Time after time, I am amazed at the infinite utility of my hands. They are my tool of choice and the most effective for many gardening functions.
- Deadheading comes first to mind—there is no better way to deadhead laurels, rhododendrons and many perennials than to pinch the base of the blossom between thumb and forefinger. The feel of stem against skin informs the snapping motion for better results than can be had with gloves or tools. (There are exceptions. Pansies and perennial geraniums, for example, are better deadheaded with snippers. These are tough to break by hand and will tend to be damaged.)
- No tool is as versatile and adaptable as my hands for cleaning debris from the base of plants, feathering mulch lightly around delicate shoots. And I don’t have to lug them around :-)
- Weeding. I can’t help it! In spite of owning hoes, cultivators and other dedicated weeding tools, I inevitably find myself hand pulling weeds. This certainly is the most relaxing, meditative way to weed—though not always the most effective.
Oh, presumably you have hands, too, but I just needed to express my appreciation. That said, it is smart to protect our hands for most gardening chores.
The #1 best garden gear has to be my Atlas nitrile gloves. Forget any other kind of gloves for normal gardening conditions. These are thin, flexible, cool and inexpensive. They also wash and wear well. (I throw them in the washing machine, but not the dryer. They dry very quickly.) My garden club sells them, but you can find them at Amazon (www.amazon.com) for an amazing price, Gardener’s Supply Catalog at www.gardeners.com and some garden centers. Now that our hands are well protected, let’s talk about the best tool to put into them.
#2 The soil knife is definitely the IT tool in my garden. IT digs. IT cuts, IT weeds. IT divides. IT looks like a dagger with a serrated edge on one side of the blade. This enables it to cut through dense roots to divide perennials, and the point makes it a viable weeder, even for dandelion roots. As a trowel, it can dig and transplant many small to medium-sized garden plants. Six one-inch markings make it ideal for planting bulbs. And, another bonus is that it can cut open bags of soil amendments, etc., when you’ve forgotten to bring your scissors with you, plus it has a notch for cutting wire or twine. The soil knife can be purchased with or without a leather holster for your belt. It is available at A.M. Leonard (www.amleo.com) for about $20. Get IT now!
# 3 The American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants is my gardening Bible. Ever since I earned my Master Gardener certification in 2000, I have relied on this weighty volume heavily.:-) When I buy a new plant, when I think about buying a new plant, when a plant is sick, when a plant needs to be moved, divided, pruned, or fed, this book is my go-to source for dependable information on an amazing array of plants, their cultivars and their habits, needs, etc. Photos of an impressive number of plants help identify a plant I’ve found or admired; a common name index means I don’t have to know the scientific name; and the AHS even identifies plants it recommends for the American garden as being relatively carefree and appealing for more than one season or reason. I love this book because it is rare that I don't find what I'm looking for here. It will cost you about $50 from AHS (www.AHS.org) or at Amazon (www.amazon.com), but trust me, it will earn its keep.
# 4 Alcohol.Yes, I enjoy a cocktail as I stroll around my garden in the evening! But that’s not what I’m talking about here. Everyday Rubbing Alcohol is essential for cleaning tools after use on plants that have a fungus or disease. I keep a bottle—along with some paper towels or rags—in the garage with my other garden gear for disinfecting my pruners, the tines of my rake, even my garden gloves.
Bleach is another disinfectant (use in a 10% solution with water), but I’ve found it leaves tools wet and can lead to rust. It also discolors my nitrile gloves. Rubbing Alcohol is more pleasant to handle and it evaporates immediately. For super convenience, individually wrapped alcohol wipes are available in drugstores. This can get expensive with regular use, but it is handy to have a wipe or two in my pocket as I make the rounds of the garden.
I’m in love with my new garden trugs! I’ve used wheelbarrows, trash bags, tip bags, collapsible bags and tarps, but these bright plastic double-handled carriers outshine them all. I don’t have to hold them up or hold them open. They are light, flexible and tough. The two sizes I got, medium and large, seem to cover all my needs—except that I could easily make use of more. They take clippings and debris from the yard to the compost; they’re great for transporting a moderate amount of soil, mulch or manure to a planting hole; they’re also just right for moving transplants around. I’ve even used them as temporary homes for transplants waiting to be put in the ground. And they are perfect containers for mixing potting soil. Gardeners.com
sells three sizes in wonderful colors from $12.95 to $16.95; search for tubtrugs. GardenersEdge.com
offers four sizes from $11.99 to $29.99 or a set of 4 for $59.95.
#6 The way this season is shaping up, I’m going to have a lot of use for my rain barrel. This is one piece of garden equipment I would not be without. Bought years ago from Gardeners Supply (www.gardeners.com), it hooks up easily to a gutter and holds 75 gallons of water.
For the winter, my husband empties it and turns it upside down. About two weeks ago, not expecting any more extended freezes, he hooked it up again for the season. We simply cut off the bottom half of a copper downspout and fit the pleated plastic hose over the remaining downspout to direct the rain from our rooftop to the barrel. (During the winter, we just stick the copper downspout back on with a stone beneath it to wedge it in position. This arrangement has been trouble-free.)
The barrel comes fitted with a run-off valve to release excess water and a hose with on/off switch for filling containers. It also has a screen on its open top to prevent debris from falling in. It is important to float a Mosquito Dunk (a biological larvicide available at garden centers; see www.summitchemical.com) to prevent the proliferation of mosquitos in the standing water. This is the only attention the barrel needs during the season.
Though we have had very little rain this season so far, it has been enough to fill the barrel already (it is surprising how much water runs off the roof in even a moderate rainstorm). Seventy five gallons goes a long way, and I’ve only once used up the barrel--during the drought we had in 2010. It takes longer to fill a watering can from the barrel than it does with a hose, but the wait is often a welcome respite between garden chores. And I feel good about using rain water on my plants. It also spares the well in dry spells.
I find the barrel very handy when tending to new plantings that need frequent water. It is much easier to fill a watering can or three than it is to drag a hose across the yard to water a limited area. I’m hoping that this spring becomes rainy, but if it doesn’t, I’m ready.