Home & Garden

Gift ideas for the gardener

Gardening tools make good gifts for the holiday season.
Gardening tools make good gifts for the holiday season. Centre Daily Times, file

Stumped on finding a gift for your friends or family members? If they happen to be into gardening, your task might be easier than you think.

How many of you know gardening friends who struggle along without the basic tools of the trade or use ones with splintering handles, weak joints and rusted parts? You can help them out this Christmas season.

Gardening tools can be plain and functional, fancy and bright, high-tech, low budget or super authentic and old fashioned. A good tool should fit the user as well as the job.

Outdoor gardeners need a basic set of tools to be reasonably efficient. Here are my top five tools that every gardener should have in their garage or tool shed.

▪ Long-handled spade. Designed for digging, the blade is straight and set at an angle so it cuts easily into the soil. Do not confuse it with a shovel, which is built like a small scoop and is designed to move materials from one place to another. I think that having both a spade and shovel is nice — each is useful for a particular job.

▪ Spading fork with a flat or square tines to use for moving heavy soil. It is invaluable when preparing the soil in the spring and harvesting vegetables, such as potatoes in the fall. A spading fork should not be confused with a pitchfork, which has round, slender tines and is used to move straw or compost.

▪ A strong steel rake. This is a must in order to break up clay, smooth soil after it’s been spaded and to rake in fertilizers. If the garden is large, you will need a wide, heavy rake; if small, a small rake with sharp teeth is best. Most gardeners also need a good broom rake for lawn work. These vary from good old standard bamboo to bright plastic or good old stainless steel.

▪ A good hoe to make rows, cover seed, move soil, cut out weeds and make holes for setting in plants. Hoes come in all weights and shapes, but most home gardens do not require large handled heavy ones. Many gardeners prefer a lightweight dual-purpose hoe, with a triangle cutting head on one side and a cultivation tool with three tines on the other. You can also just have a separate hoe and also a cultivation tool.

▪ A hand towel and other hand tools such as cultivators and weeders to increase efficiency and make light adjustments easier. Use them for marking rows, cutting weeds, making furrows and moving small plants. A good set of work gloves are also helpful around the garden.

While garden tools can save time and energy, they can be frustrating and exhausting if they don’t fit their user. Big, heavy tools are fine for big people, but if your gardener is short of size or energy, select small varieties.

Apply this same rule of thumb for selecting handle length. Tools are extensions of the body used for extra leverage or reach when pulling, pushing, throwing, shaping or cutting. Sturdy-handled tools are best for moving heavy soil. Tools designed for weeding and cultivation, reaching and working in small spaces should have lightweight handles.

If your gardening friend has all the basics, you might look in specialty gardening catalogs and well supplied garden centers for extra high quality tools with fine hardwood handles, usually well-tempered steel or novelty shapes.

As you think about tools used in the garden I am sure you will come up with a sizable lists of tools and accessories that will make gardening more pleasurable for your gardening friend or family member this coming spring.

Bill Lamont is a professor and extension vegetable specialist in the department of plant science at Penn State and can be reached by email at wlamont@psu.edu.