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Time to get tools ready for winter

There's a subconscious belief- more of a superstition, really- that if we don't winterize our landscaping tools then Old Man Winter will somehow be prevented from invading our piece of the planet. It's like hanging up garlic to keep away the vampires, or not stepping on pavement cracks.

"Better not put 'em away just yet. There's always next weekend. Might still need 'em to do just one more job if the weather holds up."

Is that what you're saying to yourself? You leave it one more week, then another week, and then... before you know it, it's almost Spring. Might as well just the tools the way they are.

Not a good idea. Yes, it can a little depressing to winterize your landscaping and gardening tools if you see that task as a harbinger of cold, gray days ahead. But look on the bright side: a little TLC now will mean your tools are ready for action the moment you need them next season.

The first item on your agenda is to give all your hand tools a quick once-over with a wire brush. This should remove most of the dried-on mud and other assorted bits of flora. Then, all you need to do is to put some linseed oil on a rag and rub it in. Do this to both the metal and the wooden parts of each of your hand tools. Without the oil treatment, the metal parts are liable to rust and the wooden handles will eventually split, crack or just plain rot. If at all possible, store your hand tools on a tool rack, but at the very least get them up off the floor of your garage or shed.

When it comes to gas-powered tools, you need to empty the tank before you tuck them in for their long winter's nap. The best way is to start them up and let them run until they're out of gas. Take the spark plug out of your gas mower and put a few drops of oil into the hole before putting in a new plug. Scrape all those lumps of matted grass off the blades and see if they need sharpening. Why now? Because your local mower service shop probably isn't too busy right now, so you'll get your mower back faster and you might even be able to advantage of a "special" price.

Of course, this is also the perfect time to weed out the tools that really aren't saving. If you're not likely to use it again because it's blunt, shaky, rusty or all three, throw it out. Believe me: it won't look any better next Spring!

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] or mail to: Steve Jones, "The Plant Man", P.O. Box 686, McMinnville, TN 37111. For resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org

QUESTION: "I have a question about weeping willow trees - I live in Zone 5, Northeast Indiana, and in late May 2001 planted about eight 2 ft. Weeping Willow Trees. To date they have done very well reaching over 5 ½ feet each with branches that have a 3 to 4 foot span. As winter is approaching, I fear that the ice storms that are noted for this climate will harm my landscaping wonders. What precautions can I take to protect them? What should I be doing to preserve the ground that surrounds them, besides making sure they have 3 to 4 inches of mulch at the trees' bases? Any suggestions you can offer will be deeply appreciated." - Krista.

ANSWER: The mulch would be a good idea. For ice storms, the only thing that comes to mind is something I saw some folks do in Wisconsin and upstate New York. To keep their evergreens from drying out from windburn they use burlap to wrap around the branches. Then straw bales are placed around the trees to also help keep the wind off. You might try tying your branches up or down when the tree goes dormant then wrap burlap around that. Run a good strong piece of re-bar or conduit next to your tree and stake it so that if you do get an ice storm it will not break off the top of the tree.

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