SPRING IS HERE, and gardeners are knee-deep in chores. But before you tackle anything, take stock of your tools. Where should you begin?
Gardening and landscaping experts suggest buying the best tools you can afford. Think "You get what you pay for." Quality tools aren't cheap. But when well cared for, a good tool can last a lifetime.
If you need to build a collection of gardening tools and are starting from scratch, assemble a list based on your basic yard duties. That list likely will include digging holes for plants or seeds, weeding and pruning.
Here is a list to cover the basics and tips for caring for, storing and using your tools.
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Spade: This tool has a long, narrow head with a pointed tip, which makes it good for digging narrow trenches or pruning roots. Its handle is shorter, which makes it lighter.
Trowel: It's a small, hand-held tool to dig holes for seeds, seedlings and small plants.
Round-point shovel: The pointed tip makes digging easier and minimizes the amount of bending. When shopping, look at the shovel's lift -- the angle formed between the ground and the handle when the shovel head lies flat on the ground, according to the "Sunset Western Garden Book." A shovel with a generous lift means less bending over when digging, something folks with back issues can appreciate.
Square-nose shovel: Shovel heads with a flat edge are not meant for digging, but for moving or scooping loose soil, leaves, gravel, etc., on flat surfaces. Look for a shovel that can hold the largest amount of material you can lift repeatedly.
Hoe: A conventional hoe has a flat front edge that is used to break up soil before planting, weeding and other tasks. Hoes specifically used for weeding have heads that come in an assortment of sizes and shapes.
Cultivator: A hand-held tool that typically has a forked tip, it's used to pop weeds out of the ground from their roots.
Lopper: This tool resembles a hand-held pruner, but has a much longer handle. Loppers range from 1 to 3 feet. It's good for gardeners with physical limitations such as arthritis that make using a hand-held pruner difficult.
Hand-held pruning shears: For small pruning tasks such as trimming shrubs, vines or very thin and flexible branches on young trees, this is a must-have because of its versatility. Hand-held pruners should not be used on any branch thicker than your pinky, as to not damage the tool or plant.
Pruning saw: When pruning shears are too small for a cutting job, use a pruning saw. It can cut branches 1 to 5 inches in diameter. Some models can be folded like a Swiss army knife.
Pole pruner: This extendible-handle tool comes in handy when you need a little extra reach when cutting high branches. It is most effective on branches with a diameter less than 1 inch.
Rake: Even if you have a leaf blower, a rake comes in handy during the fall when cleaning fallen leaves from deciduous trees. Look for a rake with the largest fan-shaped head you can find. Rakes with metal tines are more durable than plastic.
Spreader: This is used to evenly apply fertilizer or seeds when reseeding a thin lawn.
Knee pads or a kneeling pad: These cushion your knees and keep them clean.
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TOOL CARE TIPS
Though high-quality garden tools can cost a pretty penny, experts say it's worth spending as much as you can afford on good tools that will hold up under frequent use and last many seasons. So it pays to treat tools with care. Here are some tips to help keep your garden tools in good condition:
-- Wash tools after using them. Do not allow caked mud, dirt or debris to sit. That can cause tools to deteriorate or suffer damage faster than expected.
-- Allow tools to dry completely before storing to prevent rusting and handle rot.
-- Rub wood handles with linseed oil several times a year.
-- Keep pruning tools and shears sharp. Sharpen only the cutting edge.
-- Lubricate tools' moving parts with a light oil, such as WD-40, to keep corrosion at bay.
-- Remove rust with a dab of oil.
-- Store cleaned shovels, hoes and other digging tools in a 5-pound bucket filled with builders sand and a quart of oil. The oily, grainy solution will help prolong the life of your tools.
SOURCES: University of Missouri Extension office, Indiana Hand Center; house and garden magazines