When packing lawn and garden gear away for the winter, don't just toss it in the shed or garage. Here's how to take care of your equipment so it's ready to go when spring rolls around.
Gasoline-powered mowers and tractors can survive the cold months fine, but the fuel in them begins to oxidize quickly and can cause deposits that clog the carburetor and prevent starting. The best way to prevent that is to add a stabilizer to the fuel. (Home centers, gasoline stations, and garden-supply stores sell stabilizer.) Let the engine run for a few minutes to ensure the stabilized fuel reaches the carburetor. Stabilizer manufacturers claim their products keep fuel from oxidizing for up to 12 months.
To prevent corrosion damage to the underside of the deck, use a plastic scraper to remove the dirt and grass clippings and follow up by rinsing thoroughly with the garden hose. (To easily access the underside of a lawn tractor, consider purchasing an auto ramp, available at auto-supply stores for less than $40.) Once you've cleaned the deck and it's dry, coat the deck with silicone spray to reduce clippings buildup next spring. Now is also a good time to sharpen the blade. Consider buying a second blade so that one is always available while the other is at the shop being sharpened.
Check the electrodes for wear and deposits, squirt a few drops of fogging oil in the cylinder, pull the starter cord a few times (on an electric-start mower, jog the engine with the key), then reattach the plug. (You can buy fogging oil at power-equipment and auto-parts stores.) Leave the wire off to keep children from starting the engine. If the electrodes are badly worn, replace the spark plug.
For tractors or riding mowers with a starter battery, remove the battery, charge it fully, and store it inside for the winter (unless, of course, you'll be using the tractor to move snow during the winter). For added protection, charge the battery again one or two times while it's in storage. If you have a battery-powered mower, bring it inside and follow the manufacturer's instructions for keeping it charged during the winter. Those precautions can ensure longer life for the battery.
The end of the mowing season is a convenient time to perform those preventive-maintenance chores that keep a mower or tractor running longer. Check the owner's manual for specifics. Change the oil (four-stroke engines only), replace the air filter (or clean it if it's an older foam type), and lubricate moving parts such as cables, levers, and wheels.
Much of this advice applies to garden tillers, string trimmers, leaf blowers, edgers, and other power equipment. Check all moving parts for damage. Cover any bare metal parts with oil or rust preventive. Clean caked-on grass and wipe debris from tillers, edgers, and trimmer housings.
Here's more maintenance advice on lawn mowers and other yard equipment: