Many years ago, I purchased an inexpensive bulb-planting tool with high expectations of making the task easier when it came time to plant more than 200 daffodils, tulips and ornamental alliums. That supposedly handy tool actually made my planting day more of a chore when it broke after planting the third bulb. That was my first lesson in learning that the garden is no exception when it comes to poorly made products—sometimes you get what you pay for.
Most of us have first-hand experience with a bad buy—a trowel that bends when digging in clay soil, a shovel or wheel-barrow that strains the back or pruners that are hard to use. A tool is no bargain when it doesn’t perform the task required. On the other hand, the right gardening tool, book or other essential tool of the trade can make gardening a lot easier and more enjoyable. Our sweat equity may be a labor of love, but where does it say that labor has to hurt?
A variety of gardening tools are available that allow you to extend your reach, work in comfort and maximize your muscle power. As you gear up for the new gardening season, keep these essentials in mind.
Handy Hand Tools
Hand tools are available that are easy to control, easy to grip and pamper your hands with cushioned handles. Finding the right fit is essential to getting maximum performance with little effort. However, tools with form-fitting, contoured handles don’t always ensure a proper fit. Gardeners with large hands may find that their fingers overlap the grooved finger grips, while gardeners with small hands will need to uncomfortably spread their fingers to match the grooves.
Radius Garden offers a line of lightweight ergonomic garden tools—including a hand trowel, bulb trowel, weeder and cultivator—designed to maximize power and comfort while minimizing stress on hands and wrists. (The cultivator and trowel are available on our shopping page.) The specially designed grip is curved to match the curve of the palm of the hand and keeps the wrist in neutral alignment for maximum power and strength with no added stress to the wrist. The aluminum-magnesium alloy blade gives the tool strength without adding weight. These features are especially beneficial to gardeners with conditions such as arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. As an added bonus, both the hand trowel and bulb trowel come equipped with back-blade wings that help pull weed roots and stems.
Another great find is the Fiskars Sof-touch Cultivating Tools line, including the Softouch trowel, transplanter and cultivator. These high-strength, cushioned tools feature a one-piece construction that resists rusting, bending and breaking. Gardeners with larger hands may prefer Fiskars Big Grip Cultivating Tools. They feature oversized, soft molded grips that make them easy to control, easy on the hands and even easier to find when accidentally left in a garden bed.
Unlike small hand tools that bring you close to the earth and your plants, stand-up tools, such as spades, shovels, rakes, hoes and mechanical weeders, allow to you stand in comfort while working your garden.
Shovels and spades come in many forms, from transplant spades to the more conventional long-handled shovel with a concave pointed blade. The key is to find one with these features: a comfortable handle that allows more than one gripping position; a shaft length suited for the task; a blade that gives you the best performance with the least strain on arm and back muscles; an oversized step plate for more control and comfort underfoot; and a blade edge that slides easily into the ground.
Fiskars offers a line of ergonomically designed shovels in both round-point and square-point styles, with oversized D-shaped handles and a teardrop-shaped shaft to ensure a stronger, more comfortable grip. Radius Garden’s Pro line of tools, including a transplanter, shovel and spade, are all first-rate. A circular handle offers four times the gripping surface of conventional tools, and an extra-large stepping surface is rolled forward for added comfort.
An all-purpose gardening hoe does double-duty, cultivating the soil as well as removing weeds, though a scuffle hoe with a triangular blade that rests parallel to the ground is best for removing weeds just below the soil surface. Upright mechanical weeders let you step your way to a weed-free garden. Extra-long claws dig deeper and grab more of the root, and a lever mechanism that you either step on or pull removes weeds in one smooth, effortless action.
Pruners and shears that amplify cutting force can take strain off muscles and make any pruning task that much easier.
Ames True Temper Reverse Pivot Ergo Pruner has a reverse pivot action that places the pressure of cutting on the stronger index finger, instead of the weaker little finger, reducing hand fatigue. Ames also has a line of Natural Fit Pruning Tools designed exclusively for women. These smaller, easy-to-use pruners and trimmers offer peak performance along with extraordinary comfort and control. The Natural Fit collection features eight different pruning tools with soft textured grips, including a floral pruner, floral shears and floral trimmer.
