There's much pruning, raking and mulching that goes on this season, but fall is also a prime time to maintain such tools as shovels, spades, saws and shears. Sharpening is often the big focus, but cleaning is just as important. Remove dirt from blades with a strong spray from a hose and soap and water, if necessary. Remove caked-on clay with a sturdy putty knife, then scrub with a stiff wire brush. Dissolve sticky plant residue from blades with mineral spirits, rubbing alcohol or turpentine. Tackle rust with steel wool. Stubborn rust can be removed, with care, using naval jelly, which is phosphoric acid in a gel solution that is brushed on and rinsed off. Be sure to thoroughly dry all metal parts and wipe with an oiled rag. Don't forget to tend to tool handles too. Sand smooth any splinters and coat the wood with linseed oil.
- Remove potting soil from any ceramic pots and store out of the elements to prevent cracking in freezing weather.
- Keep diseased plant material out of compost piles.
- Use plant labels to mark the location of deciduous perennials that die back in winter.
- Disconnect, drain and store any hoses to prevent bursting and cracking.
- Cover new bulb plantings with chicken wire or landscaping mesh to discourage squirrels and other burrowing bulb-munchers.
- Bring houseplants inside before evening temperatures dip below 45 degrees F.
- Withhold fertilizer from perennials. They need to ready themselves for winter dormancy.
- Use only bark mulch that has a fresh, earthy smell. Sour-smelling mulch indicates poor preparation and storage and harbors substances that harm plants.