How to Choose a Garden Watering Wand

A telescoping watering wand is a great tool for reaching hanging garden planters, window boxes, and other hard to reach places. Choosing a quality garden watering wand the first time out will save you frustration and headache later in the season.

What should you look for in a watering wand?

Garden watering wands are available for as little as $8 or $9, and if you watch for hardware sales you can get one even cheaper, but if you use a watering wand frequently, there are good reasons for passing up the bargain varieties in favor of a wand that costs between $25 and $30.

The more expensive, upscale watering wands include features that make them more durable and easier to use. Cheap wands are usually made of PVC plastic and other lightweight materials that crack and split when you drop them and wear out quickly.

If you live in a part of the country where the winters get very cold, an inexpensive plastic watering wand will suffer from the frequent changes in temperature and may have to be replaced annually. Three years of buying a new $9 wand and you’ll wish you bought the sturdier, more expensive model to begin with, so why not do so your very first time out?

For just under $30 you can purchase a watering wand made of durable aluminum that comes with variable spray patterns and a crush proof head. Telescoping watering wands can be collapsed for shorter reaches or extended as much as 30 inches to reach hard-to-get-at plantings.

If you rarely use a watering wand, you can probably safely buy an off-brand, but do look for aluminum construction and shatterproof plastic. If you use a wand frequently and plant lots of hanging garden planters, take some time and some care when shopping for your watering wand. Look for one with a long reach, sturdy construction, and a trigger shut off.

A wand made by a name brand manufacturer of garden and landscape equipment or a major hardware chain is usually a better bet than a budget off-brand wand that you find at a very low price. Many online shopping sites list dozens of brands and varieties of watering wands at the touch of a key, and will even direct you to the retailer that currently offers the lowest price.

Shopping online for a wand before you buy is a great way to get a sense for competitive pricing and all the latest features available without running all over town to comparison shop. Take a few minutes to do a web search and look around, even if you intend to buy locally. That way, when you bring your garden water wand home, you’ll know it is exactly what you want.

How to Choose a Garden Hand Pruner

The best garden hand pruners are made by Felco, Corona, and Fiskars, and the hands down industry standard is the Felco bypass pruner. Any of these major brands will set you back $75-$100 or even more, and yet buying a good name brand pruner is worth every penny. No self-respecting landscape professional would buy anything less.

Why would anyone be that picky about a garden hand pruner?

First, of all the tools in a gardener’s arsenal, few have more moving parts than a hand pruner. A cheaply made pruner will break before you get a decent season’s wear out of it, and you can’t really repair a cheap pruner effectively. You have to throw it out.

If the pruner simply breaks and must be replaced, that is aggravating enough; but hand pruners are sharp, and so you are always faced with the possibility of personal injury if your cheap pruner snaps apart unexpectedly while you are applying pressure.

Second, hand pruners have to be sharpened regularly in order to cut cleanly. A cheap hand pruner will not accept repeated sharpening; the blade will quickly become thin and will crack or break with use. If the blade breaks during sharpening, you are lucky. If it breaks during use, once again you face the possibility of personal injury.

Just as dull knives cause more injuries than sharp ones (because of the extra and unnecessary pressure applied to compensate for the dullness), cheap dull hand pruners injure more gardeners than sharp professional-quality pruners.

Last of all, sharp pruning blades and clean working parts are essential to healthy pruning. Pruners that leave jagged edges, that rust, or that can’t be cleaned well or used without excessive force can injure trees and shrubs and infect open wounds on bark with diseases and other problems.

When pruning any tree or shrub, the ideal cut is a clean, smooth, and flat. If you have to chew through the branch you are pruning, you are either using a cheap pruner or the wrong tool.

So look for one of the major name brands when buying a garden hand pruner, and while you are at it purchase a holster for the blade that you can attach to your belt while you are working. This keeps the blade rust-free and clean, and keeps the point of the blade from stabbing you in the thigh or butt when you shove it into your pants pocket.

Plan to spend more than you want to spend, and then push yourself a bit and spend a little more than that. Always buy from a reputable shop, preferably one that will also be able to repair and sharpen your name brand hand pruner when necessary.

Spending the money required to buy a professional grade hand pruner will serve you well in the long run. Your pruner will last for years, your plants will be healthier, your will be able to  learn and execute effective and correct pruning techniques, and you will learn how and why using the right tool makes all the difference when it comes to doing a good job.

Plus, when you walk into a garden center with a Felco garden hand pruner in a holster on your belt, you will be taken seriously and treated with the respect you deserve.

Who doesn’t want that?

Deck Rail Planters – Brighten Up Your Deck

Deck rail planters are the perfect way to add a little pizzazz to your boring deck rails.  These planters are available in many different materials and styles, and are the perfect planter for a multitude of garden plants.

Your Choices

Choices regarding your style of rail planter box should always be made with the overall style of your garden in mind. If you have, or are planning to build, a sanded deck of white pine then you will not wish to combine this with rustic old world themed planter boxes. Ideally, also, the deck planters you choose for your railings should complement the planters you have in the rest of the garden. If you have whiskey barrel garden planters in the main garden, it is best not to choose brushed aluminum planters for your rails.

Planters made from resin, fiberglass and also plastic planters are perhaps the most ideal choice of material for your railings.  These are quite light but also very durable. Many garden planters are made of PVC and not only are these extremely low maintenance, but they also have a special UV covering which helps to protect them in harsh weather.

Railing planters come with handy instructions for how to best attach them and can be planted with a wide range of flowers and trailing plants. For something a little different, try planting your planters with strawberries, tomatoes or salad herbs such as basil or oregano.

How to Choose a Garden Spade that Lasts a Lifetime

Some gardening tools are so important and so heavily used that it just doesn’t make sense to try to save money by skimping on cost. Few tools are more crucial to gardening than a durable, sturdy garden spade. Choosing a gardening spade that lasts and works the way it should, instead of a spade that looks like a spade but breaks in half or bends the first time it is used, is vital to the health of your garden and to your own sanity.

Garden spades are available at any major home improvement store, but they are definitely not all the same. First, make sure a spade is the tool you are shopping for. While many people use the words ‘spade’ and ‘shovel’ interchangeably, a garden spade is a not the same as a shovel.

A shovel is a heart-shaped tool with a pointed blade and a scooped business end. Shovels are used for all kinds of earth work and digging, but the most practical tool for garden use is a spade. The business end of a spade is shaped like a rectangle, with a straight flat blade and a square shallow pan for lifting, rather than scooping dirt. The old phrase, “call a spade a spade,” refers to the little known fact that spades are specialized garden tools and shovels are general digging implements.

A spade and a shovel are two different tools.

Look for a garden spade with 8 x 12 inch blade for general digging and a smaller, lighter edging spade for more detailed work. The top edge of the garden spade should have a heavy, corrugated ridge on it to set your foot upon so you can push down. While you may not think of this detail in the store, if you forget to look for it you will definitely notice when you start to use the spade. Without the corrugated ledge your foot quickly tires and you cannot get the push you really need.

A carbon steel blade is the best and longest lasting all-around spade edge, but tempered steel is lighter and won’t rust. If you are buying only one spade, choose the most expensive one you afford and look for a major name brand label and a warranty if possible.

The handle on the spade should fit your own height comfortably. Spade handles come in different lengths to fit different people. If the handle is too short, it will be hard for you to handle the spade without hurting your back. If the handle is too long, you will end up snapping the handle instead of applying the full weight of your effort to the blade. The handle should be long enough so that you don’t have to stoop unnaturally to dig, but short enough so that you can use the metal hilt on the end for leverage.

Spade hilt handles come in ‘D’ and ‘Y’ shapes and are made of steel. The ‘D’ shape is more durable and easier to use than the ‘Y’. The ‘Y’ shape is also much more likely to crack under pressure. If the end of your spade handle is not fitted with a ‘D’ or a ‘Y’ shaped steel hilt, then you probably are looking at a shovel, not a spade.