Fiskars PowerGear line of garden tools makes big cuts a snap with gears designed to increase your cutting power while minimizing strain and fatigue. Seven Fiskars tools bear the Arthritis Foundation’s Ease-of-Use Commendation, including the PowerGear hedge shears, bypass hand pruner and the anvil hand pruner. All are lightweight and ergonomically designed with two gears to amplify cutting force.
The right watering equipment is essential to provide the moisture plants need to stay healthy. Drip irrigation and soaker hoses certainly come in handy, but almost every gardener relies on a garden hose, whether for watering container gardens, new seedbeds or seedlings, spot watering, watering a single bed or even the entire garden.
Garden hoses come in lengths from 25 to 100 feet and diameters of 1/2 inch, 5/8 inch or 3/4 inch. Water flow increases with the diameter of the hose: Depending on the water flow at the spigot, a 1/2-inch diameter hose delivers about 9 gallons of water per minute (gpm) while a 3/4-inch diameter hose delivers abut 23 gpm. In general, a 5/8-inch diameter hose accommodates most gardeners and gardening situations. Opt for the largest diameter size if your water pressure is low (less than 40 pounds per square inch), or if you’ll be moving water uphill or over a longer distance.
The best hoses are reinforced with a synthetic mesh layer or ply, allowing the hose to bend easily without kinking, and they should have crush resistant couplings made of solid brass. Ames True Temper’s heavy-duty premium line of garden hoses features extra thick walls and a continuous flow tube design with double-spiral reinforcing and solid brass couplings.
Water crystals help to maximize moisture in soil, especially for container plantings. This soil additive is designed to reduce the need for water and increase the intervals between watering. Water crystals made from petroleum-based synthetics have become environmentally suspect and many gardeners look for a more reliable, environmentally friendly alternative. Enter Zeba, a starch-based, super-absorbent polymer that is biodegradable, nontoxic and odorless. It absorbs up to 400 times its original weight, efficiently holding moisture at the root level and releasing it as needed.
Bugs be Gone
When it comes to keeping bugs from damaging your plants, birds are one of nature’s most effective and environmentally safe tools. A good backyard bird book that includes design essentials for making your garden a natural landscape will show you how to attract more insect-eating birds to your garden.
Another great tool for nontoxic control of garden pests attaches to any garden hose, spraying a 360-degree wall of water to blast bugs away. The Bug Blaster effectively controls aphids, whiteflies, mealy bugs, spider mites and other soft-bodied insects during their life cycle from egg to adult.
If you’re bothered more by insects that prefer to bite humans, plant-based insect repellents are emerging as an effective alternative to chemicals such as DEET. Several companies have developed all-natural products to combat mosquitoes, chiggers and other outdoor pests.
BugBand has a line of products that use geraniol—a powerful ingredient extracted from geranium oil—to effectively repel biting insects. All Terrain offers a line of natural remedies for gardening enthusiasts, including its Herbal Armor DEET-Free insect repellent based on a synergistic blend of six essential oils recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as insect repellents. Available in a pump spray or lotion, Herbal Armor Repellents fight off mosquitoes, ticks, gnats, flies and other biting insects. ❦
• Invest in quality tools that offer the right fit for your size and strength.
• Look for ergonomically designed tools that allow you to work in comfort.
• Choose the right tool for the task.
• Consider the weight of the tool. You don't want a tool that is too heavy for you to use easily, but a tool that is too light may not hold up well under continuous use. Handle several until you find the one that best suits you and your needs.
• Using poorly designed tools can put undue strain on your body and may even prove hazardous. Instead, retire them from the garden or turn them into garden art.
• Give your tools the care and maintenance they deserve. Store tools in a dry location protected from the elements.
• Remove dirt and caked-on materials from digging, weeding and cultivating tools, then rub metal surfaces with a general purpose oil and wipe with a dry rag before storing them for the winter.
Frequent contributor Kris Wetherbee lives with her photographer husband, Rick, at Camelot, their 38-acre homestead located in the rolling hills of western Oregon. She is the author of Attracting Birds, Butterflies & Other Winged Wonders to Your Backyard (Lark Books, 2006). For more on Kris, visit www.herbcompanion.com/contributors .