The lone voice of horticultural reason

Tool Tips

Taking care of some garden chores early one morning before heading to work, I made note of some of the unorthodox tools, practices and procedures I’ve developed during 10 years of gardening. Since there’s not a whole lot going on in our flower gardens right now, except for all of them sitting there, looking lovely, I thought I’d spend the next few weeks sharing a few of these tips. None are hugely revolutionary, but they are convenient, timesaving and practical, and if you haven’t thought of them yet, they just might add a little something to your gardening expertise.

I never head out into the yard without my pail and shears. A one- or two-gallon ice cream pail with metal handle works best. I keep it by the garage door with a small, cheap pruner inside. Let’s say all I have in mind is watering some annuals in the bed out by the road; it’s become second nature to take my trusty pail with me. Moving the watering wand low through the geraniums, I spot a weed-into the bucket it goes. Next I notice that the tall white phlox at the back of the bed has pretty much completed blooming, and should be deadheaded. I grab my snipper from the pail, and ten seconds later it’s back in there, resting on all the phlox tops. Walking back to turn off the hose I spot a few more weeds by the driveway-bucket bound.

In just ten minutes, I have half a bucket of garden waste that never, ever makes it to the compost pile in back if I don’t collect it in a bucket and take it with me from spot to spot. I went for about five years creating little piles of weeds and other garden waste scattered all over my yard, never wanting to stop what I’m doing long enough to carry one handful of weeds all the way to the compost bin. With the pail and snippers you accumulate as you go, then make one trip to the compost bin at the end.

Some of my most-used gardening tools are items you will never find at the garden store. Number one on my list is the wedding-present, carving-set-fork. You know the big, fancy, heavy carving fork that comes with a big, sharp, matching knife? Keep the best set for carving the Thanksgiving turkey, then grab the fork from the second or third set you got as wedding presents, and use it in the garden. It’s best if the fork you procure strictly for garden use has a shorter, rounded handle that ends in the palm of your hand, like a stick shift, and two prongs that flair out wider at the top (i.e. shaped like a wishbone).

I use the fork everywhere. It’s unsurpassed for weeding in tight areas, or for scraping weeds out of cracks. It allows you to reach way over there underneath some overgrown clump, to quickly bust up and loosen dirt before watering. Plunge and twist, plunge and twist, plunge and twist all the way around a perennial after circling the plant with a palmful of granular fertilizer and the fertilizer is mixed perfectly into the soil. You’ll discover more and more uses.

Again, when stealing a fork from one of the sets in your home, pick the one with a rounded end that fits in the palm and works as an extension of your arm. I find forks from the more expensive sets work better. In fact, after several years of using my big, shiny, favorite fork, I’ve learned something kind of interesting: sterling silver doesn’t rust!

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener