What Tools to Use for Common Gardening Tasks

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This is the fourth and final post of the series on gardening tools. Now that you have the 10 Most Useful Gardening Tools, maybe some of the 15 Special Tools that You Might Need and have learned How to Maintain Your Tools, you may wonder what tasks require which of these tools.

The right tools make any job much easier but they do need to be used for the right tasks to maximize their effectiveness. And if your yard is large you will need to gather up all the tools you need before you venture out into the “back forty”.

Let’s look at some common tasks and what tools are needed to complete the tasks.

Seeding

Usually you will need more supplies than tools for this such as soil, seed flats or pots, seeds and water. However a few tools will make seeding much easier.

You’ll want a trowel to help move soil from bags to the seed flats or pots. I also typically use a yogurt container as it holds more soil than a trowel.

I recommend having a chopstick or wood dowel on hand to poke holes for the seeds in the flats or pots – you could use your finger too but the holes might be too big depending on the size of your fingers and the size of the seeds you are planting.

You’ll need a watering can with a fine rose to avoid washing away seeds. Or you can use a water hose with a fine misting spray but be careful.

And if you are buying amendments and soil in bags you may need a handtruck or dolly to move the heavy bags to where you are seeding. You’ll also perhaps need a broom or handbrush/dustpan to clean up if you make a mess filling soil into flats or pots.

Transplanting

Once your seeds have sprouted and grown into decent sized seedlings or transplants you’ll need to plant them out.

To prepare the area where the transplants will be planted, you’ll need to possibly dig first to loosen the soil. So a long-handled shovel will come in handy as will some type of cultivator/hoe or even a regular rake to break up the clods of soil you will generate digging in the soil. Use a rake then to smooth out the soil and a hoe, rake, shovel or trowel to make furrows for the transplants.

A chopstick or wood dowel comes in handy to prick out the transplants without damaging them. I find that using gloves with such delicate transplants doesn’t work well so use my bare hands. Not many transplants have thorns so you should be okay.

You can also use the chopstick (measure and make some marks for common planting distances) or your trowel to space out your transplants. I use my rake laid over the tops of my raised beds to provide a guide to keep rows straight if I am planting in rows. I guess you could mark your rake as well and use it for accurate spacing.

Use a trowel or your hands to smooth out the soil around the transplant.

And again you will need a watering can with a fine rose to water in your transplants and give them some soluble fertilizer such as seaweed and/or fish.

Weeding

Typically this is not a popular task among gardeners so using the right tools to do weeding is important to make the task at least a bit more bearable and not feel overwhelming.

Before you start you may want to use a hose to moisten the soil if you have not had any recent rain as weeds will tend to come up much easier than in dry soil.

A proper weeder will handle deep rooted weeds such as dandelions. For that really large persistent weed that you might have missed, you may have to get out the long-handled shovel or spade and dig a more substantial hole to try and get the whole root.

A sharp hoe is the best tool for running just below the surface of the soil to uproot shallow-rooted weeds or cut off perennial weeds (they will grow back though in most cases). It can also be used to injure your foot if you are not careful and not wearing shoes so be careful! You can also use a cultivator (or in my case the other side of my hoe) to loosen soil and then you can pull the weeds out.

Be sure to wear gloves if you are digging up thistles or weeding close to rose bushes to protect your hands from the thorns.

Finally you need something to haul away the weeds either to the compost or to your municipal green waste bin. The latter is definitely the right place for weeds that have seeded or weeds that can sprout from pieces of root such as bindweed – you don’t want these in your compost! Trugs come in handy for this task as they are easy to clean afterwards. However you can also use an old laundry basket, garbage can, pail, cardboard box or a bag. In some cases shallow-rooted weeds can just be left on top of the soil to shrivel up and eventually decompose.

Pruning

Take a wild guess what you need for this task: pruners of course!

Safety Equipment: Before you start you may want to put on a pair of gloves depending on what you are pruning. I’d also recommend a hardhat if you are cutting heavy limbs above your head. And a pair of safety glasses as it is very easy to get a piece of bark or a whole branch in your eye.

For the pruning itself you may need regular hand pruners, long pole pruners, loppers, a bowsaw and an orchard ladder. Sounds like a lot but having these all on hand will make the task go quicker and with less damage to your trees.

