When Was the Last Time You Cleaned Your Gardening Tools

Healthy plants need clean tools—here’s how to maintain yours.

Maintenance. Not a very glamorous word, is it? But, before you start running away, let me reassure you that this is going to be a totally doable part of your plant-care routine that will become as second nature as “accidentally” buying more plants than you intended to. (This is a safe zone, no judgments. I’m right there with you.)

PHOTO BY ROCKY LUTEN

The spring and summer months are busy ones in the plant world. It’s peak plant-growing (and accumulation, ahem) season after all! So, now is the perfect time to take care of your hardest working tools before that green leafy distraction hits. This rings true whether you’re planning on harvesting tomatoes or simply pruning your indoor houseplants.

Yes, garden tools are the obvious workhorses in need of tending to as they get vigorous use and more exposure to the elements, but don’t think that taking care of indoor tools is not as important as those being used outside. In fact, I chatted with Danae Horst, author of House Plants For All and founder of Folia Collective, to get the nitty-gritty on why keeping your indoor snips in good shape is the key to growing that green thumb:

This is what she had to say: “Though it’s often overlooked, tool maintenance is just as important for indoor plants as it is for outdoor gardening. Infections especially can be spread through dirty cutting tools, so cleaning and sterilizing these tools after every use is a great prevention practice. Dull shears, snips, or other blades will mash stems rather than cut them cleanly, which can keep new growth from sprouting when pruning and can trigger rot in cuttings, making successful propagation difficult.”

Remember, when thoughts of maintenance start sounding like a real drag, the goal here is to set yourself up for success before you even plant that first seed or bring home a new plant baby. By keeping tools and grow pots clean, you’ve already taken the first step towards caring for the healthiest plants possible. Ready to roll up your sleeves? Here are a few quick cleaning tips that I personally practice and that I hope will get you going:

Buff Up Shears & Harvest Knives

We’re all guilty of running our tools a little ragged, often stuffing them away after a snip here or there without a proper wipe-down. While this isn’t a huge problem when done once in a blue moon, storing wet or dirty shears and knives over time will start taking its toll…mostly in the name of rust. Arm yourself with a rust eraser pad and a quality Camellia Oil made for cutlery, and together with a little elbow grease, you’ll be bringing your tarnished blades back to life and looking good as new. Trust me, I’ve brought back a harvesting knife that looked like an old, corroded car part. Pure magic!

Sanitize Pruning Tools

We don’t often think about what we can’t see and there are times when pathogens (those nasty bacteria, virus, or other microorganisms that can cause disease) are transferred between plants with a simple shared snip of your shears. It’s important to sterilize your cutting tools when removing deceased leaves and branches. To avoid any accidental contamination, make a habit of cleaning tools when working between plants. I like to put a simple disinfectant into a small amber glass spray bottle that tucks easily into my apron pocket or garden bag so it’s always on hand. Simply spray 70-100 percent isopropyl alcohol directly onto your shears and wipe clean between cuts to minimize the spread of any bad guys.⁠

Clean Seed Trays & Grow Pots

It’s easy to disregard pots once you’re no longer using them, but previously used growing containers can harbor fungal and bacterial diseases that could prevent proper germination; potentially kill new seedlings; and even wreak havoc on transplanted starts or houseplants. Speaking of houseplants, don’t forget to check in on those drip trays which could house more than just fungus. Stagnant water loves you-know-who (I’m looking at you mosquitos), especially in the summertime. To disinfect and deep-clean containers between seed-starting seasons or plant repotting, simply use soap and water to remove dirt, then dip in a solution of one-part non-chlorine bleach to nine-parts water. You can also make a sanitizing solution with equal parts water and white vinegar if you’d like to keep your bleach away from your home-grown edibles. Both work wonders!

Stay On Top Of It

Scheduling out time or making seasonal notes to take care of your tools might sound like a bore, but it is the easiest way to care of things before they catch up with you. You might not want to do a full buff-up of your shears after every harvest, but you should put in a little TLC after a heavy-lifting period (think: in fall after your busy summer-growing spree). Similarly, making simple weekly habits like wiping down or sanitizing your tools will keep everything cleaner in the long run, and avoiding any heavy scrubbing or additional maintenance later.

