Statesman gardening columnist Margaret Lauterbach is taking some time off. She’ll be writing again in January. But she’s checking her email, so if you have questions, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Meantime, we’re repeating some of her most popular advice.
1. Good gloves that fit, are comfortable and allow finger flexibility. Leather gloves will stiffen after they're wet, so cheaper synthetic material is better here. For tending roses, elbow-length pseudo-suede rose gloves protect arms and hands from prickly thorns, but note that they're expensive.
2. A strong trowel, comfortable in the hand, and preferably with inch markings on the scoop so you'll know how deep you're digging. You'll also want a Hori Hori, or Japanese farmer's knife, that's a version of a trowel. This heavy steel knife is serrated on one side, sharp (or sharpenable) on the other and sturdy enough to slice through entwined old roots - such as those characteristic of North End soils. While Hori Horis are more expensive (about $24) than regular trowels, they are a lifelong investment.
3. A good bypass pruning shear, preferably one that can be sharpened. Do not buy an anvil pruner. If you have weak hands or arthritis, the best pruner is a Fiskars bypass pruner with one rotating handle. For larger limb removal, you'll want bypass loppers and a pruning saw whose teeth are set differently and at different heights than common saws.
4. Comfortable knee pads to avoid moving a cushion from one spot to another.
5. Another great addition is a rain-shedding slicker to keep you dry when you want to garden in inclement weather. Transplanting, for instance, is most successful when you can do it on a drizzly, overcast day. You can even skip a few days of hardening off seedlings in such conditions.
6. Conversely, you'll want to also protect yourself from the sun. A gardening hat, sunscreen and the like are necessities, of course.
7. A small-bladed shovel, called a lady's shovel or a floral shovel (Ames brand, usually found at Ace Hardware stores). A transplant shovel is also a good investment. Its blade is narrower and longer than a spade's.
8. A good border fork, a little smaller and lighter in weight than a spading fork so they are easier to use. Bend a tine, though, and it's useless. Look for one with a warranty. Some manufacturers, such as Craftsman, guarantee their tools.
9. A hoe that suits you. Some gardeners like heavy-bladed grape or grub hoes. I prefer the lighter hula hoe or stirrup hoe, which cut weeds free of roots on both push and pull movements.
Hand weeders or scraping hoes are useful. Annual weeds die when they're cut free of the roots. Perennial weeds do not, but there are usually fewer than annual weeds. Fishtail weeders satisfy the gardener temporarily, but unless you've pulled the whole root, it will come back.
10. Dedicated garden shoes are also desirable. Waterproof clogs are available, and so are small rubber boots.
Local garden stores carry these items, and buying local lets you check out the merchandise first to find the right tools for you. Plus, you'll avoid those dreaded shipping charges.