Gear that makes gardening easier

The Baltimore Sun

Use the right tool for the job" was the motto of my father, the woodworking hobbyist.

My mother, however, used the same cast-iron skillet to cook just about every meal.

I am their daughter, the gardener, and I don't think you can have too many garden tools, even if you find yourself using your garden knife for just about every job.

Since this is the time of year to take stock of garden hardware and draw up a spring shopping list, let me offer my list of essential garden tools.

Every gardener has a trowel and a pair of pruners. What follows are items that make the garden's toughest jobs easier.

* A garden cart. I recommend the Rubbermaid Roughneck lawn cart, which is available through Ace Hardware for about $100. Made of plastic, it is lighter and easier to maneuver than a wheelbarrow, and it can carry tools and a cold drink as well as soil, mulch or plant material. Perfect for spring cleanup, it can haul 4 cubic feet of debris out of the garden. Biggest advantage? Its hard plastic wheels never go flat.

* A mulch fork. It's like a pitchfork, but there are more tines and they are closer together. It is ideal for lifting mulch or compost into the garden, saving your back from all that bending. Ames makes one that costs about $40 and is available at many hardware stores. (I like to use a small broom to spread the mulch around the plants. That's a back-saver, too.)

* A perennial shovel. Otherwise known as a transplant spade, it has a long handle, like a shovel, but a small, sometimes-narrow head, allowing you to move your perennials without doing damage to their neighbors. Also, a square-headed shovel is essential for giving beds a fresh, sharp edge every spring. Each costs about $25 to $30 from various sources.

* Gardening knife. Also known as a "soil knife" or a "Hori Hori knife," it can be used for everything from opening bags and cutting twine to weeding and opening a small hole for planting. These knives usually have a straight edge and a serrated edge, and some models are marked at 1-inch intervals for measuring soil depth for planting. A.M. Leonard sells a very basic knife with a red handle, so it is easy to find in the garden, and a leather sheath for about $29 at amleo.com.

* A gardening-gear organizer. Something like a shoe bag for garden tools, it has lots of pockets and fabric-fastener straps, and it can hang over a door or attach to a wall. It is available from gardeners.com for $49.95. However, my friend Durant Bauersfeld swears by her magnetic strip - like the kind used for kitchen knives - for easy access and put-away. Lee Valley (leevalley.com) offers two sizes, 13 inches and 24 inches, for $13.90 and $19.50, respectively.

* Garden kneeler. Gardening can be tough on the knees. This handy aid not only cushions the knees, but the frame allows you to get up and down more easily. Flip it over and it becomes a seat. I bought mine at gardeners.com, where it sells for $34.95.

* Pruner holster. You can't call yourself a gardener until you own a pair of Felco pruners. But it is the leather holster that means you never have to be in the garden without them. About $12.

* Rain barrel. Mine sits on the deck, where a sawed-off downspout fills it and a hose allows me to draw the water off into a watering can. It is an accessible source of water for all the planters on my deck, but it also makes me feel like a better person. If I was a really good person, I would have four of them, collecting rainwater from every corner of my roof. Expect to spend more than $100, unless your local government distributes them for free.

* Gloves. The search for the perfect pair of gardening gloves goes on. We want protection, breathability, durability and machine-washability. The colorful Atlas garden gloves, style 370, meet all those criteria and are now available even at grocery stores for about $4 a pair.

* EasyBloom plant sensor. I haven't gotten one yet, and I may not be able to bring myself to spend the $60 it costs, but it was featured on the Today Show as a gadget that actually works. This in-ground sensor reads and analyzes growing conditions in any spot inside the house or in the yard, measuring sunlight, temperature, humidity, soil moisture and drainage.

After 24 hours, you plug it into a computer USB port and the readings will produce a list of recommended plants from a database of 5,000. It is also supposed to help diagnose the problems of sickly or poor-performing plants.

I think my father might say that's the right tool for the job.

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