I like to keep a simple mental checklist that I can run through each weekend, which keeps me on task and not feeling overwhelmed. Basic weekend actions like winding up the hose, making sure tools are hosed off and stored properly in my garden bag, or cleaning out and stacking grow pots that are no longer in use will become as routine as other weekly chores and keep you growing without setbacks.

by:KRISTINGUY for Food52©

Source: How to Clean Gardening Tools – Gardening Tools Maintenance Tips (food52.com)

How to Clean Your Really Grimy Windows

Because you probably need to

Access to natural light can make or break a space. But before you move into the apartment with southern-facing gems, make sure you know how to clean windows. There’s a lot of research that suggests having plenty of access to sunlight is good for your health and happiness, but grime, buildup, and otherwise dirty windows can be a buzzkill when you’re trying to bask in that afternoon glow.

Learn how to clean your windows in no time.
Photo: matspersson0/Getty Images

Dishes get scrubbed, clothes get washed, and floors get mopped, but all the while, windows hardly ever get cleaned. And that’s probably why your openings to the outside world are covered in a layer of dirt and maybe a few smudges, too. Thankfully, you don’t have to live with this obstructed view for long, because you’re the grownup who’s about to learn how to clean the really grimy windows of your home. Make this part of your spring-cleaning ritual and your windows will be clear and perfect in time for all that summer sunshine just around the corner. Below are simple cleaning tips so you can clean your windows like a pro.

Grab your supplies

No matter what type or how many windows your home has, your artillery of window cleaning products will be pretty similar. However, you do have a few options for how you stock your supplies. At a minimum, you’ll want some kind of cleaning solution and a way to wipe the windows until they sparkle.

For a DIY window cleaning solution:

If you’re all about that DIY life, we’ve got just the thing for you. Combine two parts water with one part white vinegar in a spray bottle and you’ll be all set with a homemade window cleaner. You can also combine warm water with a few drops of dishwashing soap if you prefer.

For a hassle-free store-bought cleaner:

If you’d rather go the store-bought route, there are plenty of commercial window cleaning solutions or sprays, like Windex, on the market, and many will work really well for your window washing. Just try to avoid glass cleaners that are ammonia or alcohol based, as these may leave streaks or light films that attract more dust down the road.

Wiping supplies

Whether you’re going the DIY or store-bought route for the cleaning solution, the best way to wipe down your windows is with a clean microfiber cloth or wipe. This is key for streak-free windows. Squeegees can also work well if you’re putting lots of water on the windows—just avoid paper towels as they can leave lint films all over your glass windows. For outside windows, grab a broom just in case there are any cobwebs or sticks on the window frame that may need to be knocked down.

Another simple trick: It’s never a bad idea to place a bath or beach towel underneath the window before getting started. This will catch any excess water, drips, or spills and keep you from making another mess while you try to clean.

For the inside of windows

Once you’ve got your cleaning tools, it’s time to do some minor prep before you get started on the actual cleaning. Similar to sweeping your floors before mopping, you want to get rid of any dust or particles on the glass before you go in with wet products. Gently wiping a dry microfiber cloth, a lint-free cloth, or a duster across the glass should do the trick. Don’t forget to dust the frame and windowsill while you’re at it.

Next, spray your solution, then take your microfiber cleaning cloth and wipe in Z-shaped motions to dry and clean the windows.

If you need more cleaner than a spray bottle can give, use a plastic bucket with warm water and a few drops of dish soap (or your vinegar solution) and a squeegee to wipe up soapy water with long, even swirls starting from top to bottom.

Don’t be surprised if you need to do more than one round of cleaning, since dirt may have been on your windows for years. Take your time, and enjoy how meditative that sweeping squeegee motion can be.

For the outside of windows

Exterior windows often get dirtier than the inside panes since they’re exposed to rain, dirt, and other elements. To get rid of water spots and other stains, start by rinsing the window down with your hose. Mix your vinegar or soap solution in a bucket, then use a sponge mop or microfiber cloth to go over the glass. Rinse again with the hose then use a squeegee to dry the window. It’s best to start from the top of the window with the squeegee blade angled toward the bottom.

