While considering a few topics for future columns, I received a question from a reader on the subject of garden tools, and so here is your answer, Penny, buried in a lot more words.
The tools we use in the garden affect our work to a large extent. Well-chosen tools make digging, weeding, trimming and all the other tasks we perform easier, or they impede our ongoing efforts to keep things in order.
Generally, you get what you pay for.
Cheap tools will bend and break with hard use and probably will be discarded at the end of the year, while the investment in a good, quality item surely will pay off in long and productive life.
So, what tools are really necessary? The first one that comes to mind is the spade/shovel, and this is on my mind because I was driven to the dictionary to settle a difference of opinion. And I found I was wrong, and had been for all my gardening lifetime.
A shovel is "a flattened tool with a handle and a somewhat flattened scoop for picking up dirt, snow or the like," while a spade is a "digging tool with a flat, iron blade."
So my treasured spade handed down from my sister-in-law's mother, and probably a hundred years old, is actually a shovel.
Whatever its name, a shovel needs to be kept as clean as possible, and a dip in the rain barrel after use is effective. The edge should be sharpened at least once a year, using a file or whetstone. Wipe some motor oil or WD-40 on the edge and file away by using long, even strokes. Then file the opposite side just enough to smooth it out. The wooden handle will appreciate a wipe with linseed oil before winter storage.
I have several trowels because I mislay them frequently. My current favorite is stainless steel and fairly large. It is in constant use for planting, weeding and cultivating, and I wouldn't be without it.
Fortunately, it has never stayed lost for too long. Which makes me think a stainless steel shovel would be wonderful, but very expensive.
A three-pronged hand fork is useful, especially when the ground is as hard as it is now. It loosens the soil and allows precious water to soak in further. A hand weeder is similar, but angled spikes go into the soil. These hand tools have various and interchangeable names that do not matter. A specialized tool for removing dandelions and similar deep-rooted weeds is useful.
Pruners are a necessity, and I carry mine with me when I take the dogs for their early-morning walk around the garden. There is always something that needs snipping, and I invariably end up with a handful of twigs, unwanted redbud seedlings and tough weeds.
Again, it is worth the money to buy good ones. Unfortunately, I need to have two of them on hand. ( See "trowel" above.) For trees and shrubs, you probably will need long-handled pruners or loppers for thicker branches.
I rarely use my hoe because I do all my weeding on my knees with the help of my garden seat/stool/kneeler. But the years are starting to catch up with me, and I should start to get used to a hoe and save my aching back.
There are other tools you may like, including a rake, leaf rake, garden fork and, of course, there are numerous varieties available, as well as power tools that make work lighter.
But the only other one I use is an old steak knife (four or five of them, actually); it is the best thing to get at those rosette-shaped weeds that are so hard to get hold of.
The knife just angles into the soil and slices off the root, and then you can dig it out with the tip.
So there you are. Buy the best you can afford, keep them clean and sharp and, most of all, do as I say and not as I do.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.