Home & Garden

These gadgets make gardening easier, regional experts say

Angela Pratt, a Sacramento horticulturist, says a bulb auger “makes quick work of bulb planting.”
Angela Pratt, a Sacramento horticulturist, says a bulb auger “makes quick work of bulb planting.” Special to The Bee

In the comfy confines of our homes, we cherish the TV remote control and garage door opener. Outdoors, gardeners form similar attachments to tools that make the job easier and more pleasurable. Less hassle means less stress and more quality time in the garden.

We asked a group of local gardening experts to select their favorite tool or gardening accessory. The results were somewhat surprising. No common tools like loppers, hand pruners and watering wands were selected. Here’s the big reveal:

Baldo Villegas, Orangevale

Entomologist, master consulting rosarian

Tool: Ginga V-shape long-handle aluminum scraper

Weeds are the gardener’s bane. If you can’t find a weed in the garden, schedule an eye examination. Villegas lightens the weeding workload on his 2-acre property with the Ginga long-handled scraper ($27.90 at Hida Tool). The tool is light, making it easier to wield, and the handle is 4 feet long.

“The beauty of this weeder is its design,” Villegas said. “The blade is made of tempered stainless steel and doesn’t rust if left out in the garden. The shape is triangular, and its inner surface is a broad V-shape. The edges are sharp. I use it, not only to weed, but to dig, plant vegetable transplants and for planting seeds in furrows. It’s a very versatile tool!”

Villegas said he first spotted Ginga weeders many years ago at a Ginga Tool & Hardware Company display (www.hidatool.com). He was so impressed with the blade design, he purchased six weeders, two of each of the three models on display.

“Of the three, I use the aluminum handle model as it is more durable and the 48-inch handle saves my back.”

Fred (“Farmer Fred”) Hoffman, Herald

Radio gardening show personality, lifetime UC master gardener

Tool: BCS Bio 100 chipper/shredder

Hoffman is a mulchaholic who rightfully champions the many benefits of mulch. His beloved chipper/shredder inhales tree limbs and spits wood chips that he spreads around plants. A chipper/shredder that provides home-grown mulch is a good investment for gardeners with big yards, he advises.

“Every yard needs lots of mulch for preserving soil moisture, suppressing weeds and slowly feeding the garden soil,” Hoffman said. “Why take a chance on importing someone else’s yard problems, like hitchhiking diseases or insects? Mulch locally! The best mulch comes from your own yard.”

With hundreds of trees on his 10-acre property, he has no shortage of mulching material. The chipper takes care of tree limbs and shrub branches, while the shredder function downsizes leaves, stems, smaller branches and vegetable waste – like corn stalks – into valuable compost-sized pieces.

Among his chipper/shredder recommendations are to buy as much chipper/shredder as you can afford, purchase a gas model with an engine over 5 horsepower (preferably 8 to 10 hp), a large flywheel (his is 37 pounds) for efficient chipping of larger branches and one with lots of steel flails for pulverizing stalks and leaves. His BCS Bio 100 (www.bcsshop.com/chipper.htm) has a centrifugal clutch for easier starting.

A high-quality chipper/shredder is expensive. Hoffman says a good one will cost $1,000 to $2,000. He notes chippers/shredders are loud, so you’ll also need to invest in ear protection, too.

“But they can make short work out of that huge pile of dead tree limbs and former shrubs that pile up in the back 40, thus reducing the stress in my life,” Hoffman said. “It brings an end to the weekend spousal refrain, ‘Is today the day that you finally do something about that pile of branches back there?’”

Ellen Zagory, Davis

Director of public horticulture, UC Davis Arboretum

Tool: Weed Wrench

Less-stress gardening for Zagory arrived in a tool that uses leverage to extract stubborn and troublesome volunteer trees and shrubs. Her favorite tool is the Weed Wrench. While that company recently stopped producing its product, there are many similar tools with intriguing names – Extractigator, Pullerbear, Uprooter, etc.

