Another Halloween has come and gone and with it Iowa's first snow of the season. Fall bulbs are in the ground, lawns have been fertilized, weeds have been sprayed and the vegetable garden and flower beds have been cleaned up. We can safely say that the 1995 gardening season is history. But, it isn't time to relax just yet. Now is an excellent time to winterize garden tools and yard 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. Rule one--don't kink the hose. Any kink becomes a weak point in the hose and kinks restrict water flow. Quite often the hose will crack in those locations. 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 dirt or vegetation from all tools using a wire brush, scraper or a strong stream of water. Lubricate all 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 like WD-40 to prevent rust. Wipe wooden handles with boiled linseed oil to help prevent wood from cracking and drying. Warming the oil before use allows deeper penetration into the wood. Hang tools in their proper storage spot so you can easily find them next spring.
Sprayers used for insect, disease, and weed control should be thoroughly washed and rinsed. Most pesticides recommend triple rinsing. This includes all parts of the sprayer from the holding tank to the nozzles. Apply oil to moving parts as required; follow the directions provided for your particular sprayer. Tip the sprayer upside down or hang upside down when not in use so that they can drain and dry thoroughly. Some people prefer to use dusters as a way to apply insecticides and fungicides. Keep dusters clean. Tap to remove all materials that remain in the cracks and cling to surfaces. Lubricate dusters with graphite, not oil to prevent sticking. Fertilizer spreaders should be washed thoroughly as well. 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. Wipe the equipment to remove collected grease, dirt and plant material. 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. Clean the oil and air filter line by starting the engine and letting it run until it stops. 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.
This article originally appeared in the November 10, 1995 issue, p. 150.