The main reason for choosing a garden spade over a shovel is that spades are suitable to more of the tasks specific to gardening and landscaping than shovels are. A sharp flat spade edge can cut and lift sod, cut through tree roots when digging holes for planting, and create more defined shapes in turf or soil than a shovel can.

Shopping for a spade online is a good way to get an idea of current prices, brands, and availability, but a spade by its very nature is one tool you really should purchase in person. Pick your garden spade up right in the store, feel it, and handle it as much as you need to in order to get a good feel for its fit in your hand and with your body. Then, make your purchase with confidence knowing that you have chosen a tool that will serve you well for many years.

Strawberry Planters – Don’t Let This Delicious Fruit Take Over Your Garden

Strawberry planters are the ideal way to grow strawberries.  These planters help to prevent your strawberry plant from running riot over your garden. Available in all shapes and sizes these planters ensure you are able to have the best of both worlds – a beautiful strawberry crop and a well-maintained garden.

Planting Strawberries In Your Garden

There are obviously other ways to contain your rampant strawberries, ranging from methods your grandparents may have used, such as planting in an old iron bath to having the crop planted in a walled area.  These unfortunately can be eyesores in a modern garden.

If you are planning to create a cottage or farm style garden, then make sure a strawberry planters are on your shopping list.  These are a great way to add the finishing touches to your garden and will also provide you with mouth watering fruit to enjoy during those warm summer months.

When you go to buy a strawberry planter you will find a wide range to choose from.  Ceramic planters, such as large ceramic planter boxes are an ideal container and will each hold several strawberry plants.

A more decorative approach to growing your strawberries is using a tiered arrangement of different sized strawberry jars. Strawberry jars are ceramic planters shaped like a wide mouthed jar.  They have large holes through which the trailing plant and fruit can grow. With these you don’t have to worry about weeding either and the effect attained from multiple jars looks great in any garden.

How to Choose a Garden Hand Cultivator

They come out every spring with the crocuses and robins, those gaily colored baskets of cheerful garden hand tools and printed gloves. The bright colors and happy packaging are designed to catch your eye and your pocketbook, but some hand tools are more for show and decoration than actual use. A garden hand cultivator is a basic tool that gets down and dirty all season long, so choose a quality cultivator that is as tough as it is attractive the first time out so you won’t have to go back and replace it every two or three weeks.

When shopping for gardening tools you use regularly, always go for the highest quality and best brand names you can afford.  Specifically, hand tools should be made of tempered steel and should be rust-proof or rust resistant, and a name brand is most often better than a cheap knock-off.

Pick up the cultivator and hold it in your hand. Is it comfortable? Is it heavy, or does it feel like it might fly away if caught by a swift breeze? Choosing a bright color is fine, so long as the stuff underneath the paint is tough and durable. Do you recognize the maker?

Look for a hand cultivator with one piece construction if you can find it, and make sure it is heavy enough that it won’t bend or break when it encounters hard packed earth. Be careful of decorative wooden handles attached to cheap painted claws with unknown adhesives, as these may break or bend easily and be rendered useless before you know it.

Be wary also of boxed gift sets produced by unknown makers, as these are often pretty and fun to look at but short-lived and impractical. Lots of perfectly good tools are made in China, but if that is all you know about the origins of the cultivator you are thinking of purchasing, you might want to pass it over for a more trustworthy brand.

Manufacturers of other kinds of fine garden tools, pruners, and machinery are good bet for sturdy hand cultivators, as are makers of major woodworking and construction tools. Your main goal however is simply to buy quality the first time out. Spending $20 once on a hand cultivator that lasts a lifetime is far preferable to spending $5 multiple times each season on something that falls apart at the first real challenge.

Check out some of the more popular manufacturers of garden tools and implements online to get a sense of what you will need to spend to obtain a hand cultivator that meets your need and lasts for years. Then, shop with confidence, and enjoy your garden!

