18 January 2012
I depend on a select pile of tools for garden maintenance. Good pruners are the first. I use the Felco standard #2 and a pair of Okatsune clippers which are especially good for smaller hands. Get a sharpener and keep them clean and sharp. Bypass pruners make the cleanest cut though I use some anvil type long handled ratchet loppers when I meet a branch over 1/2 inch diameter. I’m losing my grip so the ratchet action helps. If you are strong, long handled loppers are good and you can slip a piece of pipe over the handles to get more leverage. A pole pruner which cuts by using a string on a pulley is very useful for clipping hedge tops and hard to reach places. I use a beautiful pair of Okatsuni pruning shears to shape spirea and privet or boxwood though it is also necessary to punch prune boxwoods to let light in. Punch pruning is done by sticking your hand into the shrub every 4-6 inches or so, breaking off a branch about 10” into the plant to stimulate new growth further down the stem so the surface is less dense. I have a good Corona folding double tooth pruning saw which cuts on the pull and push stroke. The more simple the construction, the easier to clean.
Before you use a pruning saw, be sure to use gloves. These saws are quick to cut your thumb as well as a branch. A day spent in the emergency room is not a good day. Keep several pairs of gloves available in case you cut one or soak them or coat them with mud. I buy a dozen pairs of West County Gardener work gloves every year and a few pairs of water proof gloves as well. Good as a gift for any gardener you know. They can go in the washer and drier but eventually tear through the middle finger of the right hand though it is reinforced. I have many extra left hand gloves. Cloth gloves with latex fingers are cheaper and fit well enough to be useful. I’ve tried to get a glove manufacturer to add an elastic strap to the inside of the middle two fingers attached on either side of the first knuckle. Slide one side of the pruner handle into the straps and all your strength can go into snipping and none used just to hold on to the tool. Since no glove maker has made me these gloves, I fabricate straps with duck tape to keep from dropping my pruners into the middle of the hedge so I don’t have to get down off a ladder and climb into the bush to retrieve a fallen pair of pruners.
When weeding, I use a long turquoise handled cultivator with a chopper on one side and a three pronged digger on the other. This is sold at Southern States and several other tool outlets. It has heft so you can chop from the elbow like a hammer instead of the wrist. I also have a stand-up weeder called a swoe which looks sort of like a golf club so I call it the ‘9 iron’. Mine was a gift from England 30 years ago made by Wilkinson Sword but I think it has been taken over by Fiskars. The new version does not have the bend in the handle which allows for an easier motion. Or maybe over time I have bent mine slightly and so have shaped it to fit my thrust. I slide it forward and back like a vacuum to cut under the roots of weeds for easy removal. Of course, a rake is essential. I also have a border spade to edge (though an edger is better), two border forks to divide, an old knife to pick weeds from tight spots, and a stand-up bulb planter. If I really want to dig up something tough, I use ‘the wolf,’ a super heavy spade made by Wolverine. I can jump on it with both feet and slice 16” into the ground. If it’s really tough I get a 300lb guy to jump for me.
With gloves, pruners and weeders, you can accumulate quite a pile of debris in no time so collection bags are useful. I have used large green stand up tip bags but the best, by far, are the hard bottom kangaroo bags (soft bottoms wear out too quickly) The spring holder will rip through the canvas bag in no time unless you reinforce it at the beginning with duck tape from the base to the top, securing the wire in place. Once the wire breaks thorough, it is impossible to push back in the sleeve. When the bag is full I dump it into a utility cart or onto a tarp in the back of a pick-up. If a tarp is under the pile in the bed of the truck, I need no assistance to slide it off easily, no matter how full.
I’m also fond of my garden clothing. I keep four very lightweight hats made by ‘Sunday Afternoon’ with long, neck covering brims ordered on-line or from 1-888-UPICNIC; one for each vehicle I might be in, one at the house, and one at my mother’s house. I won’t be caught without a hat as I’m in the sun often all day every day so I try to avoid cancerous skin blemishes. Because of the long sun exposure, I cover up by wearing men’s white cotton long sleeve dress shirts and hospital scrub pants bought from used clothing stores. They cost $3 each and I go through several pairs on hot, humid days; easy to wash and easy to toss when totally ruined. In winter I use $5 sweat pants from outlet stores but they must have pockets. I also have a good rain suit and I prefer to work in drizzle to work in 90 degree heat. Sometimes we have both.
That’s it. These accessories make me totally recognizable in the garden but now that I’ve told you what works, I may see more of you looking like me, piling up garden litter in all weather, in all seasons. Have fun!
Sunny Lenz is a professional gardener and landscape painter working in and around central Virginia.