While I have plenty of useful tools in my shed, there are five items that I can’t garden without. What’s your favorite must-have gardening item?
1. Hori Hori
I swear that my Japanese weeding knife, called a hori hori, is one of the handiest and most multi-talented tools a gardener could ever posses. This tool has been used in Japan for centuries. In Japanese “hori” means “dig”— making this tool one of the most appropriately named on the planet. It’s also often called a soil or weeding knife.
With a blade measuring 6 inches long and 1¾ inches wide, a hori hori is an imposing character sticking out of your tool belt. The entire knife stands somewhere between 11 and 13 inches in total length depending on the handle type. Traditional blades are made of high-carbon steel with a wooden handle. They’re very dense and will rust if left outdoors, but I prefer this model as it feels trustworthy in my hands and seems to be nearly indestructible.
Other hori hori models have thinner, sharper stainless-steel blades that won’t ever rust. These come with either a wooden or a plastic handle, depending on the manufacturer. No matter which blade material you choose, one side is deeply serrated and the other is sharp and smooth. The blade is slightly beveled for soil scooping and scraping.
2. Hand Pruners
A good pair of hand pruners can make life in the garden so much easier. My favorites are made by Felco, a Swiss manufacturer. Also known as secateurs, hand pruners have a short handle with a spring mechanism to re-open the blades after each cut.
There are two common types of hand pruners: anvil and bypass. Anvil types have only one blade that closes against a flat surface, slicing through the plant material placed between them. Keeping anvil pruners sharp is a must, as dull blades often crush rather than cut and can open up more surface area for pathogen entry. I sometimes find that my hand has to work harder with an anvil-type hand pruner. Bypass pruners have two curved blades that pass over each other like scissor blades. If the cutting edges are kept sharp, bypass pruners slice through light branches with very little effort.
Although they may not make you a better gardener, a good pair of gloves certainly will make your time in the garden more comfortable. After having tried scores of gloves over the years, I have found Atlas Fit Gardening Gloves to be a new personal favorite. They have an extended cuff and a smooth nitrile coating on the palm and fingers to protect the wearer and provide for longer glove life. They wash easily and remain pliable even when caked with mud. I wear a pair of latex medical gloves underneath mine when the weather is cold and my hands remain warm and my dexterity stays intact. Picking up a $5 pair of gardening gloves at the hardware store may make sense initially, but when they fall apart or are as stiff as cardboard a week later, you’ll wish you had spent a few more dollars on something a little better.
Although we have a large hauling cart for the back of our lawn tractor, as well as a small two-wheeled garden cart, I use my good old-fashioned wheelbarrow more than anything else. I bought this wheelbarrow in 1993, and it has served me incredibly well over the years. If you have yet to invest in a good wheelbarrow, you are missing out. I prefer deep-bedded contractor wheelbarrows with metal construction and hardwood handles to those constructed in plastic with metal handles. A pneumatic tire is a nice addition, too. I’ve left my wheelbarrow out in the rain more times than I can count, and though there are a few rust spots, it has weathered the years quite well.
5. Trug Bucket
Whether I’m working in my perennial beds or my vegetable garden, I always find myself bringing my 40-gallon trug bucket with me. The rope handles make it easy to carry (as long as I don’t overfill it!) and the rigid plastic construction means it’s always open and ready to accept plenty of weeds, plant trimmings, twigs and spent flowers. The trug is nothing special; it isn’t even made for gardening. I’ve tried the fancy ones, but I don’t like them any better than the one I already have. It’s sturdy and dependable, the perfect gardening companion.