A few of our favorite things: Garden Tools

When gardeners get together, we often talk about our favorites – plants we adore, techniques we swear by, and tools we just can’t live without. Our blog team recently shared photos and descriptions of a favorite tool or two each. As Master Gardeners, we cannot recommend specific brands, but we’re happy to tell you all about the types of tools we consider our “must haves”. Here are a few:

Jane Malec:  I love this little tool! It weeds (shave off at/below ground), cultivates, edges, digs and even helps with digging holes for small bulbs. It works great in cleaning up sidewalk and rock garden weeds. I can use it with either hand which really helps when my arthritis acts up. Plus, it will scrape out the mud and dirt from the bottom of my gardening boots!

Andrea Laine:  This is my favorite tool and I don’t even know its name! This weeding tool was gifted to me when I began volunteering at a public garden. Leave it to the pros to know what is best! Sure, I had used an asparagus fork before but this tool’s twist on that model makes it a far better weeder. The angle of its approach (like a sneak attack from behind) is just enough to loosen the soil near the plant’s base and enable me to gently pull it out of the ground, roots and all. By disturbing the surrounding soil as little as possible, it minimizes weed seeds embedded in the soil from having an opportunity to germinate.

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Photo: Kim Cherry

Kim Cherry:  My can’t live without garden tool is a solid walled garden cart. I just love this cart. I use it to move my garden containers around. It is useful for potting plants as it can hold a large bag of potting soil. It is helpful for garden cleanup. The cart can hold a heavy load and the dumping feature allows you to collect all your yard waste and easily move and put it the desired location. I also use it to move mulch in the spring. The cart has very sturdy wheels that allows it to be pulled over most terrain. The garden cart has been well worth the investment. I would recommend it to all avid gardeners.


Photo: Wendy Diaz

Wendy Diaz : A couple of days ago, I abandoned my indoor responsibilities and decided to enjoy North Carolina’s beautiful fall weather by planting some red, white and blue spring bulbs which were gifted to me by my friend when she heard I became an American Citizen this September. Although the 24-inch bulb planter or auger is not my favorite old garden tool, it is now my favorite new garden tool. I was able to easily attach to it to my husband’s (fully charged) drill, excavate regularly spaced three-inch diameter holes at the required depths, plant 8 tulip, 8 iris and 16 narcissus bulbs, fertilize and water them at two different locations, all within one hour. The auger and drill combination works best in loose garden soil and it doesn’t work at all if you hit a pebble.  If you get stuck, just reverse the drill. When you have a lot of bulbs to plant this is the tool to use for the job. I want to thank whoever gave this at the last Master Gardener Christmas Luncheon gift exchange.


Photo: Ann Barnes

Ann Barnes: Two things I love to plant in fall are garlic and daffodils. Last year, I borrowed a bulb dibber (also known as a dibble or dibbler) from a friend when I put garlic in the ground and was amazed that it was so much easier to use than my trusty old trowel. I was given one of my own just in time to plant this year’s garlic bulbs – fall birthdays are so handy. Simply push or twist the dibber into the soil, wiggle it around if you need a bigger hole, remove, and drop your bulb in. Cover and you’re done. Dibbers have been around since Roman times, and they can also be used for planting seeds or seedlings. I was planning to use this tool to add more daffodils to an expanded flower garden, but now I’m thinking of calling Wendy to see if I can borrow her new favorite.


claw tool
Photo: Andrea Laine

Andrea Laine: My husband spotted this handy tool in a big box store at the time that I was renovating a mature bed in our landscape. Since the site is home to some canopy trees as well as a few understory trees and shrubs, there were many good size roots to contend with. I did not want to use machinery to till the soil and risk harm to those roots. Yet I still needed to loosen the first few inches of soil so that I could add compost and fertilizer, as my soil report recommended, and mix it all together. I had been using a pitch fork, but this tool was more effective and easier on my back and knees. It is 38-inches tall with a cross handle at the top like what you would see on a jack hammer or a pogo stick. I place the tool upright on the soil and push down and with a twist to the right. The claws below do the hard work.


Photo: Ann Barnes

Ann Barnes:  Every gardener needs a good pair of hand pruners; maybe even two if they want both bypass and anvil types. What they probably don’t need are 5 or 6 cheap pruners that are half broken, uncomfortable to use and don’t cut well. I have learned from those mistakes. Bypass pruners, which have two curved blades that pass one another like scissor blades, are the type I use most often. Anvil pruners have a single blade that closes on a sturdy flat edge and are great for tougher jobs. I’ve invested in a good quality pair of bypass pruners, and they are by far my favorite garden tool. They have smooth action, cut cleanly and easily, and came in a smaller size that fits my hand. The handles have good ergonomics, so I can prune without discomfort. The steel blade can be sharpened, and it and other parts can be replaced when needed. I will have these pruners for many years. Thankfully, the bright red handle should help keep them from getting lost in the garden.



Prep Your Tools for Winter

by Ann Barnes

Early December can have stretches of mild weather here in Durham, and it’s hard to keep a gardener indoors on a nice day.  Many of us take our pruners and shovels for granted during busier months, so early winter is a great time to pay some attention to your tools. Well maintained tools will make gardening easier and less damaging to your plants.


There’s nothing like pulling out a hose to water spring seedlings only to find that it has sprung leaks in locations that soak gardeners more than plants. To help prevent this, drain water out of hoses before storing them for the winter. If water freezes in your hose, it expands and creates weak spots that may burst.  Don’t hang hoses on nails or hooks. Instead, coil your hose or use a hose reel to prevent creases and kinks. Store in a dry place such as a garage, shed, or crawl space.

Rinse sprayers and lawn sprinklers with water. If any of the openings are clogged, a wire or needle can be used to remove debris. If your sprinkler or sprayer has a filter at the end that attaches to the hose, you can remove, rinse, and replace the filter before storing.

Hoes and Shovels

Spring garden chores will require less muscle if you take the time to sharpen shovels and hoes. Sharp tools will cut through weeds with less effort and will make clean cuts through roots. First, rinse soil and debris from your tools. Use a wire brush or steel wool to remove rust and any dirt that didn’t wash away with water.  Once your tools are clean, it is time to sharpen. Using a flat file, make long diagonal strokes on the cutting edge of each tool. Finally, apply a light coat of oil on the tools to prevent rust. I use the kind that comes in a spray can, but wiping tools with an oily rag or dipping them in a bucket of oily sand are other methods. No matter what method you prefer, cleaning and protecting your tools after each use will prolong the life of your tools and will make this winter cleanup process faster.

Pruners, loppers, and other hand tools

Dull pruning tools crush and tear plants rather than making clean cuts, so keeping these sharp will help to keep your plants healthy. Start by cleaning your tools. As with shovels and hoes, water and steel wool will remove much of the dirt and rust. Some experts suggest a foaming household cleaner or turpentine to remove stubborn plant sap and resin from blades. Certain tools may need to be taken apart in order to clean all surfaces; others may need to have nuts or screws adjusted. Use your flat or round file to sharpen blades, then give them a light coat of oil before storing.

As always, use caution and proper safety equipment (such as gloves and eye protection) when sharpening tools.

Very detailed sharpening instructions: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/benton/sites/default/files/sharpgdn_insights2012.pdf

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