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Garden Edition: July

by Linda Coyner

The longer I garden the more I value particular tools, especially those that can take some of the hard labor out of gardening. With time has also come the desire to make the tools I like last. I sharpen them, wipe them clean, and keep them hanging tidily on hooks in my garage. 
      New tools often catch my eye but few graduate to the hooks on my garage wall. None of the ergonomic tools have won me over. When it comes to choosing garden tools, some of the forged steel tools can put a dent in the gardening budget. Or you can shop around for good quality at a good price, which is more my style.  I look for one-piece construction or a strong connection between handle and working end. I make sure the handle fits my hand and that the overall weight of the tool is comfortable. 
      Some materials are better than others. When I'm shopping for new tools, I choose aluminum, stainless steel, and plastic over wood or steel (even coated steel) for resistance to moisture, soil, and chemicals. To protect the wood handled tools I already own, I use an application of linseed oil.
       When we recently moved to our Florida home, it was a good occasion to take a hard look at my gardening equipment. What was worth taking? What could I easily replace? The tools and equipment in the list that follows are what I now use to garden. (I have a lawn service, so it doesn't include power equipment.) I don't believe the tool requirements would be any different in another part of the country, except for the deer repellent, which I've included at the end for those who need it. 
  • Pruners.  You can't go wrong with Fiskars or Felco brands. I have several short- and long-handled pairs of both types--bypass and anvil.  Bypass pruners cut like scissors and are best for new growth; anvil pruners press a blade against a flat piece of metal or plastic, which delivers a crushing action more suitable for cutting dead wood. My favorites are a Felco bypass pair (#2) and a lightweight, needle-nosed Fiskars anvil pruner. 
  • Hoe mattock. Forget the trowel. This is great for cultivating beds, chopping roots, or working in rows. I use it for weeding (it's very therapeutic) or like a heavy-duty trowel for fast planting of medium and small plants. The wide hoe mattock end breaks up the soil and excavates a hole quickly. I bought mine from AM Leonard ( but was surprised to see it since at Lowe's (for less, of course).
  •  Soil knife. I use it for coarse digging, cutting, and sawing. The serrated side is handy for dividing large root masses. I also have an old kitchen knife for more delicate operations. AM kLeonard, Smith and Hawken.
  •  Shovels. I'm not fussy about a shovel as long as it's sharp. Try sharpening a dull one with a file or take it somewhere for sharpening. It's not expensive and it makes a big difference. I mostly reach for a shorthanded shovel and if more leverage is needed with a rock, for instance, I choose the long handled one. My brother gave me a smaller 'down sized' shovel, which I've happily put to use digging in tight, cultivated areas. I have mixed feelings about such "lady" tools. In the past, it's been an excuse for manufacturers to make a product of lower quality.
  •  Circlehoe. This long handled tool helps me weed without bending in an established perennial bed. I can zip right along cutting the weeds off under the soil line without damaging the adjacent plants. Henningsen circle hoe, 800 735-4815; or Smith and Hawken.
  •  Plant tie ribbon. This green ribbon is plastic and stretches with plant growth. You just rip the length you need off the roll. It almost as good as old nylon stockings but it looks a lot better and comes on a roll. Available in a wide variety of thicknesses, widths, and lengths. In the past, I've had to hunt for it  at home improvement stores so when I find it, I stock up.
  •  Long handled hose nozzle. I like the extra reach it gives me and the gentle but generous spray it delivers. Works great on hanging plants and potted specimens. Spend a little extra for a metal one; the cheaper plastic one breaks when you drop it. 
  • Hose that doesn't kink. The last thing I want to do is make unnecessary trips to unkink the hose. Even moderate priced hoses might kink, I've found. I recently returned one despite the fact that it was a nuisance to bundle up and drag back to the store. Look for kink resistance on the package, although that's no guarantee. Be prepared to take it back.
  • Watering can. These can get pretty pricey if you go for the handsome Haws traditional galvanized can but at chain store (K-Mart)  found  a dark green, heavy-duty plastic one for about $10 that is very serviceable as well as being good-looking. The can pictured is a $16 Haws molded plastic watering can which is called the Practican and can be found at Smith and Hawken.
  • Pick mattock. This is what I bring out for the real work such as tackling 'concrete' soil and is one of the few tools I kept after I stopped rebuilding houses. Recently I've found it very useful for eradicating large ornamental grasses. It's a two stage project: use it to slice off the stalks right at the base and then go at the root. The tool is heavy but it's that weight that helps it do its job.
  • Garden cart. So far I haven't found one in the less-than-$100 category, which is all I'm willing to part with. A few years ago, I traded in my heavy-duty construction wheel barrow. Since then, I've tried a $40 molded plastic one from that is downright clumsy and annoying and the one bought for $60 has large wheels, a plastic tub, and an extended handle. The wheels, however, are too skinny to easily move with a load across my St. Augustine grass. It's great on pavement, which is not helpful in the garden. The $80 WheelAround® Cart is an unusual take on the garden-cart concept but one that might be worth a try.

  • Deer repellent. Having come from the heart of deer country in New York, deer repellent was a necessity.  The natural approach of hair sachets and soap didn't prevent damage to the plants. The size of the herd of deer you're trying not to feed and its appetite determines the strategy:  in a mild winter and if the herd isn't too big, you can get away with a once-a-season-spray like Tree Guard, something you're very grateful for during those cold months. It won't prevent all damage from the voracious eaters, but it did save most of the trees and bushes as long as I sprayed every three months or so. I prefer a product that is free of animal urine and slaughterhouse wastes. If the deer population is heavy, consider weekly sprays like Hinder or Bobbex. Consumer Reports Magazine published the results of its study in October 1998.


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