Fall Tool Prep for Winter

  • Sumo

This is the 3rd article in a 3 part series on getting the yard ready for winter. You can read the first two parts here, and here.

If you work in your garden regularly you probably have a certain amount of affection for your tools, as strange as that may sound. After all, our tools help us get things done. Without them we couldn’t have nearly as nice of yards as we do.

Our tools won’t last forever, but with some simple care they can last a lot longer than without it. The best time to care for our gardening tools is right now, at the end of the season, when we’re pretty much done with them. By planning to do these simple tasks now we ensure our tools get the care they need on an annual basis. Plus, it makes sure they are in tip-top shape at the beginning of the next season, when we probably need them most.


The first step in caring for the tools is to clean them. Hopefully you do this after each use, but if you’ve gotten a little behind, now is the time to do it. Wear gloves to protect your hands from sharp edges. Use some warm water and a dish scraper, and a little dish soap. Scrub until all the services are free of dirt, oil, and other yard residue. You won’t get them looking brand new, but it should help a lot. Sticky sap is harder to remove.

If your tools have a lot of sap on them here are a few things I have heard can remove it:

  • a little nail polish remover on a cotton ball
  • mineral spirits or denatured alcohol
  • WD-40
  • lard or bacon grease
  • make a paste out of baking soda and water
  • mayonnaise

Apply the substance of choice and let it sit for a while. Over time it should soften or dissolve the sap, making it easier to remove.


Pruners, loppers, hedge trimmers, hoes, shovels, spades, knives…They all get dull with use. They all work so much better when they’re sharp. If you haven’t sharpened your pruners in a while you’ll be amazed how well they work once you do!

Use a sharpening tool like this one to sharpen small thin blades like the pruners, loppers and knives. Hopefully your pruners can be taken apart so you can get easy access to the entire blade. If not, just do the best you can.

Shovels, spades, hoes and other large tools will benefit from sharpening too. You’ll want to use a file for this. Just a few strokes on both edge of the blade should make a difference.


Once all of your tools have been cleaned and sharpened, rub a little oil on all metal blades. This will protect them from moisture over the winter and ensure they are smooth and sharp in spring.


If you have containers with dead plants, empty them out into the compost bin, clean out the pots and stack them. If you have nursery pots you want to get rid of you can drop them off at my place. I love to reuse pots. I can make use of any pot 1 gallon or larger. Smaller pots you can just recycle them.

Get Organized

If you can find a dry day use it to do some fall cleaning and organizing. The best way to organize a shed is to empty it out onto the lawn. Then you can easily clean the inside of the shed, get ride of anything you don’t need, and store everything else back inside in a way that is easier to access and use. After all, during the summer and spring you probably pulled things out and threw them back in haphazardly when you were done with them.

Think about the tools you’re likely to need first thing in the spring, such as the hoe, shovel and trowel will probably be in use early on to manage weeds and plant new shrubs or perennials. The lawnmower will probably also get early use.

On the other hand, your pruners and loppers won’t be needed until later in the spring after plants have had a chance to grow some, so they can probably be stored more deeply in “the vault”.

Now is a great time to walk around your yard and think about what you’d like to do next spring. Maybe there’s a flower bed you’d like to dig up and replant. Maybe there’s a section of the yard that has become overgrown and needs some serious reconstruction. Or you might have some perennials that you know will need to be divided to rejuvenate them. In 30 minutes you could probably come up with a short list of items. Jot them down in your gardening notebook (you mean you don’t have a gardening notebook!) so you will remember them next spring.

Take a look through your tools and see if anything is missing. For example, a drill bit or a wrench size. Are you getting low on nails or screws? There’s nothing worse, when working on a big spring project, than to have to keep interrupting yourself to run to the hardware store for something. Make sure you are well-stocked now so that doesn’t happen to you. Think about those projects you just jotted down in your notebook. What will you need to get them done?

By following all of these steps from this series you will be in great shape to get through the winter and be prepared to dive into gardening next spring!

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