In order to maintain a healthy garden, trees, or shrubs, it is important to use high-quality tools that are well-maintained for maximum efficiency. Even lesser-used tools, such as garden shears, can benefit from routine care.
How does one care for garden shears? With garden shears, it is essential to clean them between uses and keep them sharp. Other things that can be beneficial to garden shears care include:
- Rust removal
- Handle maintenance
- Safe storage
These seven essential maintenance tips go a long way towards ensuring that garden shears have a long lifetime and can effectively help care for plants.
7 Ways to Care for Garden Shears
Multiple ways exist to care for regular gardening shears, including routine cleaning, disinfecting, sharpening, rust removal, lubrication, handle maintenance, and storage safety. The following tips can be applied to any type of garden shears, from hand pruners to larger lopping shears.
1. Cleaning Garden Shears
Like any other gardening device, make sure to always rinse garden shears after each use. This will not only help keep the edges sharp, but it will also prevent rust formation and remove infected soil particles.
Most gardening shears become dirty after working with trees, shrubs or bushes. Run the shears under running water to remove any excess leaves or branch and limb residue. If the shears easily come apart (and are easy to put back together), disassemble them every so often when cleaning; it is much easier to rinse off the residue from detached blades.
Although it is less common, if gardening shears have picked up bits of soil, simply run them under a forceful stream of water from the hose. More stubborn, stuck-in soils—such as clay—may require a wire-bristle brush to aid with removal. Again, if garden shears are disassembled and assembled easily, do so while cleaning.
With tougher dirt and grime, use a warm, soapy water mix and scrubby sponge to clean the shears. After the shears are cleaned and rinsed, be sure to dry them with a clean cloth or rag.
Removing Tree Sap
If shears are used to prune evergreens, pines, spruces, and other similar tree varieties, it can result in tree sap sticking to the shear blades. Sap will eventually attract and hold moisture, which will lead to the spread of rust.
If sticky tree sap does not wash off from regular cleaning with mild soap and water and a scrub brush, apply a little paint thinner or turpentine before wiping the blades down with a clean rag.
2. Disinfecting Garden Shears
Although some may consider cleaning and disinfecting one and the same, they are actually two distinct processes. Cleaning involves removing the physical soil and debris that remain on the gardening instrument while disinfecting is the process of sterilizing the tool so it is free of dangerous bacteria that could harm other plants.
Cleaning and then disinfecting tools between working on infected plants is critical in order to prevent the disease from spreading to other plants; the disinfecting process will not be effective unless the device is free of debris first.
Choosing a Disinfectant
A number of different products can be used to disinfect gardening devices and surfaces, including household disinfectants, chlorine bleach, ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, trisodium phosphates (TSPs), pine oil products or industrial products.
Household disinfectants, such as Lysol, are commonly used as a gardening tool disinfectant simply because they are much easier to find and are less corrosive compared to other products. However, one disadvantage they have is that there has not been enough research showing their effectiveness against plant pathogens. They can also be quite expensive compared to other disinfectants used for gardening tools.
When using a household disinfectant for garden shears, make sure to apply a full spray or dip the shears into the disinfectant for maximum effectiveness. Always read the label before using it to ensure that the product will not cause damage to the tool.
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Bleach is not only inexpensive, but it is also very effective and easy to find like household disinfectants. However, the solution itself can be quite corrosive if it is not rinsed off properly, produces harmful fumes, and is not very effective against eliminating viruses like other products.
When using bleach to disinfect shears, make sure to wear protective goggles and gloves. First, dilute the bleach by mixing a 1:9 ratio of bleach to water. Soak the shears in the solution for thirty minutes. After soaking, thoroughly rinse the tool with clean water to prevent corrosion.
*Note: The bleach and water solution will lose its disinfecting effectiveness by nearly 50 percent after two hours, so a fresh mix should be made each time you clean the shears.
Ethanol or Isopropyl Alcohol
Some advantages that alcohol has over other disinfecting products are that soaking is typically not required, the tool does not need to be rinsed off after use, and it starts taking effect as soon as it is applied to the tool. In addition, ethanol or isopropyl alcohol can be found relatively cheap at a local drugstore or grocery store.
However, a disadvantage is that alcohol is flammable and special care must be taken when working with the solution in high heat or storing the tool in hot places after it has been treated.
To disinfect garden shears with alcohol, either wipe or dip them in a 70 to 100 percent alcohol solution. Afterward, the tool can be put into storage or immediately used again.
