In the Garden:
Upper South
November, 2009
Regional Report

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This fall, drain oil in mowers and replace with fresh.

Get Equipment and Tools Ready for Winter

Fall is such an intriguing time, with the spectacular colors and crystalline skies evoking the most glorious, soul-touching moments one day; then, turning on a dime, the next day can be melancholy, with a damp chill pervading. Some people revel in autumn, while others just worry about what winter will be like. As gardeners, most of us certainly find ourselves with spirits constantly rising and falling.

But no matter what, we are faced with the inevitable clean-up. If you have trees, there's the seeming interminable leaf raking, plus getting flower beds ready for spring. And, given the amount of money that is often invested in tools, equipment, and assorted garden paraphernalia, it's important to take care of these, too. This maintenance needn't take long nor be overwhelming, and doing it now saves money as well as aggravation next spring, when there's so much else wonderful going on in the garden.

Winterize Power Equipment
Of course, the easy way to maintain power equipment is either to be married to someone who could do it in their sleep or to have enough money to regularly have service done. If these aren't options, consider Plant B, which can be made easy by thinking of a two-tier system: the necessities and the "nice-if-you-can."

First on the list of necessities is stabilizing the fuel. Gas that sits in a mower, string trimmer, or tiller all winter can clog the carburetor, leading to a hefty price for having professionally cleaning. If you'll be keeping the equipment in a heated area, simply run the engine until the gas is gone, but, if storing in an unheated area, it's better to fill the tank in order to prevent condensation. Add fuel stabilizer, which is available at home centers. Actually, it's a good idea to add fuel stabilizer every time you fill up your gas container as it helps engines run cleaner. For the last fall fill-up, run the engine for a few minutes in order for the stabilizer to reach the carburetor.

Next, change the oil. Refill the oil reservoir to the designated mark on the dipstick. Remember, too much can be as bad as too little. Dispose of old oil properly, taking it to a local service station or recycling center. Charge the battery now, too, and again periodically throughout the winter. This will help prolong the life of the battery.

Finally, clean the equipment, especially the underside of mower decks. Use a paint scraper or other tool that will help you get all the accumulated junk. Once clean, spray the deck underside with a specially formulated silicone spray to help prevent future buildup. A small air compressor is good for blowing off dust and debris from the top side of the mower.

For those of you who are ambitious, the second tier of winterizing can include replacing the spark plugs. If the plug looks like it is still in good shape, simply pour a small amount of motor oil into the cylinders, crank the engine a few times, then reinstall the plug. Also, refer to your owner's manual to see if you should clean or replace the air and fuel filters.

Get ahead of the spring rush by having blades sharpened now. Consider getting a second blade or set of blades so that they can be alternated every month during the summer.

Be Nice to Tools
Hand tools, including trowels, pruning shears, loppers, spades, forks, hoes, and rakes, need some TLC now as well. Remove the soil from metal parts, using soapy water and a wire brush, if necessary, then dry and wipe them with an rag and some vegetable oil. Treat wood handles with a wood preservative, such as boiled linseed oil. Wipe pruning tools with a sanitizing wipe. Most important is to store tools where they won't be exposed to dampness and to store neatly and in an organized fashion.

Disconnect hoses from the spigot and drain them, then coil and put in a safe place where no one can trip over them. Of course, drain and put away sprinklers and hose nozzles, too.

And Then All the Other Stuff
Lawn furniture and cushions, grill, window boxes, gazing balls, fountains, pots and other containers all need a final cleaning and safe, organized storage. The thought of it all is enough to make a body weary, to say nothing of questioning why you have all that stuff. But just remember how much pleasure it brought you this past summer, and, with care, for many summers to come.


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