Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
December, 2011
Regional Report

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Santa's elves Janet, Ron, and Kevin are ready with gardeners' gifts galore -- hand picks, red and green Tubtrugs, hand forks, water meter, and a top-of-the-line push mower.

All I Want for Christmas...

What would YOU like for Christmas?

Santa, if you're feeling generous, I'd be over-the-moon to get the top-of-the line Brill Razorcut Premium 38 push mower (a mere $269.99). My vintage "American" mower wheels and blades jam. Oiling doesn't help. Sadly, no one's interested in repairing this quiet, no emissions, pro-environment machine.

What do gardening professionals recommend or want? Author, horticulturist, and educator Charles Cresson of Hedgleigh Spring in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania has no requests. He did, however, recommend his favorite tool. "One of the most useful tools for people who work the soil is a simple, three-pronged hand fork the size of a trowel. It's hard to find a good one. Use it to dig the soil, scratch mulch. It's like an extension of your fingers." Charles often works with the hand fork and the trowel simultaneously. The fork is in his right hand (the more dexterous), the trowel in the left.

"The hand fork (three-pronged is best; four prongs are too many), decompacts the soil. It loosens the soil between perennials. It gets between roots, doesn't slice them. My favorite has flat, pointed prongs," Charles added. "I have three, four for my workers. We lose them in the garden. Lost one today. We'll find it."

My preference is one with three rounded, wirelike prongs and a wooden handle. Prices range from $3.99 to $29.99.

Sally McCabe, Project Manager for Garden Tenders at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, was quick with three suggestions. "I would give a gardener a gift certificate to Seed Savers. Gardeners are very opinionated. They have their own fantasies. With a gift certificate, they really can HAVE their own fantasies."

Or, she added, a good friend once offered her time. "My friend said 'Let me give you an hour of my time to work on your landscape for your wedding anniversary.' She pruned our overgrown yews, which we'd been arguing about for years."

Another much-appreciated gift, Sally recalled, is the short-handled pick she's given to gardening friends. "You know the one, with a fork on one side, pick on the other." It makes easy work of digging, bulb planting, popping in plugs and small plants. A small multi-purpose pick costs from $15 to $20.

What would Sally like? "Gardeners are generous people. Ask them what they want, they'll tell you what to give other people. That goes with being very opinionated." A gift for her would have "to be something really tall, like an amaryllis, that would stand out over the other plants and stuff in my house."

Matthew Duffy of Duffy Brothers in Wyndmoor, PA has been gardening professionally for some 15 years, starting when he was 12. He recommends a "nice $150 moisture meter that measures the amount of moisture in the soil." He uses one to troubleshoot when a woody plant that isn't growing as expected. "When someone has a problem with a shrub or tree, I'll check the moisture level."

Most people don't realize they aren't watering enough, especially a newly planted woody. They'll water for a few seconds -- quick and shallow-- but the plant needs long, deep watering to thrive. When they use the meter, they realize how little water is available for the plant. While the moisture meter Duffy recommends isn't cheap, it is a small price to pay to protect an investment in trees and shrubs that may run into the thousands of dollars. Often the solution is installing a drip irrigation system to ensure the correct amount of water reaches the plant roots, Matt explained.

Now that you've had time to dream, what gardening gift would you like under (or in) your wheelbarrow?

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