

Father would be proud. gardening fun.

— The Smith County Master Gardener Program is a volunteer organization affiliated with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

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