Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2004
Regional Report

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My favorite hand tools: Smith and Hawken cast aluminum trowel and fork, and Fiskars swivel handle bypass pruners.

Tool Time

"All my hurts
My garden Spade can heal."
(Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882)

There is a saying among cooks: "Your hands are the best tools that God gave you." That saying holds true in the garden as well, but you need a few other tools as well.

For a gardener, and especially a beginning gardener, the tool store can be a dangerous place. It's a little like walking into a candy shop. If you proceed with caution and a shopping list, you may exit with your wallet intact. There are certain basic tools every gardener can justify owning; and the level of quality and functionality you'll need depend on how you intend to use them.

The first basic tool any gardener needs to have on hand are pruning shears. When you are buying shears, look for good quality forged steel. The handles should be comfortable in your hand, and the spring should be strong and easy to remove for maintenance. Whether you select anvil or bypass pruners is a matter of personal preference. Anvil pruners work best for clipping flower stems, bypass pruners are the best choice for pruning shrubs and trees.

If you are the kind of person who takes care of their toys, buy the best quality tool you can afford, and this goes for not only pruners, but any garden tool. Good tools last far longer and are cheaper in the long run than cheap tools, especially if you give them some basic care, such as never putting your tools away dirty or wet. However, if you are like my mom and leave your tools outside to rust, you may as well save your money and buy the cheap stuff.

A rake is another tool that should be in every gardener's shed. There are two basic types of rakes: bow rakes and fan rakes. The bow rake -- usually forged metal -- is used for moving or grading soil. A fan rake is either made of metal or bamboo and is used for cleaning up leaves and debris. I have my heart set on a $100 adjustable, stainless steel fan rake, but once again Santa didn't come through.

Small digging tools are an absolute necessity if you plan on doing any planting. Look for hardwood handles with some sort of finish -- either sanded and varnished or painted. My favorite trowel is made of forged aluminum. I have had it for years and it still looks brand new. These types of tools should fit comfortably in your hand and not be too heavy in weight. The best kind of digging tools have forged metal parts, and the wooden handle is fitted securely down into the shaft.

Weeding and digging tools that have a blade, such as hoes and shovels, will do their job more easily if you keep the blade sharp. Any hoe will cut through the toughest weed if the blade has been honed to a fine edge with a metal file. The same with a shovel. You will be amazed how much easier it is to dig through hard soil if the blade is kept sharp.

Hoes should be lightweight, have a finished handle, and be the correct size for the gardener using it. Hoeing is backbreaking work if the handle is too short.

To keep wooden handles looking new, and more importantly, free from splinters, simply apply a coat of linseed oil to a dry, clean handle. To maintain the metal parts, apply a thin coating of cooking oil spray after the tool has been cleaned and dried.

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