Ask each gardener what their favorite tool is and each will give you a wildly different answer. A passionate gardener may say their favorite tool is their hands, and though getting into the dirt up to your elbows is enormously satisfying, hands alone can't solve every problem. Here are some tools, both new and old, that we've found to be especially useful.
We tend to favor manual tools for many gardening activities, but there are a few power tools that save huge amounts of time.
Black & Decker Alligator Lopper—This is a nifty new electric tool that is really like a mini-chainsaw. It's great for regular lopping jobs as well as taking off medium branches on shrubs and trees (less than 4" D) that your regular loppers can't cut through. It's light enough for most women to handle comfortably. It's reasonably safe, too. Unless both hands are on the handles, it won't turn on. And because it's electric, you won't be generating pollutants.
Electric mower—Cordless or corded, an electric mower is easy to use and pollution free. Typically, they aren't quite up to mowing acreage or tall, dense grass, but for small city lots, they're easy to start and use. The downside with a cord is making sure you don't mow over it, and of course you can't mow on rainy days.
Electric hedge trimmer—Another power tool that can turn you into a speed demon on Saturday is an electric hedge trimmer. It's just so much easier to quickly shape and control the growth of hedges and shrubs. Now if your idea of meditation is using hedge shears, go for it.
Shovel—To dig a hole for anything larger than a seedling, you'll need a good shovel. There are many types of shovels but the most useful are a standard round shovel (with a slight point at the blade edge) and a square flat-bladed shovel. The round shovel is the tool to use for most hole digging and the square is ideal for moving litter as well as cutting nice clean edges on beds.
Leaf rake—A metal leaf rake is useful throughout the garden for raking leaves and general clean up.
Hori Hori knife—There are a million tools to dig, whack, saw, and weed, but this one is like a Swiss Army knife. It does it all. In Japan, it's a standard utility knife used for everything. It's available in tempered carbon steel or stainless. You may find that if you could only have one tool, this would be the one. It's a bargain at about $25.
Nijiri Gama Hoe—This small hoe is brought to us by the culture that is renowned for its samurai swords. It's sharp, small, and light weight and makes short work of weeds.
Pruning saw—Nothing is harder or more frustrating than messing around with a dull pruning saw. The Felco 620 is a good choice for general garden upkeep and quick trimming jobs. Aside from the design which simply works better than other pruning saws, and its corresponding price (not cheap), the best thing is that you can order replacement parts.
By-pass pruners—Felco makes great pruners too. Again, not inexpensive, but with the ability to disassemble, clean, sharpen, and replace parts, it's a tool that will last you the rest of your life as long as you don't lose it. The Felco 7 is a general pruning shear with a rotating handle that reduces hand fatigue and makes grooming those roses a pleasure, not a chore. If you're a lefty, the Felco 10 is the tool for you.
Wheelbarrow or garden cart—a good quality wheelbarrow or garden cart is indispensable for myriad gardening chores. Use it for mixing potting soil, or moving compost or bricks. A four-wheeled cart is more stable than a standard wheelbarrow, but it's user preference.
Watering wand—Anyone who needs to get out and water plants regularly knows that a watering wand is the ideal way to shower plants. It's a zen-like activity that can put the proper perspective on life at the end of the day. If you have an automated watering system set up for your garden and plants, it's a perfect tool to supplement with spot watering. The Dramm Professional has all-metal fittings and lasts for years.
Garden hose and reel—Your hose is the conduit of life where your plants are concerned. Buy a decent quality hose long enough for you to reach the farthest corner of your yard. Simplify your life with a good winding hose reel. It makes putting the darned thing away so much easier. Avoid plastic reels though; they tend to warp and break too quickly.
Gloves—Gloves are essential if you expect to do much gardening. There are many different types so buy the gloves that suit the work you're doing. Heavy digging requires well-fitted leather gloves. Rose pruning? Consider picking a pair with a gauntlet to protect your wrists and arms. We like inexpensive leather gloves for many gardening chores because they hold up reasonably well, though if longevity isn't an issue the latex-coated gloves allow flexibility and a lighter touch when working with seedlings.
Garden journal—After spending all that money for pruners and saws, a garden journal is going to save you money. You can purchase a prefab garden journal, but you'll be better off creating your own. One approach is to set up a series of pages with dates for every day of the year, though to minimize volume you could easily use weeks instead, especially if your garden is small. Add tabs for months. For the current year pick a color of ink and record everything you do and notice in your garden. Next year for dates on the same page, use a different color. And so on. In other sections, you might collect information for various plants, ideas, layouts, color schemes, and container combinations. It's fun to keep track year after year and you won't forget your hard won lessons.
Plant Labels—When you put a plant in, use a metal tag to note the name of the plant, variety, and date it was planted. The more durable the tag, the longer your information will last. (It's very nice, when out in the garden with admiring friends, to be able to give them precise data when asked.)
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