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Lowdown on some tools for gardening

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Jessica Walliser
A quality pair of hand pruners has a replaceable blade and spring as well as all-metal construction. Comfort grip handles and a blade-locking mechanism are added bonuses.

I have a lot of gardening tools, and I’ve come to discover over the years that some are far better than others. It seems that disposable convenience has superseded sturdy construction, making well-made tools hard to come by. However, it is still possible to find quality gardening tools that will last for generations — if you know what to look for. Here are a handful of tips to help you select tools that will last for many gardening seasons to come.

• Hand trowel: A good, sturdy hand trowel can be a gardener’s right-hand man. Look for lightweight, solid-metal models with rubber-coated handles or those constructed of stainless steel with a hardwood handle. I find both of these to be the most durable.

• Hand pruners: With a short handle, a spring mechanism for easy opening, and a sharp blade, hand-pruners are useful for cutting herbaceous materials, as well as woody plants an inch or less in diameter. They come in bypass or anvil styles. Look for models with replaceable blades and springs, comfort-grip handles, and all-metal construction. A good pair of hand-pruners is no place for plastic.

• Shovel: Look for sturdy, round-point shovels for easiest planting. Short “D”-handled shovels work for lighter digging, while full-height handles are best for heaver soils and projects that involve prying rocks. Hardwood handles and steel blades are a must-have combination.

• Pickaxe (the wider-bladed version is called a maddock): Ash handles and forged-steel heads are the way to go with these tools. Handle length is typically 36 inches, but taller gardeners may find a 45-inch length easier to use. Pickaxes and maddocks are swung over the shoulder and out from the body to chop a deep, large hole into the soil. They’re also good for prying up rocks, chopping tree roots and breaking up concrete.

• Stirrup hoe: A thin, oscillating, D-shaped blade is on the end of a long wood, handle. The hoe is scuttled back and forth just below the soil surface to chop the roots of young weeds. Look for stirrup hoes with ash handles and high-tempered steel blades.

• Swan-neck hoe: The perfect tool for furrow making, its V-shaped blade, curved neck and long, straight hardwood handle are designed to make ideal planting rows. Swan-neck hoes are back-savers, to say the least, because they work on the pull stroke. Look for a model where the neck and blade are constructed of a single piece of metal, rather than two pieces fastened or welded together.

• Folding pruning saw: Choose a model with a blade longer than 7 inches, a serrated edge that cuts on the push and the pull stroke, and a locking mechanism to hold the blade in position for safety. A rust-resistant blade and lightweight design are other desirable features. Smaller models with 6- to 7-inch blades can be used on branches only up to 2 inches in diameter.

• Long-handled ratchet pruners (also called loppers): This is the proper tool for pruning branches between 1 and 2 inches in diameter. The handles measure about 28 inches to 36 inches in length, although telescoping models can reach up to 48 inches long. The ratchet mechanism multiplies hand strength to make cutting easier. They come with an anvil- or bypass-style cutting mechanism (I prefer bypass-style). Look for non-stick, carbon steel blades with handles made of sturdy, lightweight aluminum.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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