By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
I often get asked the question, "What are my favorite things to use in gardening?" After giving the matter some thought, I came up with the following list of tools and other items I use the most. So, I guess then that makes them my favorites!
I used to use the least expensive pair of fabric gloves I could buy, only to have them wear holes after about three hours of gardening! Now I use these for delicate weeding and potting but have a pair of more expensive goatskin (or similar) gloves to use for other gardening chores. I pay more up front but usually get a whole season of gardening out of them.
As for planting tools, I like the transplant spade. Spades have square tips compared to the pointed tips of shovels. The transplant one is longer, too—between 10 and 12 inches—and slightly curved. Since most my gardening is with perennials, this allows me to dig an appropriate sized hole much quicker. Of course, for the smaller plants and annuals, a good trowel is a must.
For bulbs in the fall, for years I've used a bulb planter, one with a long handle so I don't have to bend over. I've even found one now with a split cylinder for the planting part. Pull a lever, and it opens up to allow the soil to fall back into the hole where you just placed the bulb.
For weeding I like the type of hoe that forms a closed shape on the end—a triangle, rectangle, or circle—and with the bottom edge sharp. This allows you to get close to desirable plants without injuring them. For hand weeding, I use a blade on a handle that's slightly curved, about six inches long. This is good for deep roots like dandelions but skims the shallow rooted weeds off the surface as well. I also have one of the circle type weeders as above, only on a short handle.
For pruning I have an arsenal of various implements, depending on the size of the job at hand. Usually I use the anvil type pruners (ones with straight edges) compared to the curved type (often called "bypass") that operate more like scissors. I know that most gardeners prefer the latter, but much of what I cut is rather thick and tough.
My latest acquisition is a pair of loppers for really heavy stems, two inches or more thick. It has extendable handles and a ratchet mechanism to allow for easier cutting.
For carrying all these tools around I use a garden cart—the square type on large bicycle wheels—which is great for hauling almost everything up to 150 pounds, including soil, weeds, and bags of compost. I also wear a garden tool belt. There are many types available, even ones to hold a cell phone! Mine simply has a couple pockets for my hand weeders, pruners, and perhaps a trowel if planting.
I have a separate gardening apron to wear when labeling plants. This has separate pockets for my pencil, old labels, new labels, and the occasional weed.
Many labels are available for plants if you choose to label them, depending on your needs and budget. Since I try so many new perennials, I like to label them. My least expensive solution is to use plastic, six-inch markers with the names written in pencil. These will last a season, or longer, if out of direct sunlight. I place these at the base of most perennials, so they are out of sight from late spring onwards.
Sure, I do have to relabel, but I figure this keeps me in touch with each plant at least once a year. And I use different colored labels each year, for tender plants, and for new plants.
As I come across new tools in my travels both in real life, through catalogs, and on the Internet, this list of my favorite things changes, and, in fact, has even since last season. The lesson here: keep up and keep current with new gardening items each season. There always seems to be a better tool for the job at hand.