Trisodium Phosphates (TSPs)
TSP is very inexpensive, but its most significant disadvantage is that it is very corrosive if not rinsed properly. In addition, it is very harmful to the skin with direct contact, so it is necessary to wear protective goggles and gloves when using this solution.
TSPs can be found at a local hardware store or home improvement center. They are often found near the painting products because, generally, TSPs are used to clean surfaces that are about to receive a new coat of paint. When looking for a TSP, be sure to pay special attention to the labels; a number of synthetic versions of the solution are available that are not effective for disinfecting, and this information can be revealed through the product label.
To disinfect with TSP, first mix a solution of one part TSP, nine parts water (1:9 ratio). Place the shears inside the solution (at least the blades) to soak for at least three minutes. Immediately remove the tool and thoroughly rinse with water. Dry with a clean cloth or rag.
Pine Oil Products
Products featuring pine oil as the main ingredient are not nearly as corrosive as products like TSPs and chlorine bleach. However, pine oil is not considered as effective, either. Pine oil products can be found at a local grocery or hardware store in addition to nearby home-improvement centers.
When using a pine oil product to disinfect garden shears, first mix a solution of one part pine oil to three parts water. Leave the shears or shear blades in the solution to sit for a few hours.
Finally, for all the commercial gardeners out there, a few types of disinfectants are commonly used in agriculture and can only be found through horticulture-supply vendors. These sanitizers are known in the industry as “quaternary ammonium compounds,” often referred to as “quats” or “q-salts.” These commercial disinfectants are used to help “control fungal, bacterial, and viral plant pathogens.”
Popular brand names in this category include Green-Shield and KleenGrow. A few hydrogen dioxide disinfectants—such as ZeroTol 2.0 and Oxidate 2.0—are more often used on greenhouse surfaces in addition to gardening tools and equipment.
When using these products, make sure to pay attention to the label’s directions. Many industrial disinfectants only require an average of ten minutes for the waiting period after application but do not require rinsing.
Soaking Garden Shears in Disinfectant
As shown, the amount of time that garden shears are left to soak in a sanitizer will depend on the disinfectant used. However, the condition of the shears will also influence how long the tool should sit in the solution. For example, shears with blades that are dull or not smooth may require a longer soak in order for the solution to get between small ridges.
Disinfecting Garden Shears Between Plants
When pruning diseased limbs or branches, it is highly recommended to keep a container of a 70 to 100 percent ethanol or isopropyl alcohol solution nearby.
After working with an infected plant, wipe down the shear blades with a damp cloth, rag, or paper towel to remove dirt, debris or sap. Next, dip or wipe down the shear with a separate clean cloth or rag that has been dipped in the alcohol solution. Because the alcohol disinfects immediately, it is possible to prune or cut other plants within minutes.
If ethanol or isopropyl alcohol is not readily available when infected plants are found, any of the above-mentioned disinfectants will work as well. However, because they mostly work by soaking the tool in the solution for more extended periods of time, it is suggested to invest in a secondary gardening shear so gardeners can rotate between the two as they work.
3. Sharpening Garden Shears
A pair of new garden shears may have sharp blades at first, but they will not stay that way for very long after many uses. Keeping the edges of garden shears sharp helps improve cutting, which makes things a lot easier for both the gardener and his/her plants. With sharp, even cuts, gardeners are less likely to crush or tear plant tissue that would otherwise lead to potential infection from disease-carrying organisms.
It is recommended that gardeners sharpen shear blades at least at the end of the season and every six weeks until then if shears are well-maintained and used regularly. If shears are rusty, sharpening is even more important to maintain the life of the blades.
*Important Safety Tip: While sharpening, make sure to use protective eyewear and gloves at all times.
Sharpening with a Hand File
If garden shears have a slight dullness, use a hand file with a cut diamond or carbon surface from a local hardware store or online to sharpen the blades.
To sharpen the shear blades with a file, draw the teeth (or sharper edge of the shears) across the edge of the file in one direction, starting from the inside of the blade and moving outward. Only apply a medium amount of pressure. Make sure to keep the file at an angle to the edge of the blade surface that is being sharpened.
A file with a fine-grit can be used to drag over the back edge of the blades to smooth out the surface and remove burrs.
Sharpening with a Stone
Smaller shears with finer blades may benefit from being sharpened with an oil or honing stone. Both types of stones can be found at a local hardware store or online. To sharpen shear blades with the stone, slide the blade along the stone in one direction. Repeat this process until the edge becomes sharper.
