June 24, 2024
Playing in the Dirt: Tools for Gardeners

97.9 The Hill and Chapelboro.com have partnered with Orange County Master Gardeners for “Playing in the Dirt,” a monthly column exploring the fertile ground of home gardening in our community and intended to provide the information and inspiration gardeners of all skills levels need to flourish! Check back on Chapelboro each month for a new subject – from our gardens to yours!


 

By Emily Gvino, Orange County Master Gardener volunteer

Mart Bumgarner, Orange County Extension, presentation at Dig Deeper. Photo by Emily Gvino.

Winter, while we dream of spring and what we’d like to plant in our gardens, is an excellent time to take stock of our gardening tools and safety items. Not sure where to start with the types of tools you need and how to care for them? Learn more in this summary of a lecture by Mart Bumgarner, an avid home gardener and Orange County’s Extension Agent in Agriculture (Crops and Horticulture). Mart presented “Everything Tools,” as part of Orange County Master Gardeners’ Dig Deeper lecture series. Here are some tips and tricks!

Safety First! Essential PPE

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is important for anyone doing yard or garden work.

Hardhat, face shield, earmuff combination. Photo by Emily Gvino.

When working above eye level, such as pruning trees, you need to protect your head with a hardhat in case of an accident. Some hardhats include a chin strap, an essential feature that keeps the hardhat on if you fall from a height, such as from a ladder.

Protective eyewear is also key, especially when using power tools or mixing chemicals or solutions. It’s best to choose goggles or safety glasses with a side shield to get full protection for your eyes. If you wear corrective eyeglasses, plastic shield face coverings that accommodate glasses underneath are available.

Proper eye protection.

To protect against hearing loss when using loud equipment like lawn mowers, leaf blowers, weed whackers and chain saws, keep ear plugs on hand. You can buy foam, pre-molded or molded ear plugs, including some that hang around your neck so you don’t lose them. You might also consider wearing earmuffs, another type of hearing protection device. Keep in mind that noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds are not hearing protection devices. This article explains the difference.

Protecting your feet depends on your activity. When working with chemicals, remember that leather shoes will not protect against chemical spills on your feet. It’s best to buy plastic booties to put on over your shoes. Make sure that your pants are tucked into the booties outside of your shoes so any chemical spill runs off your clothing and not into your shoes. Boots with a steel toe, or safety toe boots, are a smart choice for gardening activities when using power tools and equipment like lawn mowers or weed whackers. Another easy safety intervention is to wear a reflective vest, especially when working outside or close to the road. A vest could save your life and goes on easily over clothing.

Never operate a chainsaw before first learning how to use it safely! Leg and foot injuries are the most common with chainsaw use. Chainsaw chaps, which protect your legs, are essential gear to wear while using a chainsaw. The chaps are designed to clog and stop gas-powered chainsaws on contact; however, the design may not stop an electric chainsaw. You can learn more about chainsaw use and safety here and see the importance of chainsaw chaps in this YouTube video.

Good gardening gloves are a worthwhile investment with choices of different materials and weight depending on the chore. For example, you’ll want thicker, tougher gloves to prune thorny shrubs or handle heavy tools than to pull weeds or plant small seedlings.

Protect your skin with protective clothing, insect repellent, sunscreen and gloves! Photo by Emily Gvino.

Don’t forget to protect the biggest organ in your body — your skin! Use insect repellent for ticks and insects and sunscreen (broad spectrum, SPF 30+) and wear a hat. Tick-repellant clothing, especially useful for socks, also is available. A PPE suit, such as Tyvek® (inexpensive, single-use), can provide full body protection during activities, such as spraying fruit trees, causing exposure to chemicals released in the air. These garments are made of a special type of fabric where the material is bonded together, not woven, and liquid cannot penetrate it. Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) contains a toxin that causes skin rashes in many people, sometimes quite serious. A PPE garment that covers your arms or entire body could protect against exposure to poison ivy, and gloves are a must! Tightly woven, light-weight long sleeved shirts and long pants — some made from UV-protective fabric — will protect the skin during warmer months.

Maintaining Your Tools Will Save You Money 

The key to longevity of your gardening tools is proper maintenance. After use, wipe off your tools and leave them in a dry place. You can apply mineral or linseed oil to extend the life of unfinished wooden handles. Have a rusty shovel? Coat the shovel with WD-40 and clean it with a steel wool or wire brush. Here are more tips for cleaning and sharpening.

Sharp tools work better and are safer to use. Invest in a file to sharpen your tools. Most files don’t have handles — you can wrap tape around it to make it easier to use or buy a multipurpose handle for your files. Some files only sharpen in one direction. Other files sharpen on both the push and pull directions, indicated by a diamond pattern on the file. Your filing stroke should be in the same direction and Mart Bumgarner advises to use a slow, smooth movement for safety reasons and a better result. You can follow up the sharpening with a whetstone or leather strop. To sharpen a pruner, be sure to follow the angle of the curve of the pruner’s blade and use the flat side of the file.

Mart Bumgarner using a file for sharpening a pickaxe. Photo by Emily Gvino.

Replacing broken handles or blades on tools can be more cost-effective than buying a new tool. Some tool brands have a lifetime warranty so check into your tool’s warranty before throwing it away. If you are buying a new tool with wooden handles, look for an even wood grain pattern; discoloration in the wood means there is a knot that could affect the handle’s structural strength.

Proper care and maintenance of your tools keeps them safer to use and saves you money.

Tools of the Trade for Gardeners

Mart Bumgarner’s “Dig Deeper” garden tool demonstration (with pickaxe). Photo by Emily Gvino.

If you’re just getting started as a gardener, here’s a list of some useful tools. Common wisdom is to buy the best quality tools you can afford — they last longer and do a better job. For more suggestions about gardening equipment, see Garden Tools in the free online version of the NC State Extension Master Gardener Handbook, and Ergonomic Tools for Gardening for advice about reducing strain on your joints when gardening.

Soil probe and loppers. Photo by Emily Gvino.

Tools for Pruning:

Generally, the tool used depends on the diameter of the branch being cut (see Tools to Make the Cut by NC State Extension for a detailed description of pruning tools).

  • Pruners are one-handed — smaller size pruners are better for gardeners with smaller hands — and used for smaller plants or branches (less than 1/2 inch in diameter).
  • Loppers have long handles and are used with two hands for larger branches (1/2 – 1 1/2 inches).
  • Pruning (hand) saws are for branches larger than 1 1/2 inches (cut on the pull stroke for safety and a more controlled cut).
  • Pole pruners and pole saws are lightweight pruners for pruning tall tree branches; some work by pulling a rope to move a pruner head.
  • Hedge shears are used for cutting grasses or multiple branches at once.

Other Hand Tools:

  • Axe, pickaxe and mattock (used for digging, prying and chopping),maul (can be used as wedge for splitting wood).
  • Shovel (round-pointed is all-purpose, useful for digging and turning soil).
  • Broad fork (less likely to disturb microbes in soil you’re turning over and aerating before planting).
  • Garden claw (a hand tiller, either with a short or long handle for kneeling or standing, used for loosening garden soil or weeding.)
  • Stirrup or scuffle hoe (cuts weeds off under the soil surface; a square-blade hoe works for most other garden jobs).
  • T-post puller (pries fence posts out of the ground).
  • Uprooter or weed wrench (pulls up strong-rooted saplings and invasive woody plants).

Measuring  and Other Useful Tools:

  • Soil probe (rod inserted into the ground to collect a soil sample for testing or observing soil contents, such as moisture. While non-conductive fiberglass probes might be used to find underground electric lines, it’s far safer to contact NC811 by phone or online.)
  • Wick applicator (for applying herbicides and pesticides directly onto plant leaves).
  • Rain gauge.
  • Gardener’s “hollow leg” (a wearable bag for conveniently collecting weeds, compost, or garden harvesting).

One more pro tip for tools from a local Master Gardner: wrap reflective tape around the handles of your tools. If you drop or lose a tool, you can find it easier by shining a flashlight at night. Using garden tools, especially those with blades, is all about safety. Use the proper device for the size of the cutting job and be sure to put it away so that no one steps on it or runs over it with a lawn mower.

WANT TO KNOW MORE? HERE ARE ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

CHECK US OUT! 

Tomatoes growing in straw bales. Photo by Julee Herbert.

Learn about STRAW BALE GARDENING, at our next Dig Deeper talk, Saturday, Feb. 18th at 2 p.m. at the Orange County Library. Pick up free seed packets from our Community Seed Library! More information here.

Have a plant or garden question? Email the Orange County Master Gardener Volunteers at [email protected] or phone 919-245-2061.

Subscribe to The Garden Buzz, the Orange County Master Gardeners’ monthly newsletter, for gardening news and tips. And visit our website, The Orange Gardener.

 


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