In central Indiana, no sooner than we put away our ice scrapers, shovels, and snow blowers, it’s time to get out the lawn mower, weed eater, and garden tools. (And sometimes, we may even have to use both in the same day!) Just like your heating and air conditioning system or automobile, your lawn and gardening tools require some maintenance, upkeep, and occasionally some repair, to keep them in optimum working order.
Hopefully, last fall, you did a decent job of cleaning and preparing your equipment for the winter, but if you didn’t, you may have a little more work to do.
One of the first chores of spring is clearing some of the sticks and debris that have accumulated over the winter. Check the connections on your rakes in case they need tightening. If there is still soil or lawn debris on them from the fall, give them a thorough cleaning. If you have a metal rake, you may need to remove some rust — soak it in vinegar, then use a rag or wire brush to remove the rust.
Wood handles should be checked for splintering. You can rub over the length of the handle with some medium (100 grit) sandpaper to smooth the surface. Treat the wood by applying linseed oil with a cotton cloth.
Quality pruners can easily be taken apart and cleaned by removing the screw at the base of the jaws. Sharpen the cutting surface using a whetstone or kitchen knife sharpener. Apply some oil before reassembling to prevent rust.
Shovels and Hoes
Remove any dirt and debris and thoroughly dry your tools to prepare them for sharpening. A good, sharp tool makes digging or tilling easier and is an absolute must when trying to cut through hard soil or roots. With shovels or hoes, only one side needs to be sharpened. Using an 8 or 10-inch bastard file, start at one side of the blade and make four or five passes at a 45 degree angle before moving toward the center about an inch and repeating. Once you get to the center of the blade, repeat from the other side, working your way back to the center. Once you finish the sharpening process, spray the blade with some lubricant and wipe with a cloth to prevent rust.
Hand Tool Maintenance
Keep these hand tools in optimum working order by cleaning and drying them thoroughly after each use and applying oil as needed. Store the tools in a dry place, off of the ground. Keep cutting edges sharp — frequency of sharpening depends on usage.
The Lawn Mower
The lawn mower is the real workhorse for most weekend warriors. In central Indiana, it may be necessary to cut the lawn every 4 or 5 days during the peak growing season! That’s a lot of work for your mower! Ideally, when the mower was put away in the fall, it was not full of fuel, but if it was, it may be necessary to flush the system. Follow the instructions in your user manual and make sure to dispose of any waste fuel properly. Do NOT let it wash down into the soil or into storm drains!
Inspect the mower — look for any loose nuts or bolts, loose belts, or missing or damaged parts. Such defects not only keep the mower from working properly, but may potentially be very dangerous! Order any necessary parts and replace them yourself, or take the mower to a qualified service provider to make the repairs.
Spark plugs should be inspected annually and cleaned or replaced. Drain the old oil by removing the oil drain plug and catching the oil in a container. Dispose of the old oil responsibly and replace with new oil as recommended by the mower manufacturer. Replace air filters to assure optimum performance of your mower. Some filters can be cleaned and replaced — consult your manual to find out for sure.
Sharpen the mower blade. A dull blade will tear the grass instead of cut it, which is damaging to the lawn. Give the deck (above and below) a thorough cleaning. Re-familiarize yourself with the operation of the mower and all controls, consulting the manual if necessary, to be sure you operate the mower in a safe manner.
For riding mowers, thoroughly charge the battery before the first use and make sure tires are properly inflated.
Other Power Equipment
Carefully inspect the rest of the tools in your arsenal, including weed eaters, leaf blowers, edgers, and trimmers. Make sure all carrying straps are securely attached. Inspect all nuts and bolts, tightening if loose and clean or replace spark plugs annually. You may need to flush old fuel and oil, disposing of it responsibly. Consult your manual and make sure you follow all maintenance instructions and that you are familiar with the safe operation of each piece of equipment.
A Little Work Now Can Save Time and Money Later
Sure, now that the weather is getting warmer and the days are getting longer, you’re anxious to get started cultivating a lawn and landscape that will be the envy of the neighborhood. But before jumping in, take a little time and carefully inspect and maintain your equipment. Not only will it help every tool and machine operate better, but it will also help keep you and those around you safe.