Q. Which gardening tools give you the most bang for your buck? We are beginner gardeners and want to buy the most useful tools. — Marguerite and Christina
A. Ladies, you don’t need a whole shed full of tools to maintain a beautiful flower garden or a bountiful vegetable garden. There are several absolutely necessary tools and some that are nice to have, but not required.
Today we are going to talk about hand tools and some of the bigger gardening tools.
Let’s talk about hand and skin protection first. If you care about looking clean and neat, invest in a few good pairs of gloves. One should be a pair of long cotton canvas or leather gloves to protect your arms from rose thorns and rough twigs. The other very useful type is stretch cotton coated with neoprene, nitrile or nylon. Coated gloves protect your skin from chemicals in fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Make sure the gloves are snug on the wrist to keep dirt out and to keep wandering fire ants from wandering where you can’t see them. Then get a gardener’s wooden nail brush to scrub your hands and fingernails when the dirt is firmly in place. You’ll thank me for this one after a long day in the garden!
Whenever you’re kneeling in the garden, you’ll probably need one of two hand tools (with a kneeling pad or strap-on knee pads). Either you will be planting, in which case you will need a trowel, or you will be weeding, in which case you will need a weeding tool. I regularly use two different trowels, even though I have several others. My favorites both have rubber grips. The rubber gives me good grip and is easy on the hands. One has a blade about 4″ wide and 6″ long, and has an inward curve. This one is for general digging of holes for planting annuals, vegetables, smaller perennials and bulbs. The other is just a bit narrower for smaller holes. I really prefer the curved blade of the two over the flat blade trowels that rattle in my garage closet but never get used to.
My pick for weeding anywhere in the yard is the long-handled, long-bladed dandelion weeder. It looks a bit like a screwdriver with an inverted arrowhead blade at the end. This tool goes deep and loosens the clay soil under not only dandelions, but also wandering Bermuda grass in flower beds. Also, all the adorable but pernicious weeds that appear after every rain. You can also find angled forks and hand hoes for cutting weeds, but I like to get the leverage up under the roots with the dandelion weeder.
Your third hand tool will be a good pair of offset pruners. These pruning tools have a blade that works much like a pair of scissors – the blades cut by sliding past each other. Another type of blade is the anvil pruner, which has a sharp blade that cuts quickly against a stationary metal “anvil”. If the blade isn’t very sharp, your stems may get crushed instead of being cut cleanly, so I’ve always preferred my offset pruners. At least one major hand tool company also makes them in left-handed versions. Don’t get the cheapest secateurs you can find. It is a tool that is worth every penny you can invest in it. This small group of hand tools will allow you to start planting in a small plot or in containers.
For heavier jobs you will need some of the larger basic tools such as shovels and spades, rakes and digging forks. I like to use a D-handle shovel and a digging fork, rather than ones with a long straight handle. D-handled tools are shorter and easier to use for an average sized woman. They have a loop-like handle at the end. Also look for a wide step edge to gain leverage to help push your spade into the ground. Rakes come in several styles: leaf rakes with flexible tines for fall cleanup, or steel garden rakes with short, stiff tines for breaking up and smoothing soil or mulch. You will need a long handle to get the distance you need to pull the rake. The digging fork is ideal for digging a plant into clay soil before transplanting. The tines can slide into the soil to loosen it without breaking the roots. Keep as much of the root system as possible when transplanting, but you don’t need to haul all that soil from place to place.
As with everything you buy, get the best you can afford. Keep your tools clean and sharp, and they will give you years of good service. For more planting or gardening information, contact the Master Gardener’s Office at UGA Carroll County Extension at the Ag Center, 900 Newnan Road in Carrollton by calling 770-836-8546 or emailing [email protected] ed.