It's Time to Sharpen Your Gardening Tools

By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, January 10, 2009

"Man is a tool-using animal . . . without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all," wrote Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle.

Mowing, planting, pruning, raking, spraying, spreading and transplanting are easy with good tools -- and difficult without them. Make sure you have the proper tools to maintain your garden, and that you're maintaining them properly. Winter is a great time to do that.

· Lawn mowers: The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute says users of gasoline rotary mowers should drain the tanks outdoors or in well-ventilated areas in the winter. Pour a small amount of light oil into the cylinder, and pull the rope to turn the engine several times. Replace the plug and clean the outside of the mower. Store it and the gas in a well-ventilated, protected area that is away from flames.

To get good service from gasoline-powered mowers, keep the blades sharp, change the oil and clean the air filter after 20 to 25 hours of operation. Change the spark plug after every 100 hours. Lubricate wheels with No. 2 multipurpose lithium grease, if the mower has fittings. Two-cycle engines burn mixtures of gas and oil, and while they don't need oil changes, they probably pollute the air more than other types of mowers.

Electric mowers are low maintenance -- just keep the blade sharp. In the case of AC-powered units, purchase extension cords long enough to reach the boundaries of your lawn, and be careful not to run over them.

For those who favor the old-fashioned way, new versions of the reel-type push mower do an excellent job if the lawn is mowed regularly. Reel-type mowers are fun and easy to use and don't require winterizing. Keep the blades sharp, and use a little WD-40 lubricant on the cutting surface and axle shafts every few weeks.

Choose mowers with an emphasis on safety, including toe guards, rear deflectors, extended discharge chutes, lower revolutions per minute and automatic shut-off when your hands leave the mower. Before your first mowing in spring, clear rocks, cans, wires and other debris, and always mow in long pants and sturdy shoes.

· Spreaders and sprayers: The only way to ensure accurate and even distribution of dry fertilizer, weed killer or insect control is by using a drop spreader, which drops material through holes in bottom of a hopper. Broadcast spreaders throw material six to 10 feet in circular patterns and should not be used for weed killer or insecticide because of their inaccuracy. However, they are perfect for grass seed, lime, gypsum, fertilizer, fine-textured compost and even ice-melting salts during the winter.

Use sprayer tanks to apply liquid nutrients and pesticides. Plastic pump sprayers are lightweight, and plastic is non-corrosive. Keep two -- one for brush killer and one for lawn weeds, fertilizer and insecticide.

Thoroughly clean sprayers and spreaders after every use. Many landscape chemicals are extremely corrosive, and failure to clean your equipment before storing it for winter might necessitate replacing parts or purchasing new ones.

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