A garden expert shares the practical advice you need to know.

Wheelbarrow filled with branches and leaves
Credit: Getty / Carol Yepes

Spring is around the corner—and with the warmer weather comes plenty of opportunities to flex your green thumb in the garden. If you use a cart for gardening and landscaping purposes, you want to make sure to keep it in the best condition possible. After all, the better you care for and maintain it, the longer it will last. But how do you do that? Ahead, an expert breaks down the ins and outs of keeping your cart in the best shape.

Before the Season: Invest in Prep

If you want your garden cart to stay in good condition, you need to give it some extra attention before the gardening season actually starts. Trust us, prepping your cart appropriately will pay off in the long wrong. During this process, you'll want to address three specific areas to get your cart ready for heavy use: the handles, the barrow, and the wheels.

The Handles

Many garden carts have wooden handles—and you'll need to get them in tip-top shape before you start pulling yours to and fro. After you've wiped them down to remove any dirt, "inspect wooden handles for cracks and, if necessary, install a length of wood beneath the cracked portion," says horticulturist Lorraine Ballato.

Once you've dealt with those cracks, the next thing you'll want to check is the wood's smoothness. If it's rough around the edges (a recipe for future splinters), "a light sanding may be needed to restore the surface," explains Ballato. You should also lubricate the handles with oil (Ballato recommends a boiled linseed or olive oil) and then wipe them down to remove any excess liquid one to two hours after application. The last order of business? Check the bolts for proper fit and alignment (and tighten them if necessary). And if your handles are simply in terrible shape? Not worries—you can easily (and affordably) replace them without having to buy an entirely new cart.

The Barrow

Next up is the barrow. "The part you use to move your load is most important," says Ballato. If you have a metal base, Ballato recommends cleaning it with soapy water and a wire brush to loosen and remove any debris or rust. If you have a plastic or fabric base, be sure to cleanse it with a non-metallic scrub brush to prevent scratching. Because you'll be using this part of the garden cart to actually haul materials, it's important to keep an eye out for holes. If you notice any large openings, you'll need to replace the barrow before you start using the cart.

The Wheels

The wheels also need proper inspection ahead of the season. According to Ballato, begin by checking the tires' air pressure. If readings come in low, check for leaks—and repair or replace the tires as necessary. If you notice any rust on the wheels, remove it with a wire brush. And don't forget to inspect the axle. "Give it a shot of 3-in-One Oil ($6.99, target.com) or WD-40 ($2.97, warlmart.com) to get things moving smoothly," advises Ballato. If the axle is broken or malfunctioning, replace it.

Mid-Season: Tend to Your Cart After Every Use

With proper preparation, your garden cart will be in top working condition once spring and summer hit. To keep it that way, clean it after every use during the peak season. After you're done using your cart for the day, Ballato recommends wiping down the handles with a rag to remove any excess dirt. Then, rinse out the barrow with soapy water (if you have a metal barrow, make sure to dry it thoroughly to prevent rust). Once everything is clean, it's time to store it until you're ready to use it again—and the most important thing when it comes to garden cart storage? Keeping it safe from inclement weather. "Store it out of the elements if at all possible," says Ballato. "If no shed or garage is available, cover metal carts with a tarp held with a bungee cord."

How you position your garden cart is also important. "Store solid based barrows upended so no rain and debris will accumulate," offers Ballato. You also want to be on the lookout for any signs of damage or wear-and-tear throughout the season. "Be observant for signs of decay and malfunctions [and] address issues immediately," she says. By staying on top of repairs—and dealing with them before they cause more damage—you'll keep your garden workhorse running smoothly (and, hopefully, extend its lifespan).

Off-Season: Store Your Cart Appropriately

When you're ready to retire your garden cart for the season, put it away in good condition; that way, it will be ready to roll (pun intended!) when gardening season resumes the following year. Make sure to give your garden cart a thorough clean and, again, store it in a place (like a shed or a garage) where it will be safe from rain, sleet, and snow—until you're ready to put on your gardening gloves again, that is.


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