Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
January, 2007
Regional Report

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Pruned properly, plants have a natural appearance rather than a manicured look.

Choosing the Right Tools

While thumbing through a garden supply catalog recently, I noticed a belted holster for a cell phone. For someone who needs to take phone calls while gardening, this might be an essential gardening tool. But for those of us who garden in part to get away from the phone, it's completely unnecessary.

I'm sure you've seen lists of the 10 or 12 must-have gardening tools, and although it's tempting to want a simple list, the truth is that what's an essential gardening tool is a highly personal thing. The kinds of gardening tasks you do, your soil type, and your lifestyle, body size, and ability are some of the factors in determining which specific tools you need.

Perhaps a better approach to tools is to look at the tasks you're trying to accomplish. If you pay attention, it quickly becomes clear when you need a particular tool because what you're using doesn't work. I bought my first loppers after bruising my hand trying to cut branches too large for my hand pruners. Gardening is supposed to be fun and comfortable. If it's not, there's probably a tool to help make it so for you.

Digging is the essential gardening activity, so tools for it abound. Shovel options range from short-handled hand trowels to long-handled shovels, with numerous sizes and shapes in between.

Every gardener I know has a favorite style, shape, size, handle length, and grip type of hand trowel. Try out a few to see which feels most comfortable. It's a tool you'll use for planting, weeding, scooping, dividing, and many other tasks, so make sure you really love yours. Keep in mind that inexpensive hand tools aren't very durable. You'll be rewarded over and over again if you invest in quality one-piece stainless steel or aluminum hand trowels.

For general digging jobs, from turning a new garden plot to making a planting hole to scooping and moving soil, a long-handled, round-pointed shovel is the tool. If you're working in tight places or under trees and shrubs, switch to the shorter D-handled version. A well-made shovel will be drop-forged of steel with a one-piece blade and collar that holds a handle made of ash.

For cutting small woody or herbaceous stems of flowers, shrubs, or trees, nothing beats a sharp pair of hand pruners. Some features to look for are easy cutting motion, steel blades, a spring opening, reliable locking device, light weight, and a grip that fits your hand.

Loppers come in several sizes, and most can make a 1- to 2-inch-diameter cut. Be sure the blades can be sharpened and that the lopper has a good strong bumper to support the finish of each cut. Check the grips for comfort in both your hands.

Weeding is a major gardening task for most of us. Pulling a few weeds in loose soil can be done by hand, but larger jobs are much easier with the right tools. A traditional garden hoe works for deep weeding between rows in the vegetable garden. A heart-shaped warren hoe fits in narrow spaces and is also useful for making furrowed rows at planting time.

Three or four-pronged cultivators fit in narrow spots and go a little deeper, to lightly loosen packed soil. I use a cultivator around my tender annuals and perennials to dislodge small weeds.

Raking falls into two general categories based on what you're trying to move around -- soil and rocks or leaves and plants. Soil rakes have inflexible metal tines and can come in either a bow or a flat style. The more common bow style absorbs shocks and is useful for spreading or lightly furrowing soil.

Leaf rakes, which also clean up plant trimmings, come in a wide variety of styles. Made of plastic, bamboo, or aluminum, these are usually fan shaped with flexible tines hooked near the ends. You can find every size -- from the smallest shrub rakes to large-spanning lawn rakes. There's even one that adjusts to several sizes for a variety of tasks.

Opinons, Opinions
Every gardener I know has his or her own preferences for garden tools, and you will too. Have fun exploring what tools are essential for you. Then carefully evaluate each tool and make a good choice for yourself, whether or not it comes highly recommended by another gardener. The right tools make for a more enjoyable experience in the garden.

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