How to Buy and Use a Compost Tumbler

A compost tumbler is an efficient, easy to use alternative to a compost bin or open compost pile. Great for urban applications, small spaces, and city gardening, compost tumblers take most of the guesswork and hassle out of making your own ‘black gold’ soil enhancement while keeping your gardening space tidy and clean at the same time.

An urban compost tumbler is usually made of lightweight PVC plastic and is mounted on a frame that keeps the bin portion up off the ground and enclosed. A locking hatch opens to allow both the addition of fresh material and the extraction of finished compost. Instead of turning the compost with a pitchfork (as you would with an open compost pile), with a tumbler you simply turn a handle or crank to rotate the entire bin and mix the contents inside.

Some compost tumblers are shaped like large round beach balls mounted on a tripod so you can turn the ball by hand without a crank. Others look like closed PVC barrels on a spit with a handle on one end. Most come with instructions that include regular additions of water and microbiotic powders to speed decomposition inside the bin.

Making your own compost is beneficial for many reasons. First, making compost at home reduces the amount of waste in your kitchen and your yard, allowing you to feed vegetable scraps and leaves that you would normally send to the landfill to the compost tumbler instead. It is an ecologically sound practice that reduces the carbon emissions from trash trucks and land fills and makes natural use of natural waste right where it is created.

Secondly, making your own compost saves you money. Compost is one of the most nutrient rich natural plant foods available and one of the best soil amendments in existence. Unlike peat, compost is also a renewable resource. And unlike the treated manure you purchase at garden supply stores, compost is free, easy to make, and you don’t need a domestic animal to get it.

Last but by no means least, an urban compost tumbler allows you incorporate organic farming methods into city gardening. In an era in which everyone is becoming more conscious of food safety and soil and water conservation, learning how to work with nature instead of against her is not just interesting, it’s becoming a necessity.

A steady supply of rich dark compost can help a city gardener grow an amazing amount of produce, greens, and flowers in a very small space. The concentrated nutrients in homemade compost allow intensive cultivation of small spaces. A compost tumbler takes up very little space and is safe, clean, and odorless.

Urban compost tumblers come in many different sizes and are widely available online and at garden supply and home improvement stores. Check out the various types and price points and give compost a try. You’ll be amazed at the results.

Umbrella Planters – Cover That Unsightly Hole

Umbrella planters are the ideal solution to covering that unsightly hole in your patio or garden table. Umbrellas and parasols are a necessity in the garden in the warm summer months. The sun is high in the sky and you want to be able to sit in the shade and enjoy the plants in your garden.

Most patio and garden tables are specially designed to include a hole through which your garden umbrella can stand, shading you from the sun’s harmful rays.  Unfortunately this also leaves a join where umbrella meets the table, often surrounded by an unsightly gap. An umbrella planter allows you to hide that gap and create a beautiful table centrepiece at the same time.

Matching Your Furniture

Patio umbrella planters are essentially plant containers designed to fit around the pole of your patio umbrella. For plastic or vinyl patio furniture, a planter box made from a relatively light material, such as that of fiberglass planters may be the best choice for you. If, on the other hand you have a wooden patio or garden table, then an umbrella planter box made from terra cotta may be more to your choice as it would suit the more rustic, country style feel of the furniture.

Your umbrella planter can be planted with a wide range of flowers, but if you do dine outside regularly, why not try planting salad herbs such basil or parsley. For those who do not want to have to worry about watering, self-watering planters are available, simply fill the outer container with water and the wick will dispense water as needed for up to four weeks.

How to Select a Garden Wheelbarrow

Gardening is immensely rewarding and lots of fun, but it’s also very hard work.  A good garden wheelbarrow can save your back and make working in your garden a pleasure instead of a chore. While you may think you don’t garden nearly enough to really need a wheelbarrow, once you own and use one you won’t know how you ever got along without it.

Choosing the right gardening wheelbarrow requires a bit of imagination and a willingness to part with more money than you might want to spend. Think through the kinds of tasks you routinely face in your garden and your yard to get a sense for how you might use your wheelbarrow most often. For example, if you put in a large vegetable garden every year and care for lots of specimen trees and landscape shrubs you will certainly need a larger, sturdier piece of equipment than you will if you just plant a narrow front bed with annuals and occasionally fertilize a small patch of grass.

