txaas_mastheadGardening is hard work. Digging, lugging and pulling can take their toll on you. But the right tools and techniques can transform a seemingly insurmountable job into a more manageable chore.

I used to buy garden tools wherever I could find them on sale, paying no attention to the brand or the style. With years of gardening trial and error behind me, I am a now a garden tool snob — with good reason.

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Carry around a good soil knife to cut through clay soil.

There’s nothing worse than a dull pruner that leaves you twisting and yanking stems because it just won’t cut it. It’s frustrating, it’s time consuming, and frankly, it’s really bad for your plants.

After watching a television ad for a pruning saw a few years ago, a Black & Decker Cordless Alligator lopper found its way onto my Christmas list. Purported to make easy work of pruning with a mid-range rechargeable power tool, I was eager to try it. Imagine my horror when the blades started whirring and churning as it literally chewed through my shrub.

Tools do make a difference.

Start with good garden tools to make the work easier. These are some of Diana Kirby’s and including a child’s rake, … read more

IMG_1780These are some of the tools I wouldn’t garden without.

Soil knife. Great for cutting, digging in small spaces and trenching, I am never in the garden without my soil knife in hand. The sharp point and serrated edge make penetrating clay soil much easier work. It’s great for digging small holes. It can cut through weed barrier, remove small agave pups and little roots that might be in your way. If I were stuck on a deserted island, this would be my one garden tool. My soil knife is from www.gardenersedge.com.

Telescoping pruners. I’ve always had loppers — long-handled pruners for reaching in to trim shrubs or small trees. But my latest pair is expandable — with handles that unscrew and lengthen to reach just a little bit farther without having to get a ladder. At 5-foot-2-inches and with a fear of heights, anything that keeps me off of a ladder is a good thing.

Tomato cages. If you plant indeterminate tomatoes, you know they can grow up to be top-heavy monsters that can literally lay down a traditional round tomato cage. Then I discovered the extra-tall tomato towers by Gardener’s Supply Co. They are square, so they are sturdier than a 3-legged, cone-shaped cage. The extra tall ones can easily handle a vigorous grower, and they fold flat for storage — a real plus. They’ve recently added a new feature — coating the metal so they don’t rust. They are from www.gardenerssupply.com.

Rechargeable blower. Gardening is messy. You’ve got to have a broom, and a blower. I have three blowers. I started with the standard electric model, but the cord was always too short or in the way. So a few years later I bought the lightest-weight gas blower I could get. That was a mistake. Always messing with the pull cord and the primer and the fuel mix … ugh. The third one was just right. It has a little less power than the others, and the battery charge doesn’t last a long time, but it lasts long enough to clear off my front porch, sidewalk and really long driveway on one charge. It’s lightweight and easy to handle — so much that I gave one to my 83-pound mother-in-law, who loves it.

Bypass pruners. There are a lot of good pruners on the market — Fiskars and Dramm to name a few of the top brands — but I am a Felco girl. Yes, they are expensive, but they work. They handle well and have at least a dozen models that are specifically designed to fit your hand, no matter what size it is. They even have a full line of pruners for left-handers. With chronic tendonitis in both my arms, an easy-to-handle pruner that fits my hand makes a big difference.

Compact pruners. You need those curved bypass pruners, but you also need a pair of straight ones for deadheading and for cutting softer stems that tend to get bent in pruners for larger stalks. This little tool makes quick work of the snip, snip, snipping of spent blooms. There are many different brands of small and straight-edged pruners — my favorite pair is from Dramm.

Weeder. You can’t just pull weeds. Not in this kind of Central Texas soil. (Although our recent rains have made it easier, if only temporarily.) The clay and limestone we live with gets a death grip on weed roots and all your work will be for naught if you don’t take the time to pry a little of the root. My favorite tool for this is the CobraHead. Because of the way it’s made, the angle at which you use it is so much more comfortable for my hands and arms. Instead of holding a straight weeder with your thumb on top, pressing down and trying to pry upward, you can use the real power of your body to smack it down into the soil to pry loose the weeds.

Children’s tools. I have two different children’s garden tools on my rack in the garage — a hoe and a tiny rake. These are not well-made, but they often make working easier. The small hoe can come in handy in the vegetable garden where plants are often planted very close together. It’s also much lighter weight than a full-sized version. The rake is great for getting leaves out from between perennials and shrubs in garden beds.

Trowel. You might think a trowel is a trowel. Not so. When I first got my Fiskars “big grip transplanter,” I thought it was really heavy-duty and I didn’t know if I would really need that thing. That “thing” is great. Like the soil knife, its beveled, sharp, pointed end is perfect for slicing into unforgiving soil. And it’s big – it holds a lot of soil for a trowel and works well for digging a hole too large for the soil knife.

When I discover fabulous tools, I give them as gifts to my gardening family and friends. You can find the soil knife, tomato cages, pruners and blower at my parent’s house and my mother-in-law’s house. Other tools have found their way into friends’ Christmas stockings!

My motto: when you find something that really works, buy two.