Ask the Gardener: How to care for rusty garden tools and get a lemon tree

Ask the Expert Gardening
All lemon trees produce fragrant flowers and fruit. adobe stock

What to do this week Take your lawnmower to a hardware store or a small-engine repair shop for service. Sharpened blades mean healthier lawns. Within the next six weeks, patch or overseed lawns to thicken the grass and crowd out weeds — or wait until September. (This is the secret of a good-looking lawn.) Make sure the grass seed stays constantly moist until it sprouts. Pull back mulch from around grafted roses and fertilize them. Prune out dead and crossed stems, cutting them back to just above outward-facing leaflets to encourage an open form so it doesn’t become an ingrown tangle. Clean out old birdhouses and add new ones. Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch website for details on building and siting boxes for local cavity-nesting species, which are in need of homes because few people leave dead trees standing for them to excavate. After a week of 50-degree weather, start your spring cleanup in the areas closest to the house and then work outward to where the bulbs are sprouting or early vegetables will be planted. If possible, leave property edges and woodlands natural and undisturbed. Leaving “wild’’ areas to explore is good for children, too. Pick a compost pile site for dumping garden debris if you don’t already have one, and also designate a separate pile for last year’s leaves, which will crumble into a nutrient-rich and weedless mulch in a few months. If you need finished compost for your garden immediately, try to have it delivered in bulk rather than hauling individual bags home. If you are growing vegetables, label and file your seed packets in order of planting date, counting back from the date of the last frost in your area, which is often May 1 in Boston but later in the month in colder areas. Repeat sowings at two-week intervals as insurance against late frosts and also having to harvest too many vegetables at once. You can start sowing or transplanting peas, radishes, turnips, parsnips, onions, arugula, kale, lettuce, carrots, cilantro, dill, and spinach outdoors now in most of southern New England. But seeds may rot if the soil is below 40 degrees, so a soil thermometer is a good investment. Cover tender sprouted seedlings with lightweight sheets or spun polyester on frosty nights.

Q. I just received garden tools from an older relative, but they are dirty and rusty. How should I clean/repair them for spring?

B.M., Lexington

A. Older relatives are a great source for rugged old-fashioned tools of high quality. Soak small hand tools in a bowl of white distilled vinegar to remove rust. Wrap a vinegar-soaked rag around rusted areas of larger tools and soak overnight. Scrub off the rust with a metal brush or steel wool. Rinse with clean water, perhaps mixed with baking soda to neutralize the vinegar. A paste of baking soda and water can work the same way. Don’t try to tape broken handles; buy replacement handles from a good hardware store. They will sometimes sharpen tools, as well. Or you can get a mill file about 8 inches long to sharpen hoes, trowels, and spades. Draw the file across the beveled surface of each blade at a 40-degree angle, pushing the file away from you. Oil the blade and wipe it with a clean rag to prevent rust. Wipe dirty areas of tools clean after each use to prevent rust.

Q. I want to grow a lemon tree in my greenhouse. Any recommendations on where I should buy it?

D.S., Milton

A. All lemon trees produce fragrant flowers and fruit. They become mid-size potted indoor trees in New England, so you need good indoor light and space for them, though you can move them outdoors for the summer. Logee’s Greenhouses (141 North St., Danielson, Conn., 860-774-8038, offers several varieties of lemon trees propagated at their century-old greenhouse. This family-owned company ships, but it is also a delightful destination for field trips Wednesdays through Sundays. Russell’s Garden Center (397 Boston Post Road, Wayland, 508-358-2283;, is expecting a shipment of Meyer lemon trees, starting at 6 inches for $35, in early May. Call other local greenhouses about availability.

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