article by P. Allen Smith | photo by Jane Colclasure
When you think of shopping for your garden, you usually envision a cartload of perennial shrubs, leafy vegetables and bright summer annuals. There is a certain excitement that follows when buying beautiful plants for your garden, but then you get home and have to till, dig, stake and water. These are jobs that can be taxing—unless you have the proper garden tools to get the jobs done!
If you plan ahead and pick up a few garden tool essentials at the nursery, it can make a world of difference when planting. You wouldn’t use a hammer to install a screw, would you? Just like tools in the garage, garden tools have specialized uses. Using the wrong tools or low quality tools can make a simple garden task last hours, and not produce the end results you were looking for. Good, sturdy tools can last a lifetime and make your time in the garden that much more enjoyable.
So, before you begin your next garden project—or if you are new to gardening—you might want to assess your tool collection and beef up your garden arsenal. There are a multitude of tools out there to make your landscape chores a breeze. Here are a few of my favorites.
Trowel This tool is perfect for scooping, digging and mixing. Dig a good-sized hole for plants and transfer fresh, nutrient-rich soil to cover the roots. Think of a trowel as an extension of your hand in the garden.
Sharp Shooter This is great when you need to dig a deep, narrow hole or trench, and it works even in rocky soil. Use a sharp shooter to create deeper, more precise holes in the garden. The long handle gives more leverage and control than a trowel or large shovel.
Watering Wand This extension of the garden hose is a great way to more precisely apply water once your plants are in place. A watering wand evenly distributes the water as to not damage the plant, or waste water. It has great reach, so it also saves a lot of energy you would expend stretching or crouching to get those hard-to-reach spots in the yard.
Hand Pruners This tool, also known as secateurs, is small but mighty. All gardeners need a sharp pair of hand pruners when working in the garden. They come in handy when managing the size of unruly plants in a flowerbed, harvesting fruits and veggies, and cutting fresh flowers. You can trim everything from perennials to medium-sized shrubs, like roses, azaleas and hydrangeas. Keep in mind that shears generally won’t cut through anything that’s over .75 inches in diameter. Keep them sharp and well-oiled, and they can last for years.
Staking and Twine Some plants need a little help staying upright. It’s a good idea to have some staking and twine on hand just in case a plant needs support. For climbing plants, this is an absolute necessity, and you can use them to create an aesthetic design element in the garden.
Loppers These are great for pruning hard-to-reach limbs or anything thicker than a pencil. The longer the handle, the more leverage you can get, which is helpful when making larger cuts. Keep your loppers sharp and well-oiled and you’ll be able to trim branches up to 3 inches in diameter, which should handle most pruning jobs around the garden.
Pruning Saw Tackle big jobs like tree branches with a pruning saw with raker teeth. This kind of saw is great for cutting thick, green wood. The rakers pull out the sawdust to prevent jamming so you can saw with speed. Be careful not to ding the blades on your saw, you’ll want to keep it razor sharp.
Shovel If you are planning a big landscaping project like building a raised bed, terracing or planting a tree, you’ll need a sturdy shovel. Look for one that has a generous ledge to support your foot when you push the shovel into the ground. Be sure the handle is metal and not plastic or wooden, so you can comfortably put all your force into it without fear of it snapping in the middle of a job.
Soil Knife I love the design of the Deluxe Stainless Steel Soil Knife by AM Leonard. This little tool can get a ton of work done in the garden. Its 3-in-1 design allows it to dig, cut and saw. It’s designed with a rubber grip handle and wide guard, so you don’t cut yourself. I use it to dig and cut through rocky soils with lots of roots. It has a serrated side to help saw through rough terrain, and a tapered blade on the other side that comes in handy when dividing plants.
Gloves Don’t forget to protect your hands while they do all the dirty work. A solid pair of well-made leather gloves can go a long way to prevent scratches, injury and aches and pains that go along with garden work. If you are planning to get deep in the weeds it may be a good idea to have a pair of gloves with wrist and arm coverage handy.
Protection Don’t forget to stay safe in the garden. In addition to a good pair of work gloves, you’ll need eye protection, ear protection and sun protection. Especially when you are using any device with a motor, like a lawn mower or weed eater, you need to wear protective glasses to keep dirt and debris from flying into your eyes. Earplugs come in handy when operating loud machines, like leaf blowers or power sprayers. The loud noise they generate can permanently damage your hearing. You’ve heard a million times by now to wear sunscreen, but I’ll say it again. Wear sunscreen. And while you’re at it get some sunglasses and a nice, wide-brimmed, breathable garden hat. You’ll be safe and stylish!