In a few weeks, when the decorations are taken down and packed away until next year, it will again be time for several winter pruning chores. Roses seem to top every gardeners pruning list. No less important, however will be the pruning of most fruits, such as peaches, plums, apples, apricots, berries and grapes. Vines, like wisteria and clematis will need pruning as well.
Now, before you’re standing in front of your roses, again trying to remember terms like out-facing bud, 30-degree angle and inverted vase, is the time to get your tools ready for the work ahead. For pruning shears, nothing is more important than a good sharpening, cleaning and oiling. First though, let’s start with an honest appraisal of your equipment.
There is something about really good tools that makes any project more enjoyable. A good fountain pen may not make the writer, but the feel in your hand, the flow of ink and the imprint on the paper as it delivers your thoughts can make writing more enjoyable. Good cooks know that high quality knives are not only more comfortable to use, but are better balanced and retain their edge longer. So it is with gardening tools.
Tools with sharp, hardened carbon-steel blades work painlessly and are a pleasure to hold; and no sore hands at the end of the day. Like great kitchen knives, such tools require regular care to hold their edge and retain their value. Especially for gardeners, tools that have been cared for become constant companions.
Quality pruning shears are the most important tool a gardener possesses. Swiss made Felco’s or Swedish made Bahco’s are the world’s best pruning shears. With annual maintenance, a pair of Felco’s or Bahco’s can be a lifetime investment. If you’re pruning with a ten dollar shears from the discount store or a pair that you left out in the rain a few dozen times it’s probably time to step up to a pair of Felco’s, Bahco’s or the professional, high-end models by Corona or Fiskars.
Sharpening and cleaning your shears can be done at home, with the proper equipment and technique. Alternatively, many shears are better sharpened by a professional that will maintain the manufacturers exact cutting angle (23° for Felco). Finding a trustworthy sharpening service in Orange County is challenging. However, a couple of stores, including Roger’s Gardens, now offer this service. For detailed instructions on how to dismantle and sharpen your shears most manufacturers have websites that can guide you through the process.
Garden tools with wooden handles also need annual maintenance at this time of year. Just an hour ago I finished this chore for my own garden tools. Here’s how it went.
This morning I inventoried all of my own tools with wood handles: an aluminum scoop shovel, a steel bowhead rake, a half-moon edger, a round point shovel, and my most valued tools, an English spading fork and an English digging fork. I also have wood handles on some short handle tools: spades, a dibble and an axe.
After my usual Thursday morning bagel and coffee stop I picked up a few supplies at Ace Hardware. A quart of linseed oil, three sheets of #80 sandpaper, some steel wool and a can of WD-40. I began by washing the heads of any dried dirt, but kept the handles dry. Then I used a bit of steel wool to remove any rust spots or stubborn debris. I few swipes on the handles with a rolled up sheet of sandpaper took care of any potential splinters.
An old rag doused with the boiled linseed oil was used to coat all the wood handles liberally. Used “boiled” linseed oil for this purpose, which is probably the only kind you’ll find. By the way, when you buy the linseed oil it’s already boiled; you don’t have to boil it yourself. (I made that mistake many years ago, made quite a mess of the kitchen and ruined a perfectly good pan.)
Linseed oil, derived from a Mediterranean plant called Flax (Linum usitatissimum), is one of nature’s miracle products. In truth, “boiled” linseed oil is not boiled at all, although the actual boiling of some oils changes their drying characteristics. With “boiled” linseed oil, though, it is the addition of certain solvents that causes it to dry more quickly, acting as if it were boiled. This makes it a better product for preserving tool handles, decks, and furniture.
After the handles were complete I used another rag and wiped the steel heads of all the tools with WD-40 to discourage rust. In a day or two I’ll wipe any excess linseed oil off the handles and the tools will be good for another year.
All lined up, with their new sparkling handles and oiled heads, the tools looked great and with regular maintenance like they will last for years. Sharp pruning shears and oiled garden tools . . . ready for January.
Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar