Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2006
Regional Report

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This gardener didn't put her tools away, and now she can't find them! Don't be like her -- take good care of yours.

Tools for the Garden Shed

"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 we all depend on a few other basic tools for working in the soil.

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. The quality and functionality you need from a tool will depend on how you intend to use it.

The first basic tool any gardener needs to have with them at all times is a pair of 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 choice. Anvil pruners are used for clipping flower stems, bypass pruners are used 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, 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.

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. The best digging tools have forged metal parts, and the wooden handle is fitted securely down into the shaft.

A rake is another tool that should be in every gardener's shed. There are two basic types: bow rakes and fan rakes. The bow rake is usually forged metal and is used for moving or grading soil. A fan rake is either made of metal, plastic, 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.

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

Hoes and Shovels
Weeding and digging tools that have a blade, such as hoes and shovels, will make life much much easier 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.

A hoe should be light in weight, have a finished handle, and be the correct size for the gardener using it. Hoeing is backbreaking work if the handle is too short.

It's almost time to get gardening, so make sure your tool room is in order!

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