Enjoy your gardening—find, buy and use the best garden tools

These Felco pruners in a holster on your belt will be one of your best garden companions.

On October 13, I participated in the Master Gardeners Open Garden day at the County Ag Center where San Joaquin County Master Gardeners tend several excellent show gardens. There is a Mediterranean Garden, a Native Plant Garden, and an Edible Garden among others. Open garden day offers lots of resources and helpful advice on gardening from Master Gardeners.  We also provide a tool sharpening booth where people can bring their hand tools for a tune-up and sharpening and I have participated along with 4 fellow Master Gardeners in providing tool tune ups for the past 3 years.

What I find most interesting is the range in tool quality we get to sharpen. No reflection on the owners of tools, because most of us never take a course in garden tools, hence I am offering some tool

The upper trowel has a forged socket and will last a lifetime, whereas the low one will bend or break.

advice. My first rule of tools is to buy the best quality that you can afford. The old rule of thumb applies to garden tools; “you get what you pay for.” Cheap is unlikely to be equated with best, unless you are lucky at a yard sale. I have scored a few good tools at yard sales in the past as well as a few lemons because I didn’t know better.

Here are some suggestions to evaluate garden tools. Pick them up and appraise the weight. Is it a tool that you can handle easily or is it perhaps too heavy or an uncomfortable fit to your hands?   Hands differ greatly in terms of size and strength so a good fit is important and the wife may need a different smaller tool from her husband if they both garden. If the tool is uncomfortable it is not likely to be used for long. Is it crafted of quality materials and designed well for its intended purpose? Wooden handles usually of Ash are generally preferable to plastic handles. Fibreglass handles are strong, but can deteriorate when left in the sun. I usually prefer wood to other materials, but for loppers the metal handles are stronger than wood. For an evaluation and comparison of tools go to: http://bestreviews.com/best-pruning-shears

It is good to inspect your tool for any defects, damage or loose handles or screws. I have to confess that I once bought a shovel and didn’t inspect it as I should have. The wood handle grain was crooked and should not have been used, but the factory quality control was as lacking as was my inspection before purchasing it. The shovel handle broke the first time I used it and, though the store returned my money, it was a waste of my time.

A spading fork with heavy forged tines will last a lifetime, whereas one with lighter steel will bend and be junk in no time.

Tool selection of course depends a great deal on your interests and activities as a gardener. If you are going to be raising a lot of vegetables you will need tools to dig and cultivate with. So the garden shed might have a broad fork, spading fork, spade or shovel for breaking ground, and various choices of rakes, scratchers, trowels, and weeders to aid in smoothing soil and planting plants or seeds and keeping weeds out. Shovels, trowels and hoes with forged sockets for fastening the handles are sturdier than the sheet metal sockets common on cheaper tools.

Most of us are involved, in landscape maintenance or have fruit trees, roses or other flowers to be pruned. This requires tools like loppers, hand pruners, pruning saws, lawn trimmers or hedge trimmers. Loppers and shears can be bypass or anvil type. The anvil type is most affective at cutting dead wood. I would recommend a pruning saw for removing dead wood and forget the anvil types which tend to crush what you don’t want crushed, like rose stems. When checking out hedge trimmers, loppers or hand pruners they should

These loppers have a cushion to ease shock and one nut to adjust blade tension.

have shock absorbing cushions on the handles to ease the jolt involved when cutting through branches. Many cheap tools will not have this feature.

The blades on loppers or shears should be very close so they cut cleanly but not so close as to bind up. A good feature to look for is the ease with which you can adjust the blades so they cut cleanly. Loppers or shears with a fixed nut or bolt on one side can be loosened or tightened with one wrench, whereas, if neither the bolt nor nut are fixed, two wrenches are needed which is awkward to do.

Some quality pruning shears such the Felco brand have changeable blades so that they can be replaced when worn down. They are expensive, but will last a lifetime of garden use. Just remember to buy the best you can afford to make for happier, more enjoyable gardening.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website: http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/

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    Lee Miller

    Lee Miller is a University of Delaware graduate and retired fisheries biologist, he gardens on 10 acres and makes wine each year with the help of a cadre of friends. However, his first love is gardening and he grows various fruit trees, heirloom ... Read Full

    Marcy Sousa

    Marcy Sousa is the San Joaquin County UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator. She is a Stockton native and enjoys teaching others about gardening. She has her bachelors from Stanislaus State in Permaculture. She has been with the program since 2007. Read Full

    Nadia Zane

    Nadia Zane is a UC Master Gardener, a landscape designer and Stockton native. She has a fondness for California native plants and sustainable landscaping, which she utilizes in her work for Native Beauty Garden Design. She is a member of the CA ... Read Full
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