Sharpening with a Grinding Stone or Drill Attachment
However, if the blades are large and significantly dull, a high-speed grinding stone or drill attachment may need to be used to get them back in shape. These are power tools, using protective eyewear is pertinent.
Take caution when using a grinder on the shears; if the metal ends up heating up too much, it can eventually lose its “temper.” In other words, the metal will not be able to hold an edge well again. To prevent overheating, dip the shear blades in cold water.
When Are the Blades Sharp Enough?
How can one tell when the shear’s blades are sharp enough to use again? A safe way of finding out if the blades are sharp—without using fingers—is by looking at the blades’ bevel and angle.
The bevel refers to the blade’s sharpened edge, while the angle is the area between the two edges or bevels. Duller tools typically have a shorter bevel with a wider angle, roughly 30 degrees in-between the bevels; sharper tools have longer bevels and narrow angles, about 15 degrees in-between bevels.
As the blades are sharpened, make sure to try to maintain the same bevel and angle that the blades originally had when the garden shears were first purchased. Also, always remember that sharper is not always necessarily better for some shears.
If the shears get too sharp, the blade can become weak and wear down faster. On the other hand, if the blade is too dull, it will lead to messy cuts.
Another method to see if garden shears have been thoroughly sharpened is by cutting a piece of paper. If it makes a relatively clean-cut, then the blades are sharp enough.
*Note: It is much easier to sharpen shear blades by disassembling (if possible) and sharpening the blades separately. However, some types of garden shears do not come apart very easily. This resource from Kansas State University offers advice on how to sharpen garden tools both without taking them apart and after taking them apart: Sharpening Garden Tools.
4. Removing Rust from Garden Shears
Even with regular cleaning, the metal of garden shears can eventually rust, especially if it is higher grade steel. To prevent rust from damaging garden shears, wipe down or spray the blades and cross-bearing (the area with the blade and screw that it pivots on) with a light coat of motor oil. Other ways are also out there to prevent shears from rusting.
Diluted Oil & Kerosene Mix
Alternatively, some gardeners choose to dilute the oil with kerosene, creating a solution of two parts oil and one part kerosene. Lawnmower users can even use the lawnmower’s old oil for this purpose.
For a more natural method of removing and preventing future rust, a strong black tea works pretty effectively, although enough would need to be brewed to cover the blades of the shears.
- First, pour the finished brewed tea into a shallow tray after it cools.
- Place the shears (or at least the end with the blades) inside to soak for a few hours.
- After a couple of hours have passed, remove the shears and wipe off the rust and tea residue with a rag.
Another way to remove and prevent rust is by using a balled-up wad of wax paper to rub across the shear’s surfaces. This method works well for tools that are not very dirty or rusty, and also acts as a protective measure against future rusting. As the wax paper cleans the shears, it also leaves behind protective wax.
Rough Sandpaper or Other Coarse Materials
For shears and other gardening tools with severe rusting, rough sandpaper, coarse steel wool, or a wire bristle brush may be necessary to remove it. Some gardeners use a drill with a wire brush attachment in these cases. If using a power tool, make sure to wear protective eyewear to prevent airborne rust and iron particles from getting in eyes.
After removing the rust, make sure to wipe away any excess rust or dirt and wipe the shears down with light oil.
5. Lubricating Garden Shears
Over time, exposure to water and other environmental elements can cause the cross-bearing (also known as the pivot point) holding the blades of the garden shears together to rust or cause difficulty when opening and closing the shear blades together.
To prevent this, lubricate the area with a light three-in-one oil or apply WD-40, which can be purchased from a local hardware store or online.
To lubricate your garden shears, follow these steps:
- Disassemble the shears to have access to the pivot point.
- Apply the oil or WD-40 to the area and let it soak for about ten minutes.
- Remove any excess oil with a clean cloth or rag.
Use a piece of steel wool to remove any lingering dust or rust that may be causing the pivot point to become stiff.
6. Handle Maintenance on Garden Shears
Many garden shears have plastic or rubber grips, but some sheers have wooden handles. If this is the case, it is important to treat them often. Over time, moisture will work its way into the wood, eventually leading to splintering or breaking. Treating and caring for the shears’ wooden handles will ensure that the wood does not receive damage with long-term use.
