It’s time to prime landscaping apparatus

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Betsey Thomson

The Well-Tended Garden by Betsey Thomson

March is cleanup month. Time to clean up our yards, tools and perhaps storage areas. This year I didn’t need a note on my calendar either. My Christmas cactus was pushed out of the pot by a lot of green sprouts. When I repotted it, using a bag of soil stored in the garden shed, I failed to notice all the sunflower seeds some critter had planted.  Because the bird seed is stored inside metal garbage cans it never crossed my mind do anything but warm the soil up. Our garage and garden shed are detached from the house so we often find rodent damage.

Clean, sharp tools are important to maintaining a healthy garden. My dad used an old corn cob to clean off his hoes, and there was always a rusty can of oil and numerous files on his workbench. Running an oily rag over the handles first and then the metal parts was a strict rule. If a hoe or shovel was dinged, he would put it in the clamp on his bench and file away. File shallow for hoes and scythes and steep for shovels and axes. Every tool had a place, and it had better have been returned to that spot.

We usually hose the dirt off our tools today, but do we always get them dry?  I hate sanding rust especially on the tangs and ferrules. OK, a tang is the metal ‘rod or shank’, the part of the tool that goes into the handle through the ferrule which is placed over the handle to hold everything together. If there is a rivet or screw going through the ferrule into the wood, all the better.

Many shovels are solid strapped, the shovel head and part that attaches to the handle are all one. Taken care of properly they last a long time. Good garden forks are solid strapped, a good thing as those tools take a beating.

Garden forks, also called digging forks, are suited for turning rough soil and are easier to use than a shovel. The manure fork I use is old, has 10 closely placed tines that are slightly curved, great for scooping up piled leaves. A spading fork is smaller than the garden type with flat to triangular tines, good for turning over looser soil and compost.

Hand cultivators, three prong spring types, are wonderful as is a long handled cultivator. That’s a tool I’m always fixing because it’s used to yank rocks, hard clumps of soil and clean out the wood pile.I’d rather weed with a hand cultivator or a gooseneck hoe around my flowers. Of course, the more we mulch the less we weed.

Today, we use gas and electric powered tools, including sharpeners, but we still have to sharpen mower blades, change the oil and filters and adjust other parts. Don’t forget to sharpen trowels, hoes and pruners as well as that all important jackknife.

Betsey Thomson is a University of Rhode Island lifetime master gardener. Contact her at

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