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Gardening tools like these make great stocking-stuffers.
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Look for garden tools that are heavy-duty and made of good sturdy material. I've had the shaft of hand trowels bend on me as I worked in the garden, so cheap tools are no bargain if they have to be replaced over and over.
Consider ergonomics when selecting a hand tool. Such designs allow you to work with your wrist straight, reducing fatigue and stress on your hands and wrists.
The grip span on pruners and other double-handled tools should be no more than 3 inches when open and close to about 2 inches. Some handles are adjustable, while others are covered with foam and other soft materials to provide comfort and improve grip.
Spring-loaded handles return pruner to the open position. Avoid tools with built-in finger grooves because each user's hand is different and may not naturally fit the manufacture's design.
All gardeners need three basic pruning tools. They are hand pruners, lopping shears and a pruning saw. Hand pruners and shears come in two styles: bypass and anvil. The bypass design has two curved blades that pass each other in a scissor-type action. Anvil-style pruners have a straight upper blade that cuts against a lower flat plate.
The bypass style is generally more versatile and allows closer work on narrow angled stems. Hand pruners can be used on stems with a diameter of inch. Lopping shears can cut branches up to 1 inches. A fine-toothed pruning saw can be used on slightly larger limbs. Step up to a coarsely toothed saw for larger limbs.
All gardeners will also need a shovel, digging fork, rake, cultivator and hoe. A spade or round-pointed shovel can be used to prepare flower beds and vegetable gardens and to plant shrubs.
A digging fork will come in handy for general site work and incorporating compost and other amendments into the soil. I use my digging fork to go after stubborn, deep-rooted weeds.
In selecting these larger hand tools, look for one with sturdy handles and a good attachment between the working end of the tool and the handle. I prefer wooden handles, but synthetic handles are also available.
Small hand tools such as trowels, hand cultivators and weed diggers should be in every gardener's tool bucket. These basic hand tools come in a wide variety of shapes and styles. Look for a heavy shaft and comfortable handle.
Finally, every gardener needs a good pair of garden gloves. Leather gloves can't be beat for the heavy work.
John E. Howe is an agent in Virginia Cooperative Extension's Spotsylvania County office specializing in animal science. Phone 540/507-7571; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.