Extension Educator, Horticulture
As the growing season ends and gardeners mow, snip and spade for the final time this fall, it's time to think of proper cleaning and storage of all that equipment. A little preventative maintenance now can prevent frustration and expensive repair in the future. Proper maintenance also extends the life of tools and equipment and makes working with them easier and more efficient.
While hoses don't need a great deal of care, the care that we provide is important if we want them to last. Store hoses on hose supports or reels or coil loosely rather than hanging them on nails. Hose supports or reels prevent sagging and kinking. Before storing hoses away for the winter, drain all the water from them and store in a dry location.
Remove caked on soil or vegetation from all tools using a wire brush, scraper or a strong stream of water. I like the wire brushes marketed to clean grills since they usually include a scraper. Lubricate all tool pivot points and springs. Sharpen hoes, spades, pruners, loppers and saws.
Check all tools thoroughly for loose screws or nuts and tighten them accordingly. Replace or repair broken handles and other bent or broken parts. Finally, spray all bare metal parts and cutting edges with penetrating oil such as WD-40 to prevent rust. Wipe wooden handles with boiled linseed oil to help prevent wood from cracking and drying. Or paint handles red or orange for quick location in the garden or your neighbor's garage. Colored tapes can also be used for quick location. Hang tools in their proper storage spot.
All sprayer parts should be thoroughly washed and rinsed. Most pesticides recommend triple rinsing of sprayers. Apply oil to moving parts as listed in owner's manual. Tip the sprayer upside down or hang upside down when not in use so that they can drain and dry thoroughly.
Wheelbarrows, carts and wagons may also need some attention before winter. Clean them thoroughly and touch up paint chips with spray paint to prevent exposed steel from rusting. Grease wheels to prevent squeaking.
Power equipment, such as lawn mowers, tillers and chippers, require additional winter preparations. Always refer to the owner's manual for specific information. However, in general, the following steps can be taken to winterize lawnmowers.
Wipe the equipment to remove collected grease, dirt and plant material. Theoretically this should be done after each use. Tighten loose screws and nuts.
Sharpen cutting edges and wipe with an oily rag if this wasn't done earlier. If your equipment has a four-cycle engine, change the oil by following instructions listed in your owner's manual. Remove all gasoline from tank by running engine until it stops or remove most of the gasoline with a meat baster and run it until it stops. Do not return meat baster to kitchen. I guarantee your spouse will know. Remove spark plug and squirt a little oil into the cylinder head. Give the engine a turn or two to coat the cylinder walls with oil, and then replace the plug.
Two-cycle engines, or engines that run with a gas and oil mixture, also should have the oil-gas mixture removed for the winter. Run the engine with the choke open to remove fuel from the lines. Check the spark plug and replace if it is worn. Replace other worn or damaged parts as well.
Avoid storing gasoline over the winter. Old gasoline does not ignite easily, making the machines using it work harder.
This is the time of the year when many gardeners feel they've finally caught up with all their activities. However, don't put your feet up until after the maintenance projects have been completed.