Meet Mark Cullen

Canada's best known gardening personality, Mark Cullen believes that Canadians of all ages need to play more - preferably in the dirt. A best-selling author with over 400,000 books in print, Mark reaches over one million Canadians every week through various media outlets. He is Home Hardware's horticultural spokesperson and regularly contributes to various magazines, gardening shows and newsletters. With a familiar style that people can relate to, he delivers a message that is compelling, fun, informative and inspirational - all based on his organic approach to gardening. In his spare time Mark enjoys driving his Ford Model A - and of course he loves to garden.

Fine Tune Your Tools

If you visited Canada Blooms this week I’m sure you are itching to get out there and do some digging in the earth. If you haven’t been to ‘Blooms yet there is still time. The festival runs until March 25. Visit for the details.

As much as we would like to get out in the garden, even the most ambitious gardeners will need to wait for the ground to thaw and then dry out. This will ensure that damage is not done to the soil by walking on it. Until your garden is at that point, there is no point in ‘turning it over’.

However, there is a lot that you can do to prepare for the digging/gardening/grass cutting season ahead!

Let’s begin with the really easy stuff: digging and weeding.

I talk frequently about the joys of digging and hoeing. The rhythm of a spade, thrust deep into the soil, the smell of fresh earth, the feeling of a quality tool in your hands… all of this adds up to a satisfying digging experience. But what spoils it all too often is ‘dull tools’.

This is such an easy problem to solve: all you need is a good bastard file. I sharpen my hoe and my spade every time I go out into the garden to either cut down weeds or dig a hole. I just draw the file across the top of the spade or the inside edge of the hoe 3 or 4 times and again across the opposite side once or twice – just to remove the burr of metal that occurs there.

Take a good look at your digging tools – spades, shovels and the like: have they EVER been sharpened? If not, time to put them on the grinding wheel in the shop or (if you don’t have a grinding wheel) be sure to stop the guy with the bell and the grinding wheel that comes around your street each spring looking for ‘sharpening’ business. Truth is, he may look at you kind of funny as not many of us take our digging tools out to him for sharpening… we may think of the pruning shears and the lawn mower blade at the time but not the shovel. Be the first on your block to demonstrate what an amazing difference this makes to the ‘digging experience.’
Ditto your hoe(s).
Then use the bastard file to keep the edge on all of these valuable tools all season long.

A shot of WD 40 or equivalent works wonders too. It will keep the blade clean and discourage the buildup of soil on it.

Lawn Mower

As mentioned above, time to sharpen the lawn mower blade. You can try this yourself if you know what you are doing or leave it up to the neighbourhood professionals. Up to you. But it is important to do this, otherwise you are cutting your grass with dull blades and that means bruised grass blades (recognized by brown hue over the surface of the grass) and you will use more gas as your lawn mower works harder to do the job.
Also: change or clean the spark plug, clean up the cutting deck by removing any of last years’ grass clippings that are stuck up there and replace the oil. If it is a 2 stroke engine, replace the machine with a 4 stroke – a cleaner burning ‘gas only’ engine that does not require you to add oil to it.

Cutting tools

Your grass/hedge/pruning shears need sharpening and lubricating. Use a hone for sharpening and WD40 or equivalent for lubing.

Clean off any rust with the lubricant or, if it is stubborn, use a soapy brillo pad to do the job. For that matter most metal cleaners will do the job nicely.


Grease or oil the wheel and axle, paint the metal box if it is beginning to rust and paint or stain the wooden parts to prevent them from rotting.

Rain barrels

Turn them upside-down to get out any debris and position them for a new season of rain collecting.

There now… I bet you feel better knowing that you are ready for almost anything that the gardening season throws at you.

And you will enjoy the experience of it all that much more.