Gardeners who struggle with the task of removing unwanted plants as large as saplings appreciate any easier solution than laborious digging. Plus, no chemical herbicides are required, a bonus for environmentally conscious folks.

“We have a lot of trees and birds, which results in a lot of woody plant seedlings that pop up among my perennials and grasses,” Zagory said. “Privet, hackberry and native oaks suddenly appear and become too big to pop out with a shovel. Cutting them off just makes matters worse as many branched sprouts replace the single stem. Enter my beloved Weed Wrench. You just clamp that thing at the base of the tree, pull back and the tree pops right out of the ground. It’s a great investment in time saved and digging.”

Debbie Flower, Fair Oaks

Horticulture professor at American River College

Tool: Executive Pocket Kaddy

Flower lovingly recalls all the useful tools and accessories she’s used in her garden. Pruning shears. Hori-hori knife. Green landscape tape. Tape measure.

“My husband comes to mind when I ask him and he digs holes for me,” Flowers said. “And my cats keep me company out in the garden, which I love. I also must have tissues or a handkerchief nearby because I have allergies that make my nose run.

“But the pouch is my favorite. It’s like a fanny pack, but open-topped. It allows me to keep all the tools and accessories I use the most close at hand. It has two deep narrow pockets, and a less deep but wider one.”

Flower purchased it many years ago at a meeting of professional interiorscapers. It is made by Kaddy Products (www.kaddyproducts.com) of Ogden, Utah.

“I can have all those wonderful and useful tools wherever I’m in the garden, without stuffing my pockets or hands,” she said.

Angela Pratt, Sacramento

Horticulturist

Tool: Bulb auger

A self-described “gadget geek,” Pratt had difficulty choosing just one tool. After much deliberation, she chose the bulb auger, a long, metal drill attachment used to dig holes for bulbs and other plants. Pratt paid “around $25” for the auger that has a 2.5-inch diameter and is 24 inches long.

“It makes quick work of bulb planting and turned a formerly dreaded task into something I now enjoy,” Pratt said. “It’s an energy-saver, a time-saver and a back-saver. Mine has a long shank and spiral cutting blade. Look for one that also has a soil whip at the top.”

She tried those “as seen on TV” hand-held, cylindrical bulb planters, but they didn’t do the job.

“They were no match for clay soil,” she said. “I suppose you could use them in fluffy, raised beds or in the kitchen as a biscuit cutter. In the garden? Not so much. The drill-powered auger is especially great for those of us who have to contend with clayey soils and garden beds dominated by mature tree roots.”

She uses a 12V lithium ion DeWalt cordless drill to power the auger, but any comparable drill will work. The auger can be found on www.buildingsupplyplus.com or check with Amazon.com, Peaceful Valley Farm Supply in Grass Valley and Ace Hardware as possible sources, Pratt advised.

“You can use it for planting bedding plants, too,” she added.

Bernadette Balics, Davis

Owner and landscape designer of Ecological Landscape Design

Tool: Soil Sleuth

Balics’ landscape designs emphasize vibrant gardens that don’t rely on pesticides and fertilizer while focusing on water conservation. Water use is a major emphasis in times of drought, thus her favorite tool is a soil probe that checks moisture and reduces anxiety about too much or too little water for plants.

The Soil Sleuth takes the guessing out of irrigation. Insert it in the soil and it brings up small soil samples from five different levels while also providing aeration.

“It’s a handy way to check below-ground soil moisture and it’s thin enough to stick in between plants without causing damage,” Balics said. “I can check each of the five samples for soil moisture and adjust the irrigation schedule as needed. I learned of the tool in the ‘Green Gardener for Professionals’ class I attended two years ago. I’ve been using it myself, as well as giving it to clients, ever since.”

The Soil Sleuth is available for purchase online at www.soilsleuth.com.

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