Check your
The right tools are key to
good gardening

January 24, 2008


Edited by Charla Borchers Leon


For Digging-Hoes
Stirrup Shape
Regular Shape (in various widths)
Diamond Shape
For Pruning-Pruners
Hand Clippers
Lopper Tool
Hedge Clippers or Shears
For Shoveling- Shovels
Round Point
Square Point
Sharp Shooter
(Garden Tools – Hoes)
“Various hoes can be used for different stages of weeding. The stirrup hoe (left) works well for young weeds that can be scraped just below the dirt’s surface.  The regular hoes in varying widths (center) are best used for ridding of established weeds and moving soil around. For densely planted areas, the diamond hoe (back right) is designed to get into small places to remove weeds without disturbing nearby plants.”
(Garden Tools – Shovels)
“The round point shovel (front) is good for piercing the ground at a specific point as when planting shrubs. The square point shovel (left) is good for shoveling dirt and mulch. The sharp shooter (center back) with its long narrow shape is good for digging deep-rooted plants or narrow trenches and holes.
Good shovels are an investment in cost, but when kept in good condition, they can be used for years and years.”
(Garden Tools – Pruners)
“Different tasks call for different pruning tools. Hand clippers (middle right) are used for cutting stems and branches up to 1 inch in diameter.  A good set has coated handles and an easy locking system. The lopper tool, with varying lengths of handles (center front) is used for limbs up to 2 inches and has only one sharpened blade. Hedge clippers or shears (left and rear) are used for pruning hedges or trimming small limbs. Rubber grips and buffers are recommended to absorb the impact of clipping. Sharpen only the rounded side and lubricate all moving parts of shears.”
“So much depends on a little red wheelbarrow…”  William Carlos Williams

It took years of gardening to fully realize what a profound statement this poet had made.  I now appreciate that easier gardening depends on having the right tool for the right job - and I have resolved to take a fresh look at my inventory of essential tools for the basic chores:  weeding, pruning and digging.  And now, the first several weeks of the New Year is the time to do it.

Weeding Never Ends

The first rule of weeding is to get them while they’re young.  Unless you are gardening for exercise and want to stoop over and pull the weeds out by hand, this chore calls for a hoe.  My favorite hoe to use for this task is the stirrup hoe, sometimes called the oscillating hoe.  It is shaped like a stirrup and pivots back and forth.  Weeds are easily eradicated by scraping the blade just below the surface.  Digging deeper only stirs up new seeds that quickly grow and replace the weeds just dug.  This hoe works best in pliable soil but it will not work well for large weeds or packed, clumpy soil.

If you wait too long to weed, you will find yourself chopping at them and soon feel your back muscles straining.   The standard hoe is the one to use for this tough job.  A wider, heavier duty version is available and is useful for moving soil around the garden as when you form furrows or when mounding hills of earth.  There is even a smaller version for working in smaller areas.  

A third hoe that is useful is the diamond hoe.  It has sharp edges on all sides and narrow points for small spaces. If you have a densely planted bed, this hoe will prevent inadvertently digging up a desirable plant. Certainly there are many other types of hoes, but these three are sufficient to keep any garden free of weeds. 

Choose the Right Pruning Tool

Pruning is a gardener’s second most frequent chore.  Again, there are various pruners depending on the task at hand.  Don’t use a small tool for a big job.  That is the easiest way to ruin a pruning tool.  Use a saw for big jobs, a lopper for the next sized limbs and then the hand pruner for small limbs.  Trimming and shaping are done with hedge clippers.

The most common hand pruner is a crossover-style and is used for cutting small branches up to one inch in diameter. A good quality pruner is forged from high-carbon steel and is spring-loaded.  It should have coated handles and an easy locking mechanism.    Keep the blades sharpened and lubricated throughout the season.

The lopper cuts limbs up to 2 inches in diameter. The longer handles make for easy reaching and they make quick work of limbs that would take far more effort with a hand pruner.  They come in various lengths, from 15 inches to 36 inches and have only one blade to keep sharpened.

Hedge clippers or shears are used for pruning hedges or trimming small limbs.  Make sure that yours has rubber grips and buffers to absorb impact.  Those that come with light aluminum-pipe handles are good for the more mature but less muscular gardener.  Sharpen only the rounded side and lubricate all moving parts.

Use the Correct Shovel for Digging

Digging requires a good quality shovel, but again, which one?  The three I use most often are the round point shovel, the square point shovel and the sharp shooter.
The round point shovel is good for piercing the ground at a specific point as when planting trees or shrubs.  It is also good for moving cement from a container into a hole without spilling too much.  The square point shovel is good for shoveling gravel or digging against a flat surface and is my preference for shoveling dirt and mulch from the bed of a truck.  And the sharp shooter, which has a long narrow shape, is good for digging deep-rooted plants or narrow trenches and holes.  I will admit that I avoid these jobs whenever I can and if my handyman is not on the golf course, I get him to help. However, with the right tools, most jobs can be done by yourself.

Good shovels are expensive but keeping them in good working condition is easy.  After each use, scrape off any dirt or residue, rinse them and then apply a quick spray of WD-40. Another easy method is to keep a bucket of oiled sand handy and plunge them into that a few times to keep them well oiled.  You can even store them in the oily sand if you wish.

Buy the Best

Whatever gardening tools you purchase, buy the best quality of tools and take care of them and they will last a lifetime.  In general, the best garden tools, especially hoes, shovels and rakes, are those designed where the blade and the piece that wraps around the handle is all one piece of metal.  This provides the strongest connection. If the handle ever breaks, replacing it will be easy.

Add A Wheelbarrow and A Small Wagon

A good wheelbarrow is a back saver.  A two-wheeled wheelbarrow is better because it provides better balance. If you try to push something that is too heavy, a one-wheeler is easily tipped over to one side and you will find yourself doing extra shoveling or lifting.  A little red wagon completes my store of essential tools.  Almost anything can be moved throughout the yard with a small wagon.

If you want to learn more about gardening, plan to attend the new Lunch and Learn with the Masters sessions offered by the Victoria County Master Gardener Association. Free to the public and held on the second Monday of each month at the Patti Dodson Health Center. The next will be about roses on Monday, February 11 from 12:00 noon to 1:00 p.m..