16 May 2011

Hand weeding/digging tools -- a product review

Recently, I've started getting free stuff from companies to review here on the blog, and I've been trying to figure out how to do that effectively. What I've decided is to always do reviews in comparison with other similar products. Rather than saying "I liked/didn't like product X" I'm going to make a policy of comparing products X, Y and Z, and giving you the run down of which I liked best and why.

Todays topic is small weeding/digging tools. When I'm out in the garden, I like to have something in hand to help me pluck out an errant weed, plant seeds, or get my latest purchases from the garden center into the ground. I've tried many different tools to do this in the past, with mixed success. I garden in heavy clay, often running into things like stones and tree roots, so these tools need to be strong. I don't like getting out the full sized shovel, so I want something that can easily dig a big enough hole for a quart pot, sometimes even 1 gallons.

So, here's the run down of the products I've tried, and what I think of them. The Cobrahead weeder I received for free, but I paid for all of the other products. I receive no kickback of any kind for reviewing any of them.

Hand trowel, AM Leonard, ~$15
Hand trowels are classic, but I just don't like them. I've used several from different companies, and none have been sharp and narrow enough to easily slip into my heavy clay soil. Digging with these is a LOT of work, and fairly frustrating. Unless you have very light, sandy soil, not a good buy. I will add, though, that of the many different hand trowels I've had over the years, this is the only one that is actually strong enough that I haven't bent it. If you do want a trowel for some reason, this is the one to get. It is also perhaps the most attractive tool I own.

NRG Ergonomic Weeder by Radius Garden ~15$
This was my favorite tool for about an hour. The crazy looking handle is actually incredibly comfortable to use, the slim, serrated blade can very effectively pop an entire dandelion out of the ground, and easily digs a hole big enough for a sizable plant. BUT: the very first time I ran up against a tree root and put a little pressure on it, the blade bent like wire. I hate garden tools that aren't build to withstand actual gardening! If this same tool came in a much stronger steel, I'd be a huge fan. As it is, give it a miss.

Cobrahead Weeder ~$25. (I got mine free to review)
The Cobrahead is satisfyingly sharp and solidly built -- there is no bending this tool -- and after using it in the garden for a couple weeks I like it, but I don't love it. It works okay for weeding, but the curvature of the blade makes it impractical to getting the whole tap root of weeds like dandelions. It is brilliant for making a shallow furrow for planting seeds, but trying to dig a planting hole for something larger than a cell pack is incredibly frustrating. I find myself using it now and again, but not my first choice when I head out into the garden.

Soil knife. There are various brands, usually $15-20
This is the tool I grab when I head out to the garden. It weeds, digs, divides, does everything. Simple, no fuss, and (usually) solidly build to withstand abuse in the garden. I've had various brands over the years (I'm good at loosing tools) and some are better than others. The one pictured I got at our local garden center (I think), and has been pretty good to me. It has serrations on one side which are surprisingly helpful when dividing tough perennials. Not all soil knives are created equal, and a generic one I got at a local big box store literally snapped in half one day. The best I ever had was the incredibly solidly build version from AM Leonard. If this one ever breaks or bends, that's what I'm getting next.

10 May 2011

Species tulips

I planted a few species tulips last fall. I'm just starting to explore the genus, but I'm quite taken with them. Compared to the standard hybrid tulips (which I also love) the forms are quite delicate and graceful. I'm going to have to try a lot more this year...
Tulipa tarda So cheerful! Also tough and spreads vigorous for me.
Tulipa 'Little Beauty' 
'Little Beauty' again... LOVE the blue at the base of the flower. I tried growing it as a teenager at my parent's house... where it became instant deer food. I'm hoping it lives long and well in my current (mostly deer-free) garden.

Tulipa clusiana A flower close-up.
Tulipa clusiana Bad picture of the whole plant. I don't think I've captured how delicate and graceful they are. I'm in love.

Tulipa batalinii Delicately amazing little flower.
Any species tulip fans out that? Recommendations for what I should try next?

05 May 2011

Pink dandelions

I know I'm crazy but I just couldn't resist.
My pink dandelions are blooming!

Aren't they fun? These are Taraxicum pseudoroseum as opposed to the common lawn weed, Taraxicum officinale.
 Now that they are flowering, I'm wondering if they will successfully naturalize in the lawn like their yellow relative. I'm seriously tempted to grow up a bunch and plant them out in the front yard in place of my regular yellow ones. It would be so much fun to watch people walk by and do a double take!

01 May 2011

May Day

May came in with perfectly glorious weather, so I spent the day out in the garden, weeding, looking about, and soaking in the beauty... here's some random shots of what I was enjoying.
A drift of Anemone blanda
The crinkly, purpley, glossy leaves of Ajuga 'Metallica Crispa'
Another favorite Anemone, 'Bracteata Pleniflora'
The feather new growth of bronze fennel

The unfolding leaves of variegated honesty (Lunaria annua)
And, of course, the obligatory daffodils