Tools of the Trade for Home Gardeners

Tools of the Trade for Home Gardeners

By Kathy Archer
Guest columnist

I’ve always had a passion for gardening; perhaps I got it from my parents, who always had an awesome vegetable garden. Nothing like going to the garden and choosing something for dinner. I always liked how nice the yard looked after a hard day’s work. And it stayed looking good for days…unlike cleaning the house.

I started getting paid to do gardening eight years ago, when I got a full-time landscape maintenance job on Bainbridge Island. I’m 50 years old and glad I’m able to be outside at a job I like.

At 50, though, you really start to think about not hurting yourself when you are gardening, especially when it’s your livelihood. I’d like to share some tips about gardening tools, because I’ve used a lot of them. I must confess I’m a very practical person, and a bit of a tight wad.

I think most home gardeners would get by with the following tools:

  • a pair of Felcos (the 2 is my favorite)
  • mini mattock
  • long- and short-handled loppers (sometimes there is no room between branches to use the long handles)
  • pruning saw
  • light-weight shears
  • Hori Hori Knife
  • hula hoe
  • pole pruners
  • rake
  • shovel

Knee Pads
I’m 5’2″ so my preferences may be different than a tall person’s. I also have a lot of strength in my hands from constant gardening. I usually wear rain pants and work on my knees to save my back. Knee pads are a must when working in gravel or bark. I recommend choosing knee pads that are water proof—ones that let the least amount of material get packed in between your pants and your knee pads. You should be able to get them on and off with gloves on.

Shears
If you are shearing low-growing shrubs, use long-handled shears (less bending). If the terrain permits, sit on a gardening stool and prune.

Power Hedgers
If you really want to make an investment for shearing, extended-reach power hedgers are the tool. You can shear over your head less time on a ladder), or reach low growers without much bending over. We use them at work for shearing native sword ferns and ornamental grasses in early spring. Just think of all the new friends you have if you owned one of these! If you are not able to pull start two-cycle engine power tools, it may not be the tool for you. Power hedgers are great for clearing out blackberries too. We almost never use the standard power hedgers.

Quality Tools
I wasn’t sure about the ratchet pruners I saw at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. I would probably use a pruning saw on large limbs, and it would take about the same amount of time as a ratchet pruner. If you are struggling with your pruner, it may be dull, or you have abused it and bent the blade.

At the Show, I saw a lot of tools with plastic incorporated into them. I would be hesitant to buy these, even though plastic makes the tools lighter in weight.

Tool Tips
When deciding which tools you need, it really comes down to what you like to use. Decide how much you want to spend and how much you will use the tool.

Here are a couple I recommend for different size yards:

  • In a yard with beds that are on a regular maintenance schedule, a hula hoe will weed a large bed quickly if weeds are small.
  • For large perennial weeds with deep tap roots, the Hori Hori knife and mini mattock get the job done.

About the columnist: Kathy Archer attended the Northwest Flower & Garden Show for the second time this year. She rode a city bus to the Show from the Bainbridge ferry.

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