- Author: Carmen Kappos
While thinking about rounding up and checking all my own garden tools, I quickly found several good articles on tool care. The first article I came across is found in our own local garden guide “A Gardener's Companion” by Inyo - Mono Master Gardeners. The others I located on the Internet in university extension websites. For the complete articles, please check the references listed at the end. One of the articles has a good description of tool sharpening, as well as care of tools.
There are several good reasons to make tool maintenance a routine chore. The more important reasons include:
- Tools last longer when well cared for
- Sharp tools make better cuts on foliage, allowing the plant tissue to heal properly
- Clean tools help prevent the spread of plant diseases
- Tools are safer to use when they operate properly, you check for missing or broken parts, and you make handles secure and splinter free
In order to care for tools, many good tips were provided by the articles I found, such as:
- To disinfect pruning equipment both during use, and at seasons' end; spray or wipe with Lysol® disinfectant. The active ingredients in Lysol® are less corrosive to metal than a bleach solution and easier on your garden clothes as well. There are other brands as well.
- To protect metal tools from rust, clean, dry and give a light oil coating. During gardening season wipe off excess oil, or dirt will cling to the surface.
- Make an “oil sock” to rub metal parts and keep them clean. Stuff a sock with sand or wadded rags. Tie a knot and apply vegetable oil. Store the sock in a zip-lock plastic bag. Vegetable oils work and are less toxic than the engine oil that's often recommended
- A “dip bucket” of sand can clean shovels and trowels of clinging dirt. Master Gardener Alison Collin has observed that the older version dip bucket with oil in the sand is hard to dispose of since it is considered hazardous waste.
- Dedicate a plastic kitchen spatula to scrape off dirt and mud from tools after each use.
- Murphy's Oil Soap or a multi-purpose hand cleaner removes plant sap from tools, and as Alison also pointed out, is less toxic to use than turpentine which is recommended in older articles.
- Lubricate moving parts of tools, “3-in-1” oil is an effective joint lubricant.
- Use a wire brush, putty knife and /or steel wool to clean large amounts of dirt or rust from tools.
- Always wear safety goggles when cleaning and sharpening tools.
- A heavier coating of oil on tools not being used in winter protects the metal during storage.
- A tool storage rack will “help prevent mutinies in the garden shed,” by keeping tools organized, and may keep you safer from accidents.
- Use saw guards to keep saws sharp and yourself safe from accidental cuts.
- A bucket caddy corrals small hand tools.
- Drain hoses and allow to dry before hanging up at the season end.
- If you have multiple hoses, prior to storage, label where they are used in the garden.
- Before storing, check for and replace missing or worn washers from hose end couplings.
- Repair hose leaks with hose mending couplings.
Near the end of my garden season, I especially loved finding this quote from "Caring for Your Tools":
The most important tool in the garden is you. When you're feeling rusty and dull and not too sharp, you should take care of yourself. The same is true of your garden tools. They'll be more productive if they're well cared for [Jim Child (1999) Garden Gate, Issue 30.]
As I check over my tools for storage, and give them a little tender loving care: I've decided to do the same for myself with a little T.L.C., loafing in my yard and imagine what the next garden season will produce.
“A Gardener's Companion for the Eastern Sierra, Topaz to Tecopa,” Presented by the UCCE Master Gardeners of Inyo and Mono Counties. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Master Gardener Program.
“Take Good Care of Hard-working Garden Tools” http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/node/498 contains several good reminders on caring for garden tools.
“Caring for Your Tools” can be found at fyi.uwex.edu/cwas/files/2013/01/Caring_for_Your_Tools.pdf A detailed article including tool sharpening information.
“How disinfectants compare in preventing transmissions of fire blight”, Teviotdale, Beth L., Wiley, Monica F., Harper, Dennis H. (1991) California Agriculture. 45(4):21-23.
My family and I just went up Bishop Creek to check out the fall color. You should, too. Its beauty may inspire you enough that you won't mind the drudgery of raking leaves that will be upon us in a few short weeks.
Your trees spend a lot of time gathering nutrients and resources to make leaves, and they're a valuable asset. Maybe not like gold or platinum, but useful anyway.
Leaves are a good way of adding organic matter to a garden or compost pile. You have to do something with them, so why not put them to use after spending all that effort gathering them?
On their own, leaves decompose very slowly. Oaks in particular seem to be in no hurry to break down. In order to speed this process up, the compost pile or garden needs to have adequate nitrogen and moisture available. UC has a couple fact sheets on composting:
- Why Compost?
- Compost in a Hurry (Probably not the most practical system with fall leaves, but good info.)
- SLO Backyard Composting Guide
CalRecycle has information on composting as well. Check out their website.
We tend to be dryer than these other places so our compost needs to be moistened and/or kept covered. Even in winter.
Small particles will decompose more quickly than big ones. I try to grind up my leaves. For everything but my oak tree, I have a leaf blower that reverses direction and turns into a vacuum that sucks and grinds leaves once they're dry. I find that the fastest way. For my oak leaves I have to be more creative...or just patient. It's remarkable how small a leaf pile gets after it has been chopped up.
I incorporate my chopped leaves into my garden and add a little nitrogen and water. By spring they have broken down. I am lucky that I have just the right number of leaves for this to work, but some yards have far too many. Compost piles are a better option in this case.
If you've accumulated pine needles, know that these make an excellent mulch for the landscape. Note that in some communities composting and mulching are frowned upon. Ask your fire department about mulches if you have questions.
