Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
May, 2013
Regional Report

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Using the right tool for the job will help you take care of your garden with the least time and effort expended.

Garden Efficiently with the Right Tools

Low-maintenance gardening means taking care of garden chores as efficiently as possible. Using the proper gardening tools for the task at hand is a key part of a low-maintenance approach. 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.

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 to use. 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.

A flat-bottomed garden spade is used for turning over the soil and digging holes and trenches and is also great for edging garden beds or skimming off sod when making new garden beds. A spade usually has a shorter handle than a shovel and a D-shaped grip.

A tined garden or spading fork is helpful for mixing amendments like compost into the soil and turning the compost pile. It's also the tool for digging potatoes and root crops and dividing perennials in the flower garden.

Try out a few types of hand trowels to see which feels most comfortable to you. 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 cutting small woody or herbaceous stems of flowers, shrubs or trees, nothing beats a pair of sharp hand pruners. Some features to look for are bypass blade design, which makes for cleaner cuts than anvil-style blades, easy cutting motion, steel blades, a spring opening, reliable locking device, overall lightness in weight, and a grip that fits your hand.

But don't wear yourself -- and your pruners -- out by trying to cut branches bigger than they are designed to handle. For branches larger in diameter than about three-quarters of an inch, turn to long-handled loppers. Be sure the blades can be sharpened and that there a good strong bumper to absorb the shock of each cut. Check the grips for comfort in both your hands. Most loppers can handle branches up to about 2 inches in diameter.

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.

Raking falls into two general categories based on what you're trying to move around -- soil and rocks or leaves and plants. Garden rakes for moving soil 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 are also useful for cleaning 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.

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