Some gardeners are tool-lovers and their garden sheds are so densely populated they have to be thin as a rake just to get in the door.
Others are tool-poor, making do with a pair of kitchen scissors and whatever they can scrounge from the brother-in-law.
There is a middle way and here it is: our choice of the most useful tools in the shed, and how to use them.
Main use: pruning branches that are too high to reach.
Look for: a lightweight design that will allow for maneuverability and match your capabilities. Some models have a range of interchangeable heads - from saws to window cleaners – but as this tool is primarily for cutting, the most important factor is high-quality blades that will retain their edge.
Maintenance tips: as this is a tool that can spend quite a bit of time in the shed between uses always clean it well, and spray the blades and mechanisms with a lubricant such as WD40 so it is ready to go next time it is needed.
Other uses: this tool saves you from leaving the ground for the risky heights of a ladder. Graham wouldn’t be without it for picking fruit high in the canopy of citrus and peaches. Sandra uses it for cutting flowers on a large climber that grows over the house. A long saw attachment can be used to remove palm fruit and fronds as required.
Graham with the long-handled pruner! Photo - Linda Ross
Main use: chipping and shredding garden refuse for inclusion in the compost.
Look for: a model that suits your needs. Electric models are fine for smaller waste items, but a petrol model is a must for larger volumes and diameters. Check the inlet size to make sure it’s practical for what you are most likely to be shredding.
Maintenance tips: chipping blades do require sharpening as the sharper they are, the better your machine will work. You can do this yourself if you have a bench grinder or have it done by your local mower shop when you have the machine serviced.
Other uses: some models can be used to shred newspaper for use as a mulch or inclusion into the compost. Sandra loves the mulcher even though it’s Graham who does most of the hard work! All the mulch goes straight into Sandra’s compost bins, ensuring the council green bin is never used. A mulcher is also a great way to meet your neighbours, thanks to the noise and the useful job it does. Once they know about your mulcher neighbours will be friends for life, provided you let them use it every now and then.
Graham goes for the big gun gizmos: mulchers, mowers, pruners and blowers. His need for big ‘boys’ toys is so great, it is now time to upscale the toolshed to something resembling a small apartment! Photo - Linda Ross
Main use: turning soil, compost, aerating turf, mixing compost.
Look for: a good quality handle that is securely fixed to the fork head. With timber handles a good indicator is the socket it slots into, with extended strapping a bonus. Graham’s favourite fork is from the Chelsea Flower Show (lord knows how he got it back to Aus in his suitcase). It has a timber handle, feels great and is beautiful to look at.
Maintenance tips: timber handles require oiling to protect them from the elements. There are also fiberglass and stainless steel options available fo those who can’t trust themselves to do a good job of maintaining timber handles.
Other uses: shifting mulch and scratching up the soil surface prior to seeding. In fact it is better to break up the soil in your vegetable plot by using your fork to turn over the soil, then smacking the clods with the back of the tines, than use a rake. The tilth produced by the rake will be too fine. One other thing: don’t use your garden fork to lever out rocks as you may bend the tines or snap the handle. Use a crow or fencing bar!
Linda favours garden tools that help her in the vegetable patch. Tools such as long-lived plant labels, a good quality lead pencil for writing with, beautiful string to tie up vegetables, baskets to hold the harvest, bamboo poles to make structures, tuff tubs for weeds and clippings and good quality, auto-release hose nozzles with different spray settings. She likes to keep all her bits and pieces in a medium sized toolbox. Photo - Luisa Brimble
Main use: pruning materials that cannot be handled by secateurs.
Look for: quality steel blades are important. Pruning saws have largely replaced bow saws in the garden due to their reduced size and cleaner cutting. They are easier to position to get the correct angle on the cut than regular saws and the curved blade is also advantageous in lessening cutting effort. Folding models are a convenient option.
Maintenance tips: A regular spray with protectants such as WD40 will greatly extend blade life and minimize friction when cutting, which makes the job harder.
Other uses: As this is a tool used for a specific purpose at a specific time, rather than regularly throughout the year, it is a candidate for sharing with a trusted friend or relative.
Pruning saw. Photo - Linda Ross
Main use: pruning plant material up to finger thickness.
Look for: quality blades are the main thing to look for in a pair of secateurs. It’s also important that the spring is replaceable as these are the first thing to go on expensive models and a busted spring should not mean the end of your tool. Blades coated with hard chrome are more resistant to corrosion. No horticulturist worth their weight in manure would be without their Felcos!
Maintenance tips: after pruning, use a product called SapX, from Bahco, (available at selected nurseries/hardware stores) to clean the blades. The alcohol content also helps to sterilize the secatuers between plants, limiting the spread of pathogens.
Other uses: flower arranging, not wire cutting!
Sandra prunes with the secateurs. Photo - Linda Ross
Main use: spraying herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and fertilisers.
Look for: a model to suit your needs. There is no point buying a 15L knapsack sprayer if you cannot handle it or never require that amount of spray. These larger sprayers, though, are great for spraying lawns where larger volumes and flow-rates are required. Look for a diaphragm model if you intend to use wettable powders as the powders can scour piston-based models. In smaller sprayers look for a good quality brand, which is likely to contain quality rubber seals than the cheaper models.
Maintenance tips: a clean sprayer is imperative to avoid cross-contamination. You do not want to spray your precious plants with herbicide residues in your sprayer. Either clean thoroughly between uses or have one sprayer for herbicides, and another for pesticides, fungicides and fertilisers.
Other uses: foliar spraying where liquid feeds are mixed with water and applied to the leaves. Some units can be used to mist indoor plants, seedlings and cuttings.
Sandra with the sprayer! Sandra opts for tools that chop, clip and help tidy the garden; such as knee pads, secateurs, gloves, rose secateurs, hand sprayers for foliar feeding and hand weeders. Sandra keeps all her accessories on a hanging wire basket tower at the backdoor. Photo - Linda Ross
Text: Linda Ross