Once you get a sense of what your needs actually are, look for a wheelbarrow that exceeds those needs. Most people severely underestimate home improvement tasks, and gardening is no exception.  Even the most casual weekend gardener is going to need a wheelbarrow that can tote at least 300 pounds. Remember, bags of compost and top soil typically weigh 40 pounds each. Throw five of them in a barrow with a couple of flats of annuals and you’re already near capacity with a 300 pound cart.

Wheelbarrows come in three basic varieties: Plastic carts with plastic wheels (including collapsible carts), steel three-wheeled carts with rubber wheels, and four-wheeled garden carts with removable steel sides that look like children’s wagons (only larger).

Plastic wheelbarrows are the least expensive option, but plastic can’t usually handle much more than 200 pounds, sometimes less. If you love the compact, easy-to-use look of a plastic wheelbarrow, by all means pick one up for weeding and for picking up leaves and sticks. Just make sure that you also invest in a steel, heavy capacity wheelbarrow with rubber wheels and a warranty so you can tote rocks, soil, stumps, gallon perennials, and other heavier items with ease and confidence.

Collapsible wheelbarrows that can carry up to 250 pounds are available at gardening retailers and through specialty web sites online. These little wheelbarrows are good choices for apartment dwellers and for people who own townhouses or care for very small lots with little storage space. A collapsible wheel barrow can be folded up and stored inside your back door, and then can be unfolded to accompany you while you weed. Collapsible wheelbarrows are also sturdy enough to carry your new plant material and soil from your car to your garden in the spring (so long as your purchases are modest and weight less than 250 pounds).

A durable steel three-wheeled barrow is a better choice for most homeowners with standard yards and average gardening needs. A steel barrow or cart is going to cost you at least $100 or even more, but if you balk at this expenditure and go for economy you will end up replacing your purchase in a year or two and at that point you will be frustrated and sour on the whole idea. So bite the bullet and buy quality the first time out.

Look for a major manufacturer of garden tools and implements and buy a wheelbarrow that comes with a warranty. Buy the highest capacity wheelbarrow you can afford. You will almost certainly haul more stuff in it than you think you will, and in this case, more really is better.

Garden carts are another good option, especially for homeowners who plant big vegetable gardens or do a lot of landscape maintenance. A steel cart with removable mesh sides and four wheels that holds at least 750 pounds will become your best friend when you are pruning or installing new shrubbery or perennials, and you can even pull your dog around in it when you are bored.

Any professional landscaper will tell you that skimping on essential tools is a bad idea that wastes time and causes injury, and a wheelbarrow is definitely an essential gardening tool. Buy the best one you can afford, and do your research before you shop. Lots of great web sites review specific brands of garden wheelbarrows online and will even direct you to the retailer with the lowest price.

It doesn’t get much easier than that!

Window Planter Boxes – A Miniature Garden At Your Window

Window planter boxes are the ideal way for apartment dwellers who love to garden to surround themselves with beautiful plants.  Window boxes are easy to fit, come in many sizes and styles.  They can also be planted with a wide variety of flowers, plants, and even fruits or vegetables.

A Wide Range Of Choice

Window planters come in a wide range of materials and styles.  You can choose from a wooden window box planter or a metal planter.  Metal planters are an especially good form of window box as they are often low maintenance.

For a modern look you should choose aluminum planters.  For a more vintage look try a wrought iron finish. Resin and fiberglass finishes are also available and come in a wide range of colors and trims to suit any décor.  If you would prefer a more country style feel you could try a wooden window box painted a crisp white.

Most window boxes are recommended for use in conjuncture with a plastic liner or planter box.  This is to help maintain the natural life span of the box you have chosen and it also helps to prevent water from leaking out.

Your chosen style can be planted with flowers to add a touch of color.  You can also use them to plant a variety of fruits such as tomatoes or strawberries, although if you are placing your window boxes at the front of your house this may not be such a good idea.