If you want to make your own mulch the final tool you will need is a shredder/chipper. This can shred a large pile of branches into a useful wood mulch that you can spread on paths and after a bit of aging on your flower and vegetable beds.

Lawn maintenance

Obviously you will need a lawnmower. And then need a grass trimmer to trim the edges around flowerbeds and trees.

An aerator will punch holes in your lawn and then you can top-dress with sand, screened compost and fertilizer. You’ll need a rake again for this.

In the fall ensure that you rake up leaves on your lawn with a leaf rake to keep your lawn tidy but also to allow it to breathe. If you are moving the leaves to the backyard to make mulch, you will need to use a wheelbarrow, tarp, bags or a garbage can. If the leaves are wet be careful as they may be very heavy.

Harvesting

This is of course the task that most of us really enjoy as a reward for all that hard work! I have the tendency to head out into the garden unprepared and end up balancing 4 or 5 apples or other fruit in my arms against my stomach while I also try to hold a bundle of greens. Not the best way to do this as it is awkward and can cause you to drop things and then they will get damaged.

So remember on your forays into the garden to take along several produce bags for beans, peas, greens and anything else that is loose. Grab perhaps a cardboard box or two if you are picking fruit or digging up potatoes. A wicker basket (think Red Riding Hood) comes in handy for those smaller vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beets, etc. where you might only be picking one or two. Or sometimes I’ll grab a sieve from the kitchen for leafy greens as I need it anyways to drain them after washing.

You’ll need a pair of scissors to cut off peas, beans (you don’t want to damage the plant by trying to tear off the pods), peppers, cukes and greens (although some if you are careful can just be twisted or snapped off).

The scissors may not be strong enough to remove the root ends of veggies that you are completely pulling out of the ground such as kohlrabi (I don’t want to get all that dirt on the roots into the kitchen) so have a pair of pruners or a sharp knife on hand.

For root vegetables such as carrots or parsnips you may want to use your trowel or shovel to help loosen the soil in order to pull out the veggie. It has happened to me many times that pulling without any aids to loosen the soil around the roots resulted in the carrot or parsnip snapping off and you lose the end of them in the soil (or if you are stingy/conservative you will need to use the trowel or shovel anyways to dig out the piece that broke off.

For harvesting fruit nothing beats a fruit picker. With it you can pick an apple, plum, peach or pear on a high branch without needing to get out a ladder. Just be sure to empty the bag regularly as it can get quite heavy and hard to hold. For those times when you really need to reach high you may need to use an orchard ladder (three legs); avoid using a normal stepladder as it is hard to get it stable enough so you won’t fall.

Preserving the harvest is a complete subject on itself so I’ll keep that for a future post.

Composting

For this you may need a special compost turning tool that inserts into the pile and when you try to pull it out its wings spread out and help to move some of the material in the middle up to the surface.

Some people like to use a compost thermometer to measure the temperature of the compost to know when they need to turn the compost and if it is hot enough to kill weed seeds (usually not a good idea to add weed seeds though to a compost unless you can achieve very high temperatures).

You will have to regularly empty the bin and if you have more than one bin compartment you will have to also move contents from one bin to another to help rotate the partially composted materials. The easiest tool here for when the compost is done is a shovel. For compost that is still in the chunky stage a garden fork is better but be prepared to constantly have to clear material from the tines.

A compost sieve or trommel is another tool that might come in handy to sieve out the material that hasn’t decomposed yet so that you get a finer compost.

And you’ll want to utilize a wheelbarrow or some other kind of garden cart to move the compost to your garden beds. You’ll also need a rake to spread the compost evenly.

Safety Note

Just one safety warning: manufacturers of tools are always very careful to point out that tools should only be used for their designed purpose and should not be modified in any way. While this is good advice, it always is tempting to use a tool for another purpose or modify or customize it to work better. Just think it through carefully and don’t do anything that could jeopardize anyone’s safety including your own or cause property damage (yours or your neighbours’).

Do you have any tools or tasks to add to the ones above? Have you found any unique uses for tools beyond what the tool typically is used for? Feel free to share in the comments below.

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