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Good tools make for easier work

This picture taken Wednesday shows an assortment of hand tools that can assist in making gardening tasks a little more enjoyable. John Zvirovski / The Sun

Now that the soil is beginning to dry out and the frost is slowly leaving the ground, we find ourselves getting back into the yards to get some chores done. We are a good month away from being able to plant anything outside, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get plenty of things accomplished in preparing for the new season. To make many of these chores easier, there are numerous tools.

Spring calls for the      bigger tools to come out like the rakes, shovels, pitch forks and lawn mowers. They all have their functions to make our yards complete. Rakes are one of the first tools to make their appearance. They come in plastic or metal and in a bow or a flared-leaf style. The bow style is used more in the gardens to loosen soil or move soil around to even out the ground. Of course, the leaf rakes are used to lightly lift dead grass and to grab all the leaves that have gathered in the yard over the winter.

Shovels or spades are another large tool commonly used to turn the earth over to work up new beds or to loosen and prep the vegetable garden for planting. They also work very well for lifting large perennials when the time comes to divide them. Always make sure that the blade itself is clean and filed sharp for the best results. They are also used for digging larger holes when planting trees and shrubs into the landscape, making sure there is plenty of loose soil for the new roots to grow.

Pitchforks are great for loosening up heavy soils to a deep level. They work great when trying to amend the soil with compost, straw and other organic matter to work it into a good depth. They also work well for lifting some of the vegetable crops later in the season such as potatoes, parsnips, carrots and beets.

The hoe is probably the most popular garden tool that is heavily used once the plants are in the ground and growing. They are used to loosen the soil between plants and for weeding when your back can no longer handle being hunched over in the garden. There is the rectangular, flat-edged style that is used to skim the top of the soil surface to rid the garden of weeds. The second style is the triangular hoe with a terminal point used to dig down deeper and for creating furrows whether planting bulbs, transplants or small, bare root shrubs. This style also gets in between plants a little easier, but be careful not to dig down too far or too close to the plants as you may damage the root system. Always keep these edges sharpened for optimal results also.

Lawn mowers are pretty self-explanatory as they are the machines that cut our lawns. Great care needs to be taken with these items as they are used frequently and require regular maintenance. There is the push mower that uses no fuel, electric or gas lawn mowers that you push or are self-propelled and larger riding lawn mowers, which are typically used for larger yards. In any case, always keep them running well and avoid bare feet when operating them.

There are numerous small hand tools that assist us gardeners to make things a little easier also. There are a variety of sizes of hand trowels, rakes, hoes, dandelion diggers, pruners and handsaws. Many of us know that the hand trowels are used for digging the small holes for placing in transplants, annuals and numerous bulbs and roots. They make just the right size hole to accomplish the desired task at hand.

Short, little hand hoes are great to have around, especially if you want to get up close and personal with all your plants. They get those hard-to-reach spots with just enough pressure to do the trick, but not too much to cause plant damage.

Dandelion diggers are common in every      household and nine out of 10 people have dandelions to some extent. They have a small, dual-toothed end that goes around the tap root and hoists it up from the ground. Add a little vinegar to the hole that is left, and it dries up the   remainder of the root. I have also used mine to chip ice, pry things open and scrape things off the pavement when the dandelions are gone, but I don’t recommend that as they tend to get replaced much more frequently.

Pruners and handsaws have many uses in the   garden. I use my pruners to trim back grape vines, shape shrubs and cut back all perennials so the new growth can take over. They are great for       deadheading plants when their flowers have faded later in the season. They are also used to rid trees of smaller branches and suckers that may form at the base. Small handsaws are great for getting rid of branches that are thicker than 1/2 inch.

As with all tools that are used in the garden, always clean and sanitize them after each use to keep them in prime, working condition. Sharp blades and rust-free metals will make the job easier while allowing the tools to last a much longer time. Make sure your tools are ready for the season and if some need to be fixed or            replaced, now is a great time to get that done.      Remember, the sharpest tool in the shed definitely gets utilized the most.