More Spring Cleaning - Tools of the Trade

Good tools can make developing a garden a joy, rather than a chore.  Through years of work in gardens, we've developed our ideal tool box, as well as some strong opinions.  It seems like sharing some of our favorite tools, as well as some tool-keeping advice is a great follow-up to the last newsletter's ideas for improving not just your garden, but your gardening.

Before we get into lists and suggestions, we should stress that the most important part of selecting tools is how they feel to you.  Take the time to handle the tools and move them more or less in the way that they will be used.  The best tools for you will feel balanced, comfortable and relatively light in your hands.  A heavy, unbalanced tool will cause you more fatigue in repetitive tasks, which means the job will take longer and be less fun.

Long handled tools

The shovels, rakes and implements of destruction at right are just a few of our favorite long-handled tools.  We have selected each one for its dedicated use, hand feel and sturdiness (given proper use - more on that in a moment).  We find that wood handles offer the best balance of comfort and durability for our home gardening.

Note that the t-handled tools in the photo are not for the sort of multi-taskers who are likely to pry at rocks or stubborn roots with whatever tool is most handy.  They are perfect for their jobs, but they will break under improper stress.  If you're a pry-er, look for indestructible versions.

  • Sharp-shooters / perennial spades - these are from De Wit, and we know of no better tool for planting perennials.
  • Pointed shovel - nothing special, other than careful attention to hand feel
  • Wire rake - gentle on plants, excellent for raking gravel
  • Compost fork - perfect tool for moving loose mulch or compost into a wheelbarrow (something we've done a lot of lately).  Note that is quite different from a digging fork.
  • Flat shovel - for scooping soil, the edges of the mulch pile, and other loose material.

**Special request - if anyone finds this (exact) compost fork or flat shovel, please let us know!  We have other versions, but these are our favorites.

Small tools

Smaller tools should be just as tough as your larger tools, so choose wisely.  Our small tools get many, many "miles" in a year, but we can't recall replacing any of them.  And, just in case it's not obvious, we never use power cutting or hedging tools to shape or prune plants.

  • Pruners - or secateurs, if you're an Anglophile. Almost every great gardener we know uses Felcos, and we're no exception.  Be sure to try a couple of styles.  Both of us find the F-6 style, for smaller hands, to be the most comfortable.
  • Loppers - those giant, long handled pruning tools are great for bigger branches.

  • Shears/hedge trimmers - for shaping shrubs, conifers and anything that benefits from a haircut here and there.  Can also be handy in cutting back grasses and perennials.
  • Saws - we have a selection of smaller hand saws with different blades and handles.
  • This little pointy thing - pictured at right.  The F20 Dutch Perennial Planter, also from De Wit, is unbelievably useful for weeding and planting small perennials and annuals.

Other handy tools

Of course, the list goes on and on, but there are a couple of other tools that we use too often not to mention.

  • Wheelbarrow - not all wheelbarrows are created alike.  Look for a wheelbarrow that's light enough to maneuver easily or even lift, and small enough to weave in and out of plants in a bed.  Most wheelbarrows are too big and heavy to be useful for many tasks.  If the frame allows you to move over ledges or stairs, all the better!
  • Gloves - we're big fans of Nitrile garden gloves.  Before we found these, we had to remove our gloves for weeding or other tasks that require good hand feel.  Now we can weed and even tie knots with our gloves on!  They're available almost everywhere and they can handle several trips through the wash.
  • 5 gallon buckets - the perfect size for toting materials in and out of tight spaces in the garden.  Unlike larger containers, you don't have to leave them in the paths, while you run in and out of the beds.

Care and feeding

The right tools are a wonderful asset, and with a little TLC, they will perform beautifully for years, if not decades.

  • Sharpen!!! - *the* most overlooked, easy-to-fix issue most gardeners have.  Not just your cutting tools, but your shovels and sharpshooters will dramatically benefit from a regular sharpening.  We run an angle grinder with a metal blade across them several times a year (at about a 45 degree angle).  A good blade on your pruners or your shovel, will make old tools work like new again.  This is so important, we're putting it in red. ; )
  • Keep them dry - nothing kills tools, especially hinged tools, faster than being left out in the rain.
  • Oil the hinged tools - a little WD40 will make those old Felcos feel like a million bucks.

We hope these ideas will help you make the best of your gardening toolbox, and, in turn, make gardening a little more productive and fun this year.