Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
April, 2012
Regional Report

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This all-steel Super-Penetration Shovel with its tapered pointed blade and sharpened sides is my favorite tool to use for digging in hard, compacted, or heavy clay soils.

Must Have Gardening Tools

I love to thumb through gardening catalogs -- you never know what you might find. Some items are worthwhile, but to me, others border on the absurd. In one catalog I noted a smart phone holster that attaches to your belt. 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 a silly idea.

So what gardening tools are really essential? It depends -- on the kinds of gardening tasks you do, your gardening ability, and your body size. My approach is to think about what I'm trying to accomplish and pay attention to whether or not the tool I'm currently using is appropriate to the task at hand. I bought my first long-handled loppers after bruising my fingers 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. Here are my suggestions:

Essential Pruning Tools
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, overall lightness in weight, and a grip that fits your hand.

Loppers come in several sizes, and most can make a 1- 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.

A folding tree saw, one that you can fold closed and stick in your back pocket, can take care of branches that are too large for your loppers. Mine is about 7-inches long when folded, and has a slightly curved blade which makes it easy to get into tight places between branches. When shopping for a tree saw, look for one with a tri-cut blade. The teeth are sharpened on 3 sides, like a triangle, making them razor-sharp.

Favorite Digging Tools
Digging is an 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. 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 best 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 an all-one-piece blade and collar that holds a handle made of ash.

Tools for Raking
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.

Weeding Necessities
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.

Decisions, Decisions
Every gardener I know has his or her own experiences and 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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