garden-getagrip

Get a grip: Right garden tools lighten the workload

As spring nears, the home gardening chore list grows faster than dandelions. What’s a gardener to do? Perhaps turn to knives, torches and chainsaw blades.

What seem like horror movie props  are among favorite tools of some savvy gardeners. Maybe there’s a gadget in their tool shed that belongs in yours. Take the ubiquitous string trimmer. Various attachments enable you to do more than cut weeds.

Garden tools with seedlings vegetable. Isolated on white background

Joe Pavlovicz, owner of JTS Landscaping and a Farm Bureau member in Seville, in Medina County, recommends an edging attachment that lets you trim “the long (grass) hairs off the edge of beds.”

Another trimmer transformer is a chainsaw blade that cuts brush with trunks of 1- to 1.5 inches in diameter. This makes it easier to level unwanted growth, said Peter Lowe, landscape manager of Dawes Arboretum in Licking County near Newark.

Both pros, however, rely on variations of more traditional tools.

Pavlovicz said a crew favorite is the straight-bladed nursery spade. Besides digging, it’s used to pry rocks, chop roots and edge. The scuffle or stirrup hoe makes for quick cleanup of weeds in small areas. Lowe said it slices them off just below the soil line.

More dramatic gardeners might opt for a propane-fueled weed torch. Lowe said this is ideal for gravel drives, stepping stone paths, sidewalks and other pavements. Some models can be connected to a gas grill fuel tank.

While fast at clean up, neither hoe nor torch kills the roots. Still they are ideal for spring weeding when it’s too cool for herbicides to work.

foldingsaw5
A folding saw fits in a pocket and excels at reaching tight spots.

Because cutting back unwanted growth is a season-long chore, “one go-to is a good pair of pruners,” said Heather Coen, a Muskingham County Farm Bureau member thanks to a group membership through her employer McDonald’s Greenhouse in Zanesville. “Pruners are important. You’re always wanting to trim off dead or diseased material,” said Coen. She even uses them to harvest vegetables. “A good sharp cut is better than tearing or stripping off.”

Gaining ground with pros and home gardeners alike is the soil knife. Along with the company’s traditional bypass pruners, knives are among the best-selling home gardening tools at A. M. Leonard in Piqua. The knife has a bright orange, composite handle and stainless steel blade that’s serrated on one side.

“I believe the reason this knife is so popular is how well it works for a variety of tasks,” said Beth Marshall, associate brand manager of the company’s Gardeners Edge division. It helps with weeding, planting, dividing perennials, cutting roots and removing rocks.

A growing trend is the use of rechargeable electric leaf blowers, chainsaws and other tools, thanks to more powerful motors and longer-lasting batteries. “That stuff has come a long way,” Pavlovicz said.

Dawes Arboretum is starting to evaluate electric tools for a possible switch from gas-powered equipment, Lowe said.

Whatever the tool, ensure long life and ease of use by periodic maintenance. Pavlovicz recommends WD 40 to lubricate tools and clean blades. Some gardeners also apply cooking oil to a paper towel and wipe down wooden handles to reduce chances of splitting.

And don’t forget to hone cutting edges. Pavlovicz said, “We even sharpen our shovels. It’s a lot easier to stick it in the ground when it’s sharp.”

Featured Image Caption: Peter Lowe, landscape manager at Dawes Arboretum in Newark, uses a scuffle hoe, left, for quick weeding in beds and borders, while using a weed torch, right, to incinerate unwanted foliage in paved areas.

Photos provided by Dawes Arboretum

 

Tool kit tips

  • Learn the safe operation of any tool before using it ­— and don’t take chances.
  • Generally hand pruners tackle branches up to 1 inch in diameter and long handled pruners 1- to 2 inches. Use pruning saws for larger branches.
  • Long handle shears and extension pruners reduce or eliminate the need for dangerous ladder climbing.
  • Some companies reengineered pruning tools to give more cutting power without extra muscle. Fiskars, for instance, uses a patented elliptical gear that gives pruners extra power in the thickest part of the branch.
  • Keep pruners, soil knives and other frequently used tools within easy reach with special sheaths that slip through your belt.
  • Peter Lowe wraps hemp twine around  bunches of ornamental grass before cutting to create a bundle that’s easy to tote. It’s also handy for tying up fallen branches and other debris.
  • Lowe said a folding pruning saw reaches tighter places than a conventional pruning saw.
  • Susan McDonald, of McDonald’s Greenhouse, uses a large, plastic tote tub to water hanging baskets. She dunks the pots in the tub filled with water and water-soluble fertilizer for a saturating drink. This approach works better than pouring water into each pot, she said. Leftover water and fertilizer go onto flower beds.

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