We encourage you to make the most of what your landscape gives you. Look into composting yard waste or using it as a mulch.
I often get asked about whether fall is a good time to prune the landscape. While the mild weather makes it attractive to work outside, it's probably a good idea to wait, but you won't usually kill a plant outright by pruning. I don't even think about pruning until late winter. (In cold winters, I have seen some winterkill on fall-pruned plants that should have been hardy, but these are usually new plants or have other issues.)
On large orchards, practicality makes the pruning season start fairly early so that the job can get done in time, but homeowners have a lot more flexibility. Don't set your pruning schedule based on what you see in the Central Valley or down south.
Here are some pruning tips for the Eastern Sierra.
Summer-flowering trees & shrubs, modern roses, and grapes: Wait as late in winter as you can bring yourself to do, but before it gets warm. It's fine to do some light pruning early on, but wait to do the final pruning. I'm lazy and only want to prune once. March works well in these parts. An advantage to waiting is you can see what was damaged during winter and remove that. Low desert folks will do this in January.
Spring-flowering ornamentals and once-blooming roses: Wait until they flower and then prune them then.
Perennials: Do not cut back the dead foliage in winter. Leave it. Pretend it's a desireable feature if you must. The foliage protects the crown and roots from freeze damage. Remove the dead stuff just before the new growth starts. Early March is probably good. This goes for ornamental grasses, too. Folks near Lone Pine and points south can do this a bit earlier.
As a couple examples, in my admittedly non-scientific trials in Arkansas (USDA Zone 7) garden mums always made it through their first winter if not pruned even without mulch, and maybe 80% made it through if they were pruned in fall. Lantana camara always survived better if I waited until it was absolutely positively dead. I always waited until spring in my yard. Whenever I hacked it back in fall, it failed to overwinter. (Always mulched this.)
Hydrangeas: Even though their name means water-lover, they are still grown in the Owens Valley. Whatever you do, don't remove those ugly, "dead" sticks. That will be spring's flowers. Wait until they have finished blooming. The only time they need pruning is if they get too big. Same reason you'd need a haircut. When I'm sure those sticks are really dead, I remove them. Usually May. Get it done before June 25.
Palms? Not too many here in Bishop but here's some info. Maybe south Inyo folks will find it useful. I've seen a lot of mis-pruned palms there.
Remember, just because you have a plant and a set of pruners, that doesn't mean the two need meet up. Most plants do not need annual pruning. Always have a reason since you can't just glue the branches back on. Homeowners with pole pruners often do more harm than good.
Big, sick, dead, ugly, dangerous, or fruit/flower management are all good reasons. Because your neighbor does it is not a good reason. Nor is having a pruner in the garage.
Contact our help line if you have questions on specifics.
Selecting Fruit Trees
Dustin Blakey, Inyo-Mono Farm Advisor
Fruits are always favorites in the garden. Eat a fresh peach or plum and you’ll be obsessed with getting your own source of ripe fruit that you can share with the crows. If you are interested in growing your own fruits, fall is the season to get started.
Impulsive acquisition of fruit trees and berries while out on a shopping trip often leads to disappointing results. Not every variety of fruit can be grown on the Eastside. Plants bought on a whim or chosen because you recognize the name may not thrive in our climate or produce the best possible fruit. I am always amazed by how many ‘Red Delicious’ apples get planted in gardens each year, yet I have never met a person who actually likes to eat them!
There are two tried and true ways to get fruits (trees or berries) for your garden: you can go to a local, knowledgeable nursery in spring and buy containerized plants, or you can order bare-root plants in fall for shipment in spring. If you elect to order fruits from a mail-order nursery, you should make your selections in fall. If you snooze, you lose! Variety choices become meager as spring approaches.
As a rule, bare root trees are cheaper and because you can choose from many vendors, selection is best. The nurseries know when to ship, and you will get your plants still dormant. The disadvantage is that you need to be ready to plant when they arrive or they may die.
Some fruits will need to be cross-pollinated. Most catalogues and websites will mention this and will provide a pollination chart to help you choose.
The following are helpful hints in selecting what fruits to plant:
- If they are adequately watered, brambles (canefruits) are probably our best fruit crop. Look into planting modern cultivars. You may reminisce about a certain berry you once ate in your youth—and it may be great—but great breeding work has been done on blackberries and their kin in the past 30 years.
- Stone fruits are the least reliable of our fruit choices. They tend to flower early and get zapped by cold. Apricots and almonds are especially bad. Try to choose late-flowering types; these tend to be late-bearing as well.
- Apricots, peaches, nectarines, and sour cherries do not require cross-pollination. Sweet cherries do. Apples, pears, and most plums need cross-pollination.
- Even if a crop doesn’t require cross-pollination, having more than one variety can extend your season and a few self-fruitful crops like blueberries do better with cross-pollination.
- Most table grapes do fine here. We don’t raise them, but muscadine grapes will grow here and are a unique treat. ‘Carlos’ and ‘Noble’ are good muscadines to start with.
- If you order figs and they arrive before nights are consistently over 40°F, pot them up and keep them inside until it is safe. ‘Mission’ is not reliably hardy here.
- In most cases, when you have the option to do so, choose a dwarf rootstock.
- Pomegranates are hardy in the Owens Valley but may have issues with frosts and too short a growing season, especially in Bishop, for some varieties. Plant with caution.
- Remember that grocery store fruit is not being grown locally. In most cases, the variety you should grow in your garden will not be the typical ones seen in the produce department.
- Common California varieties and growing information can be found at The California Backyard Orchard.