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Saturday, 19 August 2006
New Garden Gadgets


Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, AK)

By Donna Freedman

Walk through any garden center or hardware store, flip through catalogs or troll the Internet and you'll find plenty of gadgetry marketed to the home gardener. The No-Stoop Bulb Planter, the Compost Aerator, the Hound Dog Planting Auger.

Some specialized tools are tremendously helpful. Others are overly specialized -- you can't use them more than once or twice a season. Or they're simply new (and expensive) versions on old favorites.

"A shovel's a shovel, and there will always be more shovels," says Chuck Craig, manager of the Anchorage True Value on Jewel Lake Road.

Older gardeners tend to pick tried-and-true items, Craig says, and to invest in higher-quality items. Increasingly, his younger customers are getting interested in more basic but high-end tools.

That's not to say people aren't interested in innovation. The UpRoot Weeder, which lets you destroy dandelions and other weeds from a standing position, is selling well at True Value. So is its cousin, the Garden Claw.

Tool choice depends on your needs: plant choice, landscape size, age and/or physical limitations, even your gardening philosophy.

If you plant flowers in half a dozen deck containers and call it good, clearly you have no need for a potato fork. If you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, you can choose an ergonomic trowel. If you're anti-herbicide, you might want an easier alternative to kneeling and digging weeds.

That's why the UpRoot Weeder "is heaven," says Margaret Donatello of Alaska Mill & Feed. You use a foot pedal to push stainless-steel prongs into the ground, then pull gently on the handle, and the dandelion (or whatever) comes right out. A shotgun-like pump action lets you fling the decommissioned weed into your yard-waste bin.

Another tool from the same company, the Longneck Grass Shear, is a pair of trimmers mounted on a 36-inch aluminum handle. It, too, lets you stand up straight during an otherwise ache-inducing chore: trimming along sidewalks or raised beds, or around trees.

"The baby boomers are getting older. We're seeing more tools designed for aging joints," Donatello says.

Specialized tools are fine if you have a special need. Sometimes, though, what you already have on hand works just as well. Tina Garay swears by her clam shovel, an upscale version of which can be found in garden catalogs under the name "English Poacher's Shovel."

"But it's really just a clam shovel. I use it for transplanting, digging out weeds, moving things," says Garay, a Homer gardener whose landscape is featured in the current issue of Horticulture magazine. (See story on Page D-1.)

Landscape designer Suanne Sikkema has a favorite shovel too: a small spade, the kind most people think are "real sissy." The Lilliputian blade lets her maneuver in tight corners and small garden beds and makes it easier to dig a small hole for new installations.

"I plant most of my perennial beds with a small shovel," says Sikkema of Arctic Sun Gardening. She also recommends that home gardeners have at least one good pair of pruners. Sikkema has at least four, all of them from Felco.

Felco is also Mel Monsen's brand. "A good pair of pruning shears is constantly in use. It does everything up to big things that need a saw," says the Hillside gardener, who has the company's No. 8 pruner.

Some Alaska gardeners prefer to improvise. Judy Christianson likes to use a chopstick. She pokes seed holes in soil with the large end and later uses the small end to ease the sprouted seedlings out of their plugs. Popsicle sticks and tongue depressors will also coax out seedlings, says Christianson, who has been gardening here for more than 50 years.

Her other indispensable tool is a 20-pound Troybilt rototiller, which is light enough to maneuver into raised beds.

"This year I added a whole bunch of compost and just mixed it right in," Christianson says. "I know everyone says it kills the earthworms, but I have LOTS of earthworms. It doesn't seem to bother them."

Mary Shier uses discarded shop files to rout out weeds. An 8-inch file lets her go deep into the soil, and the pointed end lets her "wiggle those weed roots out." The action is similar to that of her Diggit tool, a V-shaped weeder on a long handle.

Find what works for you, Shier advises, even if that means trying a friend's tools to see if they fit your style. (Few friends will object to your coming over to weed or to dig holes for new plantings, she notes.) Otherwise, you may wind up with tools that make your hands hurt or that looked cool in the store but that didn't live up to their glitzy promise.

"Sometimes it's too many bells and whistles," Shier says, "whereas just plain and simple works just as well."

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