Tools of the Trade

by Irene Skrybailo | January 2015

Winter is a great time to take a step back and look in your tool shed. Even though the garden is at rest, there’s plenty to do in the off-season!

The garden at rest... Hibernating in winter.

First, check all the dates on your soil additives and fertilizers… do you remember buying them? Where did they come from? Sometimes I don’t even remember! I try to write the day and year on each bottle or container, and I find that it helps. Take this opportunity to set expired products aside, and note that some may need to be discarded if they have not been used in the past year or so. (For information on hazardous waste disposal, check the CT DEP website.)

Every tool shed needs a good sweeping and clearing out, and early winter is a great time to do this. Set aside any tools that have dirt and need to be sharpened.

Tools should ideally be rinsed off after each use, but this doesn’t always happen. Now is a good time to catch up on important housekeeping. Make sure the tools are dry before storing them away for the winter. Hang them up on the wall; don’t lean them or lay them on the pavement. Humidity is not your friend in the tool shed.

Take a look at any shears and loppers, they may have some sap that needs to be removed. Clean this off with a wire brush or stainless steel pot scrubber. Sharpen with a whetstone or any shear sharpening tool. Finally, don’t forget to lubricate any pivot point, gears or spring of pruners and shears with WD-40, 3-in-1 Oil, or a similar product.

You may also want to treat any wooden handles to a “spa treatment” by rubbing them with tung or linseed oil. Dispose of any rags used carefully — these oils are flammable!

Most of all, look around and see if there are any broken tools, plant supports, or items that will no longer be necessary in the shed. It’s a good time to either fix these things or throw them out.

Hopefully all the hoses have been pulled up and checked for holes/repair. Discard any that look beyond hope, drain and roll up good hoses and put them away in storage. Mulch any plants that will need winter protection, such as roses. I wrap the yews (in the above photo) to protect them from the elements and from any deer that may wander into the garden. Taxus baccata is supposed to be deer resistant, but in the northeast in the dead of winter, there is no such thing as deer resistant or deer proof.

Do be careful moving items about in the shed… Many critters seek shelter from the elements and may decide that your shed is a good place to overwinter.

What’s in a name? Elaphe alleghaniensis… a.k.a. Eastern Rat Snake

A black rat snake welcomed me in the shed on early spring day. It had probably emerged from its hibernation in the den. The good news is that there are no poisonous black snakes in Connecticut, and these snakes actually help keep the rat and vole population in check.

Every gardener has those few “must have” items… and no one “must have” list is identical! At Three Rivers Farm, we have formal garden beds in a sunken stone garden, so a nice padded kneeling pad is a must! I also NEVER leave my house without a GOOD pair of waterproof boots, garden loppers and an ergonomic shovel.

I find myself reaching for the Stirrup Hoe so often. It’s great to cut weeds just below the surface in hard to reach places, when you can’t just get down and weed certain spots. I first heard of this fast and efficient tool at a lecture by Bob Durgy of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, Griswold Research Center, and now I can’t imagine working without it.

For more tips and techniques on tool care, please read “Caring for Your Garden Tools,” Cornell Cooperative Extension.

~Irene Skrybailo, Master Gardener

Promisek at Three Rivers Farm