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Garden Help Desk: Understanding the perfect tools for every gardener’s experience

By Usu Extension garden Help Desk - | Feb 7, 2021
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Buds emerge on roses as they begin to break dormancy. It's best to prune before leaves expand from the buds and this rosebush is ready for pruning.

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A broadfork lets you a loosen a wider band of soil than you could with a shovel. It's a great way to loosen soil when you don't want to also turn the soil.

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A circle hoe lets you clear weeds close to plants with less chance of plant damage and less soil disturbance than you'd get with a conventional hoe. A long handle on a full-sized hoe makes it more comfortable to use.

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Small hand tools make it easy to tend, weed and prune in container gardens and small garden boxes.

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A soil thermometer is a handy, inexpensive tool for checking soil temperatures instead of guessing. When seeds are planted at the right soil temperature they germinate better and grow more vigorously.

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A spading for can be used to loosen soil around root vegetables so that you can harvest them with less damage than a shovel would cause.

Question: I got a gift certificate to a garden tool catalog. What are some good multipurpose tools I should consider?

Answer: Most of us picture shovels and rakes when we think of garden tools, but there are plenty of other useful things we can add to our tool shed.

The best tools for you will depend on what kind of gardener you are and where you garden. Are you a new gardener or an experienced gardener? Do you have a conventional garden, raised bed garden or a container garden? How large is your garden? Answers to these questions will help you decide how to spend your gift certificate.

New gardeners need a few basic items while they discover their gardening style. If you don’t already have a sturdy, comfortable trowel, a kneeling pad, and a pair gloves, those would be the first things to look at once you have a shovel. A hat with a wide brim is another good option.

If you’re a more experienced gardener, consider adding a second kneeling pad so that you can shift down a row of plants without having to stand up, or a weeding knife for dealing with larger weeds. A circle hoe, either full-length or hand-held, is another nice addition to the garden or a spading fork for harvesting root vegetables. A soil thermometer is a handy, inexpensive tool that you could add to your purchase if you need to use up just a few more dollars of credit.

Container gardeners need small clippers or pruners and smaller-sized trowels. You could shop for large containers with good drainage or a plant caddy to help you move heavy container gardens.

If you have a large garden or multi-family garden, a broadfork; a row seeder that furrows, plants and covers your seeds; or a full roll of floating row cover would be nice.

Question: I want to move a few Triple crown blackberry plants to a better location. When would be the best time this spring to move them?

Answer: Most plants do best if they’re moved while they’re dormant, and your blackberry plants are no different. You can dig and move the crowns of your blackberry plants anytime between leaf drop in the fall and bud break in the spring.

Check the soil where your plants are now and where you’d like to replant them. If the ground isn’t frozen, you can go ahead and do it now. If the ground is frozen, check every day or two and move the plants as soon as you can.

You’ll have the best chance of success if you:

  • Move only healthy plants.
  • Remove all but three or four of last year’s canes and cut those canes back to about 2-3 feet in length.
  • Dig as large a root ball as you can manage, just the way you would with a tree or shrub. The more roots you can keep with the crowns, the better
  • Make your new planting holes wide enough to give the roots plenty of room.
  • The exposed roots of your plants won’t be frost tolerant, so dig them up when the temperature is in the mid 30s or warmer and get the crowns planted back into the ground as quickly as you can.
  • Water the plants well.

Your plants will need this year to re-establish, but if you see good, healthy growth you can expect some fruit from them again next year.

Question: Is it time to prune my roses?

Answer: That’s going to depend on where you’re located in Utah Valley.

There are some roses budding out just a bit in milder areas, but overnight temperatures are still cold enough in other parts of our county to cause damage to the canes on some varieties.

If you prune now, and you’re in a colder spot, you might end up removing the canes that don’t have any winter injury and leaving canes that do. Roses are usually pruned beginning in late February through early March when we can expect to be having milder weather.

Keep an eye on the weather forecast for your area, watch for steady overnight lows that are no longer in the teens and twenties, and then get that pruning done.


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