Keeping garden tools clean and in good repair will not only extend the life of those tools but will make chores easier as well.

Cleaning tools should ideally be done after every use. In a perfect world, any tool that comes into contact with soil should be rinsed off with water after every use. This not only extends the life of the tools, but helps prevent spreading of diseases, weed seeds, insect eggs and fungi. In heavy clay soils, some scrubbing may be necessary. Once clean, dry the tool completely.

Tools that don’t necessarily contact the soil, like axes and pruners, should be wiped with a cotton cloth to remove any sap from their blades. Dampen the cloth with paint thinner to remove any sticky, dried on sap. Again, dry with a clean rag. Cleaned and dried tools should be stored out of the elements to prevent rusting. However, if the tools become rusty, use a penetrating oil and steel wool to remove rust.

Next, sharpen those tools. Shovels, hoes, axes and trowels are easily sharpened with a hand file. An eight inch long mill file with a bastard cut will do the trick nicely.

First, secure the tool with a vise or other method to keep it from slipping. Hold the mill file at the same angle of the previous sharpened blade and push the tool across the edge. Do not push back and forth; just push away from you in one direction until the entire edge of the tool is sharp.

For pruning shears and knives you will need a honing stone. Diamond, ceramic and high-carbon steel honing devices or whetstones are on the market. Many gardeners color the blade edge with a black felt tip marker and sharpen evenly until all traces of the marker are gone. For pruners and shears, tighten all screws, nuts and bolts and put WD-40 on the joints or hinges.

How often you need to sharpen your tools depends on your soil and amount of use. Rocky or sandy soils are more abrasive and therefore may require more frequent sharpening.

Practice does make perfect for sharpening skills. However, even badly sharpened tools are easier to use than dirty, dull ones.

Last but not least, check tool handles. Wooden handles can be sanded to prevent splinters and rubbed with boiled linseed oil as a wood preservative. If they are loose, consider replacing the handle.

With very little time and effort, gardening tools will last for years to come. Even tools that have been neglected can be brought back to life with just a little effort.

And if you are one of those persnickety people who stay on top of your gardening tool maintenance, there are still many other things you can do this month.

• Add compost to your vegetable garden beds, tilling into top 4” to 8”.

• Shop! - Seed catalogs that is! Nothing can be more inspiring to a gardener that the promise of what is to come. Willhite Seeds and Burpee are two common, reputable sources.

• January and February are the best time to plant bare root roses and fruit and nut trees

• Mulch, mulch and mulch. Landscape beds, vegetable and flower gardens and young or newly planted trees.

• Cut back perennials that have been killed by freezing weather. Be sure to mulch well to protect the roots.

• Don’t forget to water at least once this month in the absence of significant rain to prevent added stress.

• January is the time to plant onions. Bunches of 1015y, which do best here, should be available at nurseries, garden centers or feed stores soon.

• Late January, early February, transplant cool season crops - asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, collards, lettuces and chard and cold tolerant herbs, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, garlic, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme. Sow seeds of beets, carrots, English peas, lettuces and radishes.