Lastly, remember that window screens should be cleaned, too. Spray soap and water on them, and they’ll dry naturally.

For high-rise or apartment windows

Don’t think that just because you live in an apartment or other building with high-rise windows you can’t have glistening windows like everyone else. Start by seeing if you can remove your panes from their frames. If so, then all you need to do is pop them out, line them up, and scrub them down.

It can be an acrobatic feat to clean windows that can’t be moved, and no one is asking for you to scale a building so that yours can gleam. Instead of stretching your arms to wipe down tilted windows, or trying to figure out how to manage others that can’t be moved, opt for this gliding cleaner to remove dirt with ease. A strong magnet keeps the outer piece in place as you move it across the pane, making for an almost effortless process. Just make sure you buy the right one for the thickness of your windows.

If you don’t feel safe cleaning your windows solo—or you’d rather use that time on something else—that’s not a problem. Either ask your neighbors or landlord if there’s a professional cleaning service nearby that you can hire, or seek out that pro yourself.

Article by Kelly Dawson and Katherine McLaughlin

Source: How to Clean Windows Safely & Easily | Architectural Digest | Architectural Digest

Tips for starting your spring garden off strong

Cloudy, cold winter days may seem endless, but as the weather warms, bulbs will bloom and grass will green, giving way to sure signs of spring.

Grab your trowel and get ready. Spring is just days away.

Starting seeds

Keep in mind how last year the pandemic saw new gardeners flood garden centers and increase demand for products sold by online seed companies. Buy your summer-flowering bulbs, seeds and transplants early. Last year, many seeds and transplants were in short supply or out of stock. This spring, order your seeds early and purchase your transplants as soon as they are available.

It’s also important to avoid damping-off disease when starting seeds. Damping-off will cause seedlings to wilt and die. Use a pasteurized soil-less medium. Keep the temperature around 65 to70 degrees Fahrenheit for best germination and provide bottom heat if possible. Most of all, avoid overwatering. 

Soil preparation

Prepare the soil before planting. This means removing rocks and debris form the soil. Dig in a 2- to 4- inch layer of organic matter, which helps to breakdown heavy clay soils and improves drainage.

Never work your soil when it is wet. Tilling or digging when the soil is wet will cause it to dry into concrete-like clods.

Pick up a handful of soil before digging and squeeze. If it crumbles easily, it is ready to be dug. If it doesn’t, it is too wet. Allow the soil to dry for a couple of more days and test again before digging.

Late spring frosts

Be prepared for late spring frosts. Cover tender plants with row covers, cardboard, blankets, hot caps, or newspaper. Do not use metal or plastic for protection, because these can conduct cold to plants.

We have had frost close to Memorial Day in Illinois. The latest spring frost occurred in Rockford on May 27, 1992.

The growing season between the last spring frost and the first fall frost ranges from around 160 days to 190 days from northern to southern Illinois.

Transplanting

Buy healthy transplants. Leaves and stems should be green and healthy without any signs of yellowing or browning. Gently remove transplants from their pot and check the root system. Roots should be white with visible soil. Check for insects such as whiteflies or aphids. 

Harden off transplants. Before exposing transplants to cool, spring temperatures, wind and sun, gradually introduce them to the outdoor environment over a 10-to-14-day period. At first, place the transplants in a shaded area for a couple of hours. Gradually increase their exposure to sunlight each day until they are outdoors for 24 to 48 hours before planting.

Perennials and ornamentals

Divide perennials. Dig around the plant and lift the clump out of the ground. Break the clump into sections. Larger sections will re-establish quicker than smaller sections. Keep the clumps moist until ready to plant. 

Cut back. Cut back ornamental grasses to about 4 to 6 inches. Not removing the foliage will delay the warming of the crown of the plant and will slow new growth. Ornamental grasses should be divided in the spring if the center of the plant has died out or if it has become overgrown.

Article By Ron Wolford, Horticulture Educator

Source: Gardeners Corner Spring 2021: University of Illinois Extension