You may be looking forward to a respite from mowing the lawn and pruning the hedges during the winter. But before you close the shed door on your gardening chores, make sure your tools are cared for so that they'll be fresh and ready next spring when you need them. The time you take now will save you time and money next year.
You'll need a wire brush, a steel wool pad, sandpaper, a few old rags and a pair of gardening gloves. Use the wire brush to remove stubborn, caked-on mud. Use the steel wool to wipe away rust. If necessary, soak the tool in a solution of white distilled vinegar before rubbing with the steel wool. Clean and smooth wooden handles with a fine sandpaper, and finish up by wiping them with linseed oil or paste wax. Sharpen any tools that need it using a file or sharpening stone.
Wipe down each tool with a damp rag, and let them air dry completely. Keep in mind that you may have used a spade or other tool to dig up diseased plants. If so, add a bit of rubbing alcohol to the rag to reduce the chance of bacteria living through the winter; you don't need to rinse. Spray a lubricant (like WD-40) on moving parts to reduce friction, or coat with used cooking oil or motor oil.
Get a bucket of clean, dry, course sand, pour in a few cups of motor oil (new or used) and place the metal parts of smaller hand tools in the sand up to their handles. This will help keep the parts lubricated and clean during the damp winter months. Hang rakes, shovels and other long-handled garden tools from wall hooks or a pegboard to keep them off of the cold, damp garage floor.
Bring in the garden hose(s) from outside. Make sure the hoses are empty and "dry." Now is the time to inspect hoses and repair any punctures with hose repair kits or plumber's tape. Coil empty hoses loosely, and store flat or on a hose reel, making sure there are no kinks. Don't hang hoses on a nail or hook, as they will stretch and could crack. Make sure outdoor faucets are turned off and sprinkler heads are drained, clean and dry.
Avoid storing gasoline in lawn mowers, weed whackers and leaf blowers. Most lawn mowers have small tanks and can be run until the fuel is gone; some larger riding mowers have drainage valves. Stored gas and oil will degrade over time and should be used or safely discarded. Wipe the mower blades clean and sharpen them; dirt, residue and cut grass can rust and pit the blades. Pull the spark plug out and spray the socket with a lubricant, and then turn the motor once before replacing the plug. For electric weed whackers and electric leaf blowers, inspect the cords and repair minor wear with electrical tape, or replace severely frayed cords and plugs. Wipe down the exterior of your motorized gardening tools with a damp rag before winter storage.
Wheelbarrows and wagons need to be wiped clean, as well, and lubricate wheels and other moving parts. Use a rust-inhibiting spray paint wherever there are chips in the paint. Make sure the tires are filled with air, and avoid dry-rot by storing the conveyer on ground high enough that it will not sit in standing water. Be sure to thoroughly rinse pesticide sprayers, and hang them upside down for storage.
Inspect your tools for any missing pieces, and replace those pieces before storing your tools for the winter; after several months of nonuse, you're liable to forget until you go to use it again in the spring. Spray hinges and moving parts with a lubricant. Store your equipment inside if possible, but if you need to store anything outside, make sure it's off the ground and covered with a tarp for protection. Hanging a dry-erase board in your garage or garden shed provides a good place to mark any necessary reminders you will need to start the season.