Winter is quickly receding here in Anchorage, and the foremost idea on most gardeners’ minds is what to do in preparation for the flurry of activities that start with the onslaught of the growing season.
Perhaps the best place to start is to take an inventory of your current tools, assess what you used or didn’t use last year in order to assess your needs for the coming year. Some tools are absolutely imperative… like hand pruners. You’ll use them throughout the season and on a wide assortment of plants. I have strong hands, so I choose top-of-the-line pruners such as Felco, Corona or Fiskars. I’ve found those brands to be pretty sturdy through the years, if not a bit pricey… but like many things, you get what you pay for and hand pruners are not an area to skimp.
For more delicate trimming, such as for flowers and perennials, I like a good pair of kitchen/garden sheers or a pair of snips that will do more accurate cuts on succulent stems. Keep the bigger pruners for woody stems and the sheers for lighter cuts.
Rounding out the hand tools are the common trowel, handfork and bulb trowel. The first is most often used, but even the hand-fork can get quite a bit of use in rough ground that needs some “teeth” to scrounge around. I’ve always been of the opinion that the latter is just a at accessory to round out a 3-pack gift set for gardeners, but bulb trowels do have their use… of course I find many more uses for them than simply for planting bulbs (which I think is manifold times more efficient with a bulb planter), but at any rate, many people find themselves in possession of such an implement whether on purpose or at the hands of a well-meaning friend.
Loppers are the next step up in pruning equipment. Longer handles made of cold-rolled steel are much sturdier than wood-handled antiques. Though you may only use them a couple of weeks out of the year, it’s good to have strong ones that will last several years.
Now some people never even make it beyond loppers to the point of using a pruning saw, but this tool can be very useful to the serious gardener! By making cuts upward on a heavy branch through the bottom third of it’s diameter, you can avert serious ripping when you complete the cut from the top down. A sturdy saw can be from either camp… a folding saw or a bow saw. They both have advantages and disadvantages, but I use both quite a bit!
The next step up is a pole pruner. Whether it’s merely a long-handled set of loppers, a pole-mounted saw blade or a combination of the two, these can be very useful for those of us who prefer to do most pruning while standing on the ground! I went a step further and purchased a power saw this past year after renting for years. It was a logical move for someone who prunes 15-40 orchards in an average year. This type of tool resembles a chainsaw at the end of a pole handle and frankly it’s more than some people care to try using. Be forewarned, if you have any amount of work to accomplish with one of these, your arms will feel like noodles after holding it at arms’ length for hours on end!
A good ladder is always a valuable tool to have in your accessories. Three-legged orchard ladders are more stable on uneven ground, but properly used, nearly any hardware ladder will suffice in getting you up to branches you can reach from the ground or by climbing lighter branches.
Hedge sheers are less commonly used than most other pruning tools. I have a number of sets, but most people prefer hand-held electric or gas-powered hedge sheers. It depends on your tastes and ability, but it’s easy to maintain a moderately-sized hedge with simple hand sheers. Corded varieties are always at risk of getting caught in the blade and thus rendered useless when the cord gets snipped! Gas-powered versions have their own drawbacks with fumes and constant trips to the gas station to mix and fill repeatedly.
Beyond the pruning tools, a lawnmower is likely the most commonly used landscape maintenance power tool in the U.S. While other countries pride themselves on efficient housing stacked atop each other, most Americans wouldn’t feel they had a home if they didn’t have lawn and a mower to putter around with on weekends throughout summer. From a simple hand-powered versions, to elaborate zero-turning radius riding mowers with multiple cutting decks, a mower can be an impressive investment of time, money and effort. Key to keeping a good mower running is maintenance and ALWAYS using premium-grade gasoline. Cheap gas, gums up the carburetor within just a couple uses and repeated trips to the repair shop are invariably more expensive than higher quality fuel.
To round out the list of basics every serious gardener should have are the hand tools. A round-point shovel, one with a square end, a hoe, a grass (or bow) rake, a leaf (or fan) rake, and of course the ever necessary wheel barrow. True aficionados get fancier with hula hoes, sling blades, digging forks, bonsai pruners and other specialty tools, but with just the above-mentioned basics, anyone wishing to garden in earnest can make a valiant effort toward that end.