As the nights draw in and the leaves fall, the risk of damage to gardening machines, such as lawn mowers, hedge trimmers, chainsaws and pressure washers, becomes increasingly severe.
2020 has seen a surge in popularity for gardening machinery. The coronavirus pandemic has led to people spending much more time at home, and veteran gardeners and newbies alike have picked up new tools to spruce their outdoor spaces into shape.
But autumn is here, and with it comes several months of rough weather that will keep your gardening tools out of action until spring comes around again.
Damp, cold and muddy conditions invite in rust and other destructive forces, and if left unprotected even the most durable gardening products could become unusable. It's essential that you act now to protect your tools and avoid having to buy new equipment come spring.
Read on to discover our essential tips for storing and protecting your gardening machinery through autumn and winter, and help keep them in top condition.
Before getting close to inspect and clean your gardening machinery, especially those with blades and engines, you have to make sure there's no chance of them switching on while you're servicing them.
If it's electric, unplug it, if it's cordless remove the battery and if it's petrol remove the spark plug to eliminate any chance of your tools switching on by accident.
It's likely that there will be instructions specific to your model on how best to maintain and clean it. It's always best to check the manual before opening up your machine or cleaning certain parts - you don't want to do anything that might invalidate a warranty or damage the tool.
If you've misplaced the manual, or it doesn't give you the advice you're looking for, check the manufacturer's website. If you know which model you've got, it's likely you'll be able to download a copy of the manual or find broader instructions on how to look after and store it.
If after consulting the manual you're still unsure or nervous about how to proceed, having it serviced by a professional is always an option. For chainsaws, we'd always recommend having it professionally serviced to keep it functioning safely.
Leaving cordless batteries plugged in for months on end can degrade the battery's ability to hold a charge, and leaving it partially charged or empty for long periods can also accelerate deterioration.
Charge your batteries fully, take them indoors, and store them somewhere cool and dry. If you have several cordless gardening tools it may be worth labelling them so you don't forget which is which when you want to use them again next year.
Make sure to coil up your cables, keep them off the ground and make sure they aren't tangled or damaged. Don't wind your cables up too tightly, though, as if they're under strain for an extended period they can easily become faulty.
Leaving fuel in your petrol-powered tools over winter can lead to a stuttering start to springtime gardening, as old fuel degrades and can clog up the engine if it's left for too long.
It's therefore essential to siphon out any fuel that may be sitting at the bottom of your fuel tank. Siphon's can be bought cheaply (for around £10), and are an efficient way of removing and keeping petrol for use at a later date.
Fuel should also be drained from the carburettor before storage. Similarly if left for too long the fuel will degrade and cause the carburettor to misfire. Carburettors have often cylindrical bowls on them where fuel is stored, though make sure to check the instructions before draining as the process can vary from tool to tool.
Don't attempt to siphon the fuel out using your mouth and a hosepipe. It might make you feel like an action hero, but it will most likely end with you getting a mouthful of fuel.
If siphoning sounds like a lot of effort, you could buy fuel-stabiliser chemicals which prevent the fuel from degrading. Draining the old fuel out and using fresh fuel in spring is the best way to keep your engine healthy, though.
Unlike draining the fuel, you'll want to top up the oil in your petrol-powered tools before storing them away for winter.
The machine needs to stay lubricated throughout the colder months to avoid any trouble with starting it up in a few month's time, so refill the oil for storage, then drain and replace it again before the first use in spring.
This is perhaps the most important step of all. Naturally, through use, most gardening tools will accumulate plenty of debris, such as grass, leaves and mud, and all of it will need to come off before you store your machine away for winter.
This debris invites damp and rot to set in if left alone for long periods of time, especially over winter, so you'll need to clean your tools thoroughly to avoid finding rust and mould on them next year.
Make sure to wear protective gloves during cleaning - especially when cleaning around blades - and have a few tools at your disposal to help you get into all those little nooks and crannies. A butter knife is handy for peeling off stuck-on grass and mud, and a brush with tough bristles is great for lifting bits from little creases between different parts of your tools.
Cleaning your tools is all well and good, but the real purpose of cleaning them is to avoid damp. This is one of the golden rules of looking after your gardening tools - never store them away wet.
After cleaning, use a household cloth, buff or shammy to wipe down any leftover droplets of water and only put your tools away when you're sure they're dry. If you're worried there's water in parts of the machine you can't reach, bring it indoors after cleaning so it can air-dry before you store it away.
It's always worth consulting the manual again when it's time to store your tools for winter. If you're tight on space, you may be tempted to prop up your tools in compromising positions - this can be risky, especially if it's a petrol tool.
Check for any storage warnings in the manual, as storing some tools tilted or on their side can cause leakages which will damage the engine or electronics inside.
The golden rule of not storing your tools wet applies to their surroundings, too. If your storage area is damp, your tools will quickly get damp as well. A damp old wooden shed is a common red flag, for example. If the damp gets in there, it will get into your tools.
Somewhere cool and dry is always best. If you have a garage, this is a more ideal spot than a shed for gardening machinery, as the temperature is generally warmer and less volatile. A shed will suffice, though, provided it stays dry inside.
If you don't have a shed or a garage, a good-quality cover is the best you can do to keep your gardening tools safe through winter. They will protect your tools from the elements, although they won't do very much to stop the cold.
A cover is still a worthwhile investment, though, even if you do have the space to keep your tools indoors. They give better protection from damp and dust, and they deter creatures from taking up residence inside.
Covers that fit the specific dimensions of your tools will work best to prevent too much air from circulating underneath, so search the model number of your tools to see what's available. If there's nothing out there, a sturdy tarpaulin and some short bungee cords will do the trick.