Archive for Thursday, February 21, 2008

Find the right tool for the job

February 21, 2008


Good-quality garden tools are often costly, but they make the job oh-so-much easier and can last a lifetime when used and taken care of properly.

When selecting a new garden tool, first consider the job that you want to accomplish. Even though a shovel or spade is considered one of the most basic gardening tools, there are different shapes and sizes designed for different tasks. One with a rounded blade is designed to dig round holes and move soil, while flat blades are better at cutting edges and roots.

Hold the tool in your hand and consider how comfortable you would be using it. Even the length of the handle or the angle that a D-shaped handle is attached may make a difference. I like to think of it as "trying it on." If you see me raking the floor in the corner of a store, I'm just making sure my potential purchase feels good in my hands.

The weight of the tool also is important. I have a garden rake that I initially liked because it was so light, but I soon realized it was not heavy enough to pull soil or plant debris well. Make sure tools are weighted to do the job properly but light enough that they still make the job easier.

Handles should be sturdy and firmly attached. They may be made of a variety of materials, including wood, fiberglass or steel. Newer hand tools, like trowels, may have rubberized or heavy plastic handles. The type of material you choose may be based on personal preference, but quality is still important. Ergonomic designs are becoming more popular.

On any tool, look for metal parts made of steel. Softer metals may dull quickly and lose their shape.

A good quality garden hose has brass fittings on both ends and is thick and durable. Some garden hoses are guaranteed for life. Cheap hoses kink easily, stopping the flow just when you need it. I once had the inside of a cheap vinyl hose separate from the exterior. The water was on, so the insides rolled up inside the hose, and the remainder swelled like a balloon.

Pick a wheelbarrow that is large enough to move materials without overflowing. Metal, wood and plastic wheelbarrows are all acceptable, but metal and wood will require more maintenance. Look for plastic that is resistant to ultraviolet light and weatherproof. Selecting a one- or two-wheeled wheelbarrow is about personal preference - two-wheelers are more stable on level ground but difficult to get into small spaces.

Do some research before making a large purchase. Gardening magazines and some consumer magazines often have comparisons of tools. Garden centers, the library and bookstores have gardening books that describe tools and which ones to use for which jobs.

Take care of your tools after you make a purchase. Moisture and sunshine will cause the tools to wear more quickly, so store them in a shed or garage out of the elements. Metal parts should be cleaned after each use, and an occasional spray with a lubricant such as WD-40 will provide protection against rust and corrosion.

Wooden handles can be sanded lightly each year and preserved with linseed oil, polyurethane or another wood preservative to prolong their life.

Always think about quality over quantity when purchasing garden tools. Selecting the right tool for the job and taking care of it can make it last a lifetime.

Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension AgentHorticulture for K-State Research and Extension. She can be reached at 843-7058 or


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