by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
No matter how large or small your garden, there are certain things you should know about garden tools. First, do not skimp on quality. Generally, the more pricey tools will last longer unless you accidentally throw them out with the weeds. Believe me, at that point you will dig through that pile of weeds longer than you might if you had purchased an inexpensive tool. Another thing you should do when making a purchase is to try the tool on for size. Scope the tool isle out and then when no one else is around take that shovel you have had your eye on and pretend you are digging a hole to plant that new hydrangea. Mimic the actions you may perform in the garden. Is it too heavy? Is the handle too long or too big for your hand? Make sure the tool is comfortable for you. To make work easier on the wrists, look for D shaped handles on short-shafted tools like digging forks or shovels. Ash and hickory are durable woods used for handles. Steer clear of painted handles. Paint may be used to disguise inferior wood. Some tools have fiberglass handles which will have a bit of flexibility. Here are some quality terms to look for when making a purchase; single forged, solid socket, carbon steel, stainless steel, tempered and epoxy coated. Ergonomic tools usually have a curve in the shaft of the handle which makes you use a different muscle group that you might not normally use.
Hand tools – there are many other job specific tools on the market, but these are the basics. Shears are used for cutting back plants such as clumps of perennials. Spring action scissors are good for deadheading, pruning delicate plants and cutting twine. Hand pruners are used for cutting branches less than ¾ inch thick and cutting thicker, larger flowers. A gardeners’ knife has a saw blade that cuts roots and scores and cuts through root balls of perennials when dividing. A hand trowel or spade comes in handy when weeding, planting bulbs, and planting small plants.
Long handled tools – you will need a bow rake ( I call this a stone rake) for leveling soil for planting, spreading materials such as mulch, gravel or compost and gathering up heavy debris. A leaf rake is used of course for raking leaves and gathering light debris. A slender transplant spade works great for digging holes in the confined areas of a bed. For digging those larger holes to plant trees and shrubs or to move loose materials, like soil or compost, you will need a round headed shovel. A digging fork helps in mixing amendments into the soil and lifts bulbs and perennials for dividing and transplanting. A long handled pruner (with a telescoping handle is even better) cuts branches larger than ¾ inch. You may want to consider purchasing tools with a ratcheting mechanism, which multiplies your strength and makes cutting much easier.
Gloves are just as important as a shovel or a rake when it comes to gardening. Depending on the job, I like to use everything from sheer latex to medium weight cotton to heavy leather gloves. Your cuticles will thank you. Something else I would like to mention is arm protectors. These are elasticized sleeves, made from a heavy, durable canvas or duck that you wear when you prune brambly shrubs. Last, but not least, is a good, sturdy apron to protect your body and hold small items in its’ pockets and a good pair of waterproof footwear.
As cold and freezing temperatures become more frequent, you should take some time to prepare your tools for winter storage by giving them a good cleaning. Remove caked on soil from anything that comes into contact with soil and allow them to dry completely. Oil metal blades, shovels and rakes with some linseed oil to prevent rust. Linseed oil can also be used on wood handles and shafts to keep the wood from drying out. To help get yourself off to a quick start next spring, sharpen anything that needs it now. Rinse and dry the fertilizer/pesticide spreader and oil all the moving parts.
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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