KATE KELLY: When winter arrives early, turn to your tools

Bypass pruners like these are used to cut living plant material. These work like scissors — two blades pass by each other. Anvil pruners, on the other hand, work by pushing a blade through the plant material onto a firm surface (the flat anvil). These pruners are best used to cut up dead wood.

Even as the days grow shorter, grayer and colder, we can continue to harvest fresh food from our gardens.

We’re sharing our plants with fewer insects now, and what used to be sunscald on leaves has become slight freeze damage. Draping floating row cover or — even better — frost cover over our perennial bushes and edible plants will give them a few degrees of protection from freezing temperatures, as long as the cover makes contact with the soil and is weighted to stay in place. Plastic, on the other hand, should be avoided. Where it contacts the plant’s leaves, it will encourage moisture to form and then freeze, intensifying the damage. Gathering leaves around the base of a plant can also provide a little protection from freezing temperatures.

It’s looking like freezes are starting early this year, so it’s a good time to turn from planting to other gardening tasks, such as caring for our gardening tools. Oh, joy, you might think. This task may not sound inspiring, but it gives us a good excuse to watch YouTube videos and, when we’re done, the final product will make us smile.

So gather up your pruners, loppers, shovels and hoes. Begin by removing large clumps of mud or debris with water and a scrub brush. Dry the tools. The entire sharpening process is illustrated on several YouTube videos (try youtube.com/watch?v=fzws/JP4uPw) or enter “Sharpen garden tools” into the YouTube search box.

You’ll need the following materials: several clean cotton rags, a spray-on foaming bathroom cleaner, steel wool, a steel brush (if your tools have hardened soil or other buildup), a flat-headed screwdriver for scraping off hardened deposits on the blades’ surfaces, and some kind of sharpening tool. For sharpening tools, you can choose between a carbide sharpening tool, a two-sided sharpening stone with coarse and fine grit, or a two-sided diamond sharpening tool. You’ll need household oil, such as a vegetable spray oil or 3-in-1 oil to lubricate the working parts.

Anvil vs. bypass pruners: Anvil pruners work by pushing a blade through the plant material onto a firm surface (the flat anvil). These pruners are best used to cut up dead wood. Bypass pruners, on the other hand, are used to cut living plant material. These work like scissors — two blades pass by each other. Anvil pruners crush soft plant tissue, but a properly used bypass pruner will not damage a plant.

Sharpening an anvil pruner: Clean the pruner with a spray-on bubbling bathroom cleaner. Wipe it dry. Use a screwdriver and/or steel wool to complete the cleaning of the blades. Using the coarse side of a diamond sharpening tool, align it with the factory-created angle of the cutting blade and push the sharpener away from you and steadily against the blade’s edge along its length. Repeat this only a few times. Burrs will appear on the other side of the blade. Turn over the pruner and repeat the operation using the coarse side of the sharpening tool. Then turn over the sharpening tool to its fine side. Sharpen both sides of the pruner using the fine side. Feel along both sides of the blade for any burrs and remove them using the fine side of the diamond sharpener. Follow up by oiling the hinges of the pruner and wiping off any excess.

Sharpening a bypass pruner: Follow the procedure described for the anvil pruner, but sharpen two blades on the bypass pruner — the primary blade and the single edge of the smaller, counterblade, which the large blade bypasses. Use both the coarse and fine sides of the sharpening tool. Oil and wipe clean.

Loppers: For either the anvil or bypass loppers, follow the directions for pruners. You may need to secure the loppers with a vise.

Shovel/spade and hoe: Remove all soil from the tools and the handles. Hold a bastard file (perhaps so named because its teeth run diagonally across the cutting face, closely resembling the diagonal barre sinister on the coat-of-arms of the “bastard” in heraldry) at a 45-degree angle to the spade/hoe’s edge. Maintaining this angle, pass the file away from you a few times over the entire edge. Oil the shovel and handle. If the handle is rough, use a sanding sponge to smooth it before applying oil. If the spade is rusted, use steel wool to remove rust. Your tools are now ready for the next planting opportunity.


Kate Kelly is a gardener with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. For local gardening information, visit brazosmg.com. Gardening questions? Call 823-0129 or email gardening@theeagle.com.

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