They say any task is easier when you use the right tool. And that's certainly true for gardening. In no particular order, here's a basic tool set with what I consider gardening essentials.
They say any task is easier when you use the right tool. And that's certainly true for gardening.
But with thousands of tools on the market, from cheap and flimsy knockoffs to big-ticket vanity items, it's hard to know which tools are necessary to do the most efficient job. In no particular order, here's a basic tool set with what I consider gardening essentials.
-- A four-tined spading fork for digging in heavy, compacted or clay soils or when turning over compost. It should have a good, wide shoulder that will support your entire foot when you're pushing it into the material. A shorter shaft with a D- or T-shaped handle will provide better leverage.
-- A round-tip shovel for digging larger holes and moving a lot of material. The long handle gives excellent leverage. For really tough use, get a fiberglass handle; it resists moisture, won't give you splinters and can handle more weight and stress in everyday use.
-- A flat-tip spade cuts smooth, straight slices. It's perfect for making a clean line while edging beds or tidying up lawns around walkways and fences. The D-handle and shorter shaft help lift heavy loads and keep your body properly aligned.
-- For collecting clippings, trimmings and general cleanup, a leaf rake is best. Choose one with spring-steel tines and a spread of between 18 and 22 inches for general use. They're stiff enough to give lawns a good dethatching, and their smaller size lets them get into tight places around shrubs, under fences and along foundations. For big cleanup jobs, a wider, 30-inch spread of plastic- or bamboo-tined leaf rakes makes them quicker and more efficient for collecting leaves over a large area.
-- Bypass hand pruners cut like scissors. They are the best type of pruners for cutting live plant material up to about three-quarters of an inch in diameter. Unlike bypass pruners, anvil-style pruning blades crush limbs and branches between the blades. This style is best for dead wood and thicker limbs. Because you don't get as clean a cut, don't use anvil pruners for cutting live plants and shrubs. Loppers have longer handles for more leverage on thicker branches. They come in both bypass and anvil styles. Depending on the job, it's good to have both in your arsenal. And for larger limbs, a folding pruning saw reaches tight spaces where a large bow saw can't go, and the blade folds into the handle for extra safety.
Weeding and planting:
-- The ubiquitous dandelion weeder still has a place in your must-have tool kit. But today, there are many versions of the old standby. Whatever style you choose, a specialized tool such as this is important for multiple reasons, from pulling out long-tap-rooted weeds to chasing down the underground roots of crabgrass, dislodging buried rocks and maneuvering large, heavy nursery plants around in their new planting holes.
- A metal trowel is a hand-held mini-shovel used for working in close and personal around anywhere you need to move soil. Get a sturdy one with a forged blade; this is going to be among the tools you depend on constantly. For planting in containers and other cramped spaces, use an old serving spoon.
-- For small watering jobs, a watering can works best. You can water in and settle new plants and seeds without disturbing the soil, or stroll around the porch and water containers without getting everything else soaked. Galvanized metal cans are ornamental and durable, but can be corroded by some garden chemicals. Plastic cans are lighter and less expensive, but not as tough.
-- For larger watering jobs, go for a high-end rubber or rubber/vinyl composite watering hose. These resist kinking and stand up to high pressure. An optional valve at the end of the hose to turn the water off is a handy addition. My favorite hose-end attachments: a well-designed pistol-grip nozzle and a high-quality watering wand. In both cases, don't skimp on price here. You really do get what you pay for.
-- Better than any wheelbarrow, a large-capacity garden cart with bicycle-style wheels will save time and strain whether you're hauling in or out. They're surprisingly light and easy to maneuver. Smaller styles are also available.
Joe Lamp'l, host of "Growing a Greener World" on PBS, is a Master Gardener and author. For more information visit www.joegardener.com.