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Natural fibers such as jute or cotton are softer and less likely to cut plant stems than synthetics like nylon. Natural-fiber twines can also be composted with dead stems and prunings.
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With their curved, clawlike end, cultivators are perfect for scratching up soil or mulch for a fresh look and quicker absorption of water. They can also be used for weeding between rows.
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The pointed end makes small holes for seed sowing, transplanting, and planting small bulbs.
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More efficient than a spade at turning over soil and breaking up clods, it is also easier to use in dense or heavy soil. Look for one with a D-handle and tines that are square in cross-section -- flat tines can bend when they strike a rock or a root. The fork should attach to the handle with a closed socket or double straps, one above the handle and one below, and have rivets running through it.
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A necessity for combing rocks and clods out of a bed and leveling the soil for seed sowing. A "bowheaded" rake is sturdier and more stable, making it better for difficult or stony soils.
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Hanging Basket Wand
Watering your hanging baskets can be difficult, especially when they dangle just out of reach, as most do. Holding up the hose can be exhausting, and the stream of water can be hard to direct. Hanging-basket wands are just the thing for this task. Longer than standard wands and angled near the breaker end, they are lightweight and have a soft grip to help you position them properly.
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A long-handled traditional hoe (far left) with a pointed blade is good for weeding or opening a furrow for planting. A "stirrup" or "scuffle" hoe slices back and forth just below the soil surface. It is best for removing young or shallow-rooted weeds.
Photography: Peter Ardito8 of 16
Shovels are good for lifting, breaking into hard soil or for shifting piles of soil, gravel, mulch, and sand.. The curved, scooped blade can come in a number of shapes, but it should be made of a single forged-and-tempered piece of steel, and the socket should be closed at the back. Fiberglass handles are less likely to break when you are prying out a rock.
SHW round-point shovel with D handle, $62, gardentoolcompany.com.
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For cutting branches up to a 1/2-inch thick. Bypass shears, which cut like scissors, make cleaner cuts and don't crush stems, allowing plants to heal more quickly. For longer service, get a model with a replaceable blade.
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One of the most important tools for efficient watering doesn't supply water but measures it. A rain gauge shows how much natural precipitation has fallen, so you can tell at a glance if you're in for a day of watering or relaxation. Place the rain gauge in an open area with no trees or structures overhead. These keep raindrops from entering the gauge, and any water dripping from them after a storm can further skew the reading. Be sure to empty the gauge after each rainfall.
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This type of hose is made of porous rubber that lets water seep out of every inch. The slow, low-volume watering makes it ideal for establishing and maintaining plantings, particularly when used with a timer. Snake the hose around the outer root zones of annuals, perennials, and shrubs, linking additional lengths if necessary. Soaker hoses can be covered with mulch, which hides the rubber tubes and conserves water by minimizing surface evaporation.
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The tool you'll use for most digging. The blade should be almost flat, with a straight, sharp cutting edge. There should be generous treads at the top of the blade, where you step to push it into the soil, and the blade should attach to the handle with a closed socket and long straps that run up the bottom and top of the handle to reinforce the joint. The handle should split at the top to end in an easy-to-grip D.
A garden spade usually has a rectangular blade; it’s a precision digger that’s ideal for planting or transplanting small trees and shrubs, and for edging clean lines for beds.
Sneeboer Tools large garden spade with steps, $132, gardentoolcompany.com.
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The essential planting tool. A trowel whose blade attaches with a forged socket is far stronger than cheap trowels whose stamped steel blades attach with a spikelike "tang." Cast-aluminum trowels are a lightweight but durable alternative.
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With a full watering can, a refreshing drink can be had at a moment's notice (the one at left was specifically designed for seedlings). Also, a watering can that's balanced and easy to carry proves to be an ideal companion in the garden when temperatures are soaring and just a few plants need water.
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Tired of waiting at home until the sprinkler has run long enough? Use an inexpensive watering timer to keep the garden on your own schedule. Set the dial for the necessary duration, turn on the spigot, and walk away. The timer cuts the flow automatically when the determined time has elapsed. See Martha's watering tip.
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Wheelbarrows and carts are the workhorses of the garden, hauling soil, mulch, plants, and debris over all kinds of terrain.