Washing Shear Handles
When it comes to the handles, make sure to rinse away mud, soil or other materials after each use. Dry the grips with a clean rag or cloth before storing the shears.
Oiling Wooden Handles
To seal wooden handles and prevent moisture from getting in, wipe them down with a clean rag that has been slightly dipped in linseed oil or some other wood protection oil alternative.
For new shears, remove the varnish and sand down the handles with medium-grit sandpaper until they are smooth before applying linseed oil. Make sure to routinely lightly sand and oil the handles a few times with boiled (not raw) linseed oil throughout the season.
7. Storing Garden Shears
Once the garden shears have been cleaned, disinfected, sharpened, oiled, and cleared of rust, then it is time to store them. Follow these tips to ensure they are kept safely in-between uses and at the end of the season:
- Like other gardening tools, keep shears in a closet, garage, shed or another indoor area outside of the weather. Also, make sure the area is well-ventilated.
- Keep the shears in a readily-accessible area, but also make sure they are not in the way so that they do not present a hazard.
- Do not leave shears on the floor; hang them up by the handles on a nearby wall instead. If the shears have straight handles, hang them on the wall upside down with nails to hold them up. You can also place them handle-down in a heavy-duty utility bin. Doing this will help prevent moisture and rust exposure and even avoid dulling.
Giving help to the poor is like loaning money to the Lord. He will pay you back for your kindness.Proverbs 19:17
Why is it Important to Maintain Garden Tools?
Having clean, well-kept gardening instruments not only makes the job of a gardener or yard caretaker easier—it makes the plants happier, as well. Some of the benefits of having well-maintained tools include:
- Tools that are well-kept are easier and more effective for gardeners to work with compared to those that are rusted, dirty, or dull.
- Gardening tools that are routinely sharpened will be able to continue properly cutting grass, branches or even pruning small houseplants. Keeping sharp tools clean helps keep their edges sharp, too.
- If gardeners use gardening instruments on infected plants, then disinfecting the tools will make sure that the disease does not spread to other plants.
- Well-maintained tools have a longer shelf life compared to those that are not.
Replacing Old Shears
If a gardener has done everything possible to care for gardening shears, but they are finally at the end of their life, it is important to find a high-quality replacement. Here are a few final tips to keep in mind when searching for a new pair of gardening shears:
- Research, especially when buying shears from an online source. Different types of gardening shears are available for purchase, so make sure to find shears that fit your specific gardening needs.
- Consider buying stainless steel shears; they are often much easier to clean compared to gardening shears with other metal blades.
- After purchasing garden shears, if they have wooden handles, take the time to remove the varnish from them, lightly sand it down until it is smooth, and coat it with linseed oil. This will ensure that the wood is sealed and lasts longer.
Recommended Garden Shears
As you can see from our Favorite Products page, we love Fiskars products and use them in our garden (we are not affiliated with Fiskars). They make high-quality products for a good price, have great reviews on Amazon, and have a Lifetime Warranty!
So far garden shears, we love the three products below. There are different sizes so you can decide what works best for your needs. We actually use all three because each one has its own purpose in the garden!
You may not think of these as garden shears, but we love them so much we just have to include them here! These Fiskars Micro-Tip Pruning Snips are great for small areas that you are trying to prune.
These work great for thinning seedlings by cutting them at the base, pruning tomato suckers, and harvesting all kinds of vegetables when you don’t want to damage the plant by pulling the fruit off (tomatoes, beans, peas, cucumbers, etc)
The next size up of shears we like to use are these Fiskars Pruning Shears. These will cut thicker stems and branches than the tool above, up to 5/8 inch thick.
We use these mostly for cleanup in the garden when removing old plants and cutting them up before throwing them on our compost pile. They are also great trimming up tomatoes if you are using the single stem method.
The last and largest set of shears we like to use are these Fiskars Garden Hedge Shears. As you would expect, these are great for trimming up bushes and hedges in your landscaping.
Check out Our Favorite Products page to find everything you might need to help make your garden a success!
A clean, well-maintained pair of gardening shears and other gardening tools make a big difference in how well gardeners can care for their plants. By keeping up with the maintenance of gardening tools, it becomes much easier to work in a lovely garden, trees or shrubs effectively.
Caring for garden shears properly not only makes gardening and landscaping easier, but it also helps to prevent spreading disease to other plants. In addition, a well-kept set of tools ensures that they will last for many gardening seasons to come. Your plants will thank you for it later!