Bobbie Schwartz FAPLD is a certified, award-winning landscape designer in Shaker Heights, Ohio. She is the owner of Bobbie’s Green Thumb.

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Tools I Can’t Live Without
by Bobbie Schwartz       #Tools

When you buy the right tools you can make garden maintenance easier (and less painful). Here are a few must-have favorites.

Gardening isn’t all joy. Watching the garden evolve and change with the seasons is one of a gardener’s greatest pleasures but the pleasures also entail a lot of work. Therefore, the avid gardener is always searching for tools that will make maintenance easier.



The last time I misplaced my hori-hori (Japanese weeding knife), I thought I would go crazy. Before I discovered the hori-hori, I had always used a trowel but it’s comparable to that cliché, “Once they’ve seen Paris, you can’t keep them down on the farm.” A client, to whom I had sold one called me frantically a few days later. She and her husband had both been working in the same bed and he kept wanting to use her hori but she didn’t want to give it up. Now that they have two horis, there is peace in the family again.

A hori is sturdier and more ergonomic than a trowel. It doesn’t exacerbate the muscles or nerves in your wrist or elbow like a trowel does because it is basically a carbon steel blade that you stab into the soil, pull backward or forward to create the hole for a small plant or to dig out a weed, and then push in the opposite direction to move the soil back into the hole. The 6 ½-inch blade is serrated on one side and smooth on the other.

There are some stainless steel versions available but I love the carbon steel because it never rusts and never wears out. The only danger is losing it. That is why I spray paint the wooden handle red and why I stab it into the ground, instead of laying it down, when I need two hands for something else. I just can’t live without my hori.



I love ornamental grasses but cutting them down in the early spring is quite a chore. I am not a fan of electric or battery operated tools so my ideal tool for this chore is a mini-scythe, also called a serrated blade sickle. This is another wonderful Japanese tool with a wood handle that should also be spray painted a bright color.

The very sharp, toothed blade is only 8 inches long but what a job it does. I just grab a large bunch of stems with my left hand and use the scythe to saw the stems as close to the ground as I can. The scythe is infinitely preferable to pruners, loppers, or scissors. I do suggest using a kneeling cushion so that you are not straining your back by bending over. It also enables you to get closer to the base of the plant.


Kneeling Cushion

You are not a wimp if you use a waterproof kneeling cushion. You have to take care of your body. A lot of weeding can be done while you sit or kneel comfortably on a cushion and swivel your body to weed.



Gardening is good exercise but it needs to be smart exercise. Many of us do a lot of sitting during the winter and then complain bitterly about our aches and pains in the spring, the time of the majority of garden chores. I highly recommend a few exercises that you can do all year. One is knee bends, 10 every other day. Get used to kneeling rather than bending over. The other is standing toe touches, again 10 every other day. I know that I just said “don’t bend over,” but sometimes, we forget and other times there is no other way to reach a plant. The toe touches will stretch your hamstrings and your back.



We can’t live without our pruners. Do not buy pruners without taking them out of the case and seeing how they feel in your hand. I have a very small hand. If the pruners are too large, they stress the nerves and muscles in my hand, a sure prelude to carpal tunnel syndrome. If the pruners are heavy, your hand will tire very quickly. I am not a fan of ratchet pruners; I would rather use loppers that allow you to use your larger arm muscles for leverage.

Pruning is a very repetitive motion and a carpal tunnel syndrome inducer even with the best of pruners. Try to alternate 15 minute periods of pruning with 15 minute periods of weeding.

I also highly recommend wearing a stiff wrist brace with a metal plate to prevent or alleviate carpal tunnel syndrome. I know that it has helped me immensely. The braces have several Velcro straps that can be adjusted.



Tubs (such as Tubtrugs®) are not a “tool” but I love my bright purple, 10 ½-gallon plastic tub. I fill it with weeds and prunings. It is lightweight even when full so that I can comfortably carry it to the garage where I keep my recyclable waste bags or to the curb for seasonal green waste pickup. Before I discovered these tubs, I used tarps but the wind was always blowing the sides and ends up unless I anchored them with bricks — what a pain! The tubs are available in several bright colors and sizes.

Another tub holds a bag of leaf humus, which I use instead of potting soil. Then I can avail myself of a scoop to transfer the humus to containers when I am potting up bare root perennials or repotting a plug into a larger container or creating dynamic vignettes for my summer containers.


Good Gloves

Last but not least, I raise the issue of gardening gloves. I have to be able to feel the soil and the roots when I am potting and weeding. Instead of gardening gloves, I buy boxes of medical examining gloves for a season. They are latex and sprinkled inside with talc to ease putting them on. They do tear easily and they do make my hands sweat but they’re cheap and keep my hands clean. Before I discovered examining gloves, I could never get my hands really clean, and even worse, they were incredibly rough and painful. No amount of moisturizer could counteract the dirt in the skin crevices.

For pruning and digging, there is an infinite array of glove types. It’s just a matter of finding the ones that are comfortable for you and that won’t wear out too quickly.


Posted: 03/23/12   RSS | Print


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