By Matt E.Navarro
I'd be curious to know: what items do we carry with us into the garden? That is, when we go out into the yard to do some real work, what tools do we typically/always take with us, and why? To encourage you all to share, I'll go first.
Hand pruners. Like most other gardeners, these are essential to the job. My pair have bypass blades and a rotating handle. Pruning back plants happens daily when I garden, fluctuating in severity with the seasons and plant needs. At the very least I make a habit of cutting back any plant that impedes a walking path, or plants that get in the way of some other task I may be doing. A plant that pokes me, catches my clothing, or otherwise gets in the way receives a careful thinning cut. No ornamental or fruit is safe. The pruners rest at my right in a holster.
Putty knife. From cleaning clay off of a shovel to scraping dead bugs from fences, I love this tool. It can work as a mini-trowel in light or moist soil, and can stab and loosen bark mulch when needed. It will break thin layers of ice, loosen and pry staples, and I hear it can even spread putty! It lives in my chest pocket.
Grape hook. Perhaps you've already read my article on this nifty tool. If not, check it out to learn the depth of my love for this small hand sickle. Harvesting fruits and veggies, pruning green suckers and leafy plants, and slicing cardboard or twine are all light work for this trusty blade. The grape hook also finds its home in a breast pocket.
Carbide steel sharpener. Several months ago my father gifted me this tool. At first I thought little of it as a useful item. Then, my loppers went dull and needed to be refined. Then my kitchen knives needed a sharpening. And then, I understood. Now the sharpener has a home in a small pocket on my left, and makes an appearance anytime a fellow tool needs to be reenergized. Any tool with a blade gets a honing, from hoes and shovels to machetes and shears.
String/twine. How often do we come across plants in need of support? How often do we need to make a straight line? How often do we need to make a temporary fix on a decorative fence or scaffold? String and twine work perfectly for all of these tasks. I prefer to use thick, brown jute twine, as it blends in well with plant material and will decompose naturally, but not too quickly. I don't always need twine on a daily basis, but when I have it it makes life easy, and often impresses fellow gardeners with craftiness, so I keep it in my back pocket just in case.
Gloves. Another common gardening tool, gloves keep my hands safe from thorns, and clean from muck. I don't wear them the whole time I'm gardening, with the caveat I know master gardeners recommend wearing gloves at all times, but I often enjoy the feeling of some plants, and many tools are easier to grip without them. Still, they stay in a back pocket in case blackberries or other nasty materials need tending.
Magnifying glass. This tool came as a gift from the Sonoma County Master Gardeners during our drive-through graduation. Whenever a particularly interesting, lovely, or alarming find occurs in the garden, it helps me take a closer look. So much of what matters in life and in gardening comes from the little things, and this tool helps to make them more easily seen. Furthermore, this tool has sentimental value as a symbol of my entrance into the fellowship of master gardeners. I keep it close to my chest, and treasure the details it helps reveal.
These are my basic tools for general garden labor. It's not an exhaustive list of everything I use, just what I am sure to have in-pocket at all times. Please, let me know what you think, and let me know if there are items you carry in your pockets while in the garden I did not list. I am always eager to add and subtract tools as my skills grow.
Napa Master Gardeners are available to answer garden questions by email: email@example.com. or phone at 707-253-4143. Volunteers will get back to you after they research answers to your questions.
Visit our website: napamg.ucanr.edu to find answers to all of your horticultural questions.
Photo credits: Mel Kendall
Information links: UCANR-Garden hand tool safety http://safety.ucanr.edu/files/3108.pdf
UCMG Santa Clara County-tool care http://mgsantaclara.ucanr.edu/garden-help/tool-care-tips/
UCMG San Diego County-get garden tools in shape https://www.mastergardenersd.org/get-garden-tools-in-shape/
UCMG Napa County Spill the Bean Blog-New favorite tool https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=47878