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Posted by Steve Graham | Nov 01, 2010

When Buying Garden Tools, Go Low-Tech

Five basic, classic garden hand tools, and the alternatives they still beat.

Home improvement warehouse stores are full of gadgets and devices aimed at easing your gardening work. However, many successful home gardens are cultivated with a handful for good hand tools - and the high-tech alternatives often won't help you grow a tastier tomato or brighter begonias. A gardener's toolkit requires little more than a trowel, fork, manual weeder, rake and shears. Each time-tested tool beats several high-tech alternatives.

1. Shears: A good pair of bypass pruning shears can keep many trees and shrubs neat and tidy, while also helping harvest vegetables and flowers, clear away dead leaves and cut weeds away from the plants you want to keep.

Power pruners such as the Alligator Lopper add chainsaw teeth and electric scissor action. They may seem like a great idea, but sharp hand pruners are plenty powerful for most home gardeners. The Alligator Lopper may be more hazard than help in many homes. Another overrated alternative is the Garden Groom collecting electric hedge trimmer. It looks like an oversized high-tech iron, and it trims away hedges, then shreds and collects the leaves all in one device. However, users complain it is too heavy and may not do the job. It only cuts a small amount at a time, so it requires several passes on many hedges. It also doesn't pick up all the debris.

2. Rake: Garden vacuums - either gas- or electric-powered - are popular among people anxious to keep a perfect yard. They suck up leaves and dirt, but that is the problem - dirt belongs in the yard. Instead consider raking the leaves and other debris, or simply leaving many of them where they fall. This can create healthy mulch or compost and you don't have to send all those bags of vacuumed leaves to the landfill.

3. Weeder: A simple hand weeder is still the best way to get rid of unwanted plants. Even for pesky, deep-rooted dandelions, just push the little tines down to the bottom of the dandelion roots and pull up the weed. There are old, low-tech alternatives that let you stand up and weed. There also are electric weeders that burn away weeds with hot ceramic plates. Still, if you're willing to do the work, the lowly weeder is the best option.

4. Fork: Garden forks are great for loosening and turning soil, and they are the best way to turn and aerate compost. As home vegetable gardening grows in popularity, home composting is also hot (pun intended) and every week seems to bring a new composting gadget or device - an electric indoor compost bin, fancy compost aerators, compost thermometers and more. However, a garden fork and perhaps a rotating compost bin are all you need to turn your kitchen scraps and garden waste into compost.

5. Trowel: Finally, a basic trowel may be the handiest tool in the garden shed. It's all you need for plenty of digging, planting, harvesting and weeding. There are plenty of alternatives, but a hand trowel trumps them all. However, that's not to say you can't improve on a classic. For example, aluminum-and-magnesium trowels with curved, ergonomic grips are still just tiny garden shovels. They just last longer - and your hands last longer using them.

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