6 Specialty Gardening Tools to Try This Spring
Most folks have an idea of how to use a shovel, rake, and hand pruners. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg—here are six other gardening tools, each designed for very specific tasks, that you might consider adding to your repertoire this spring.
This is what commercial blueberry farmers use for harvesting. The rake-like prongs detach the berries from their branches as you run it across the shrubbery, depositing the fruit inside the tool. This dramatically reduces the labor of harvesting a large blueberry patch. Berry combs are also suitable for collecting wild huckleberries, and some versions are effective for picking blackberries and other small fruits. Plastic models are available for less than $10, though expect to pay upwards of $50 for a vintage, metal, or wooden one.
Telescoping Fruit Picker
“Cherry picker,” an alternative name for this old-fashioned orchard tool, is presumably the linguistic root behind phrases like “don’t cherry-pick your facts.” The contraption’s claw-like tines pluck the fruit from the tree and deposit it in a little cage below. This contraption is mounted on the end of a long pole, typically one with telescoping abilities, so you can adjust it to the height of the fruit in question. Most fruit-picking tools are designed to pick anything from cherry-sized fruits to large apples and mangoes. Good quality telescoping fruit pickers are made of lightweight aluminum (so your arms don’t get as tired) and cost anywhere from $50 to $100.
Not only is it difficult to pick fruit from the tops of trees, but pruning the canopy is a challenging chore, too. It’s important, though. Annual pruning helps to maintain a tree’s health and productivity—not to mention controlling its size, making it easier to pick. Some pole pruners are little more than regular pruners mounted at the end of a lightweight aluminum pole; squeezing the handle at one end moves a long lever inside the pole that closes the blades at the opposite end. Other versions employ a string-and-pulley system to engage the pruner blades, or have a saw at the top to remove larger branches. Telescoping models are also available. Pole pruners range from under $50 to more than $150.
An ordinary hoe is employed with a whacking action to dislodge weeds and loosen the soil. It is a somewhat coarse tool that is of little use for removing the tiny weed seedlings that inevitably spring up in the weeks and months after you plant a new crop. That’s where the hula hoe, also known as a stirrup hoe (because of the shape of its metal blade), comes in. The blade is oriented parallel to the ground and is meant to be pulled and pushed about a half-inch below the surface of the soil to cut small weeds at the root, and is designed to do so in and around delicate crops without damaging them. Wondering about the name? It’s inspired by the back-and-forth dance moves that inevitably happen when using this tool. A good hula hole can be had for under $30.
Some gardeners dig with trowels, but those in the know use digging knives, typically referred to by their Japanese name hori hori, as it was Japanese gardeners, apparently, who first came up with the design. The reason some gardeners scoff at using an ordinary trowel is actually quite practical: the thin metal part that connects a trowel handle to its digging-end easily bends and breaks under pressure. A hori hori, on the other hand, is comprised of a single steel shank (a thick one at that) which serves both as handle and digging implement (slim pieces of wood encase the handle end so you don’t hurt yourself). Trowels are really only suitable for digging in loose soil, but a digging knife can pry up tenacious weeds, roots, and rocks. Despite the name, and their dagger-like shape, digging knives are not sharp, though one edge of the blade is serrated so you can cut through sod or divide a clump of bulbs. They retail for $20 to $30.
Why break your back pulling weeds when you can simply incinerate them? Flame weeders are comprised of a metal wand attached to a propane tank by a short length of tubing. When lit, the wand becomes a torch and directs the flames safely away from your body and toward the weeds. The torch will damage any plant within a couple feet, so this tool is only practical for weeding areas where nothing that you want to stay alive is growing. They are an eco-friendly alternative for eliminating weeds from beds that have not yet been planted, or those that grow in the cracks of your driveway (use common sense safety precautions, like not operating a flame weeder next to a dry field during fire season). Propane tanks are heavy, though some farm and garden supply companies sell special carts and backpacks to make them easier to tote around with your flame weeder. The basic tool (not including a propane tank or accessories) runs about $100.