December 5, 2011

Yard and Garden: Final Fall Chores

By Richard Jauron and Willy Klein
Iowa State University Extension Scott County

Many gardeners have done their fall cleaning by removing annual garden plants and dead foliage on perennials. However, a gardener’s cleaning chores are not over until the tools are cleaned, sharpened and put away for winter so that they are ready the moment spring arrives. Fortunately, this last garden chore isn’t weather dependent — it can be done anytime indoors. To have gardening questions answered, contact Iowa State University Extension Hortline at (515) 294-3108 or

How should I prepare my garden tools for winter?

Proper care of garden tools and equipment prolongs their lifetime, prevents costly repairs and improves their performance. In fall, remove caked-on soil from shovels, spades, hoes and rakes with a wire brush or a stiff putty knife. Wash the tools with a strong stream of water; then dry. Sharpen the blades of hoes, shovels and spades. Wipe the metal surfaces with an oily rag or spray with WD-40. Sand rough wooden handles, then wipe with linseed oil to prevent drying and cracking. Hang or store the tools in a dry location. Drain water from garden hoses. To prevent kinking, store hoses on reels or coil and place on a flat surface.

Start the lawn mower and let it run until it is out of gas. Change the oil on mowers with four-cycle engines. Clean the air filter. Check the spark plug and change it if worn. Remove grass and other debris from the underside of the lawn mower. Sharpen the mower blade. Finally, store the lawn mower in a dry location.

How should I store garden pesticides over winter?

Keep the pesticides in their original containers and store them in a cool, dry location out of the reach of children and pets, preferably in a locked cabinet. Do not allow granular materials to get wet or liquid products to freeze. Moisture may cause granular products to cake. Freezing of liquid pesticides may reduce their effectiveness. Freezing temperatures may also cause some types of containers to break. See the product label for specific storage requirements.

What is the best way to store an opened bag of lawn fertilizer?

Store lawn and garden fertilizers in their original bags or containers so you will know the content and analysis of the product next season. Store granular fertilizers in a protected location where they will remain dry. Granular products absorb moisture from the air, causing them to cake like cement. An excellent way to store opened bags of lawn or garden fertilizers is to place the bags in large containers, such as five gallon buckets, and cover with tight-sealing lids.