Garden tools 101: Building a Basic Tool Box

February is a great time to purchase any additional tools you may need for the upcoming garden season. If you're feeling fancy, we love this list

If you're looking to build your first garden tool box, we recommend these basics for the beginner. Its not exactly your parent's toolshed, but these tools will tackle the most basic and smaller-scale jobs suited for a novice gardener. You can always look for cheaper options, but be prepared for these to need replacing within a season or two.

1. Start with gloves
   Its great to connect with the earth and feel the dirt between your fingers, but protecting your hands won't only keep them clean but also safe from thorns, irritants and bugs. You'll be a lot more confident and thorough in your work, especially reaching into piles of wet leaves and loosening root balls, if you can't feel the sometimes slimy textures of the garden directly on your skin. We love these gloves because they are fairly priced and allow for a lot more fine-tuned movement than other bulkier gloves. They even work on your touch screen phones! Check the size and be sure to have extras around.

2. Sharp, sturdy hand pruners
   We usually use florist pruners for annuals, grasses and perennials. They are easy to handle, inexpensive and easy to pick up at just about any hardware store. For thicker, woody stems a good pair of Felcos will aways do the trick and with replaceable parts your investment could last a lifetime. 

3. Trowel
    It seems like you could just dig a hole with your new gloves on, but having a sturdy trowel cuts back on so much work. We recommend a broad blade that connects seamlessly to a metal handle sheathed in a rubber, wood or teflon grip. A seamless connection means a sturdier trowel, and more strength cutting through the earth. A depth gage etched into the blade is also very helpful in transplanting and bulb planting. Something like this is perfect!

4. Shovel
    Though this tool is not necessary if you are restricted to window boxes, it is definitely a must if you're planting anything in a gallon pot or bigger. We recommend an ash handle with a rubber or teflon grip. The handle should feel comfortable in your hand and fit your height, or digging will be a lot more work (life hack: digging is a lot of work, its seems like its going to be rewarding but its actually so tiring, so be good to yourself and buy the right shovel for you). As with the trowel, its essential that the handle be securely bolted blade (the digging part of a shovel is called the blade). A sharp steel blade with a slightly pointed tip will help you cut through tough soil. You will see shovels with a flat edge, those are called border shovels, you don't need it right now. We recommend something like this.

5. Folding pruning saw
   A high-quality, foldable pruning saw helps you cut through thicker branches your pruners can't handle (generally anything bigger than 1/2 inch in diameter). Pruning saws are excellent tools for repotting large container plants, cutting through roots to free root-bound trees and shrubs. Be sure to thoroughly clean any dirt and make sure the saw is dry in all the hinges before folding and storing. This is a tool you definitely do not want to leave out in the rain!! We'd recommend this one for the beginner. 

6. Other hardware
  A lot of curating a garden is helping to trellis, stake and train plants to grow a specific way. This list of hardware comes with us on every maintenance and install and will help you Macgyver your way around the unruliest of plants. 
Twine - tie anything to anything
Scissors - heavy duty
Zipties - Use to secure heavy pots, trees and hanging baskets to fences and balconies
Lighter- for quickly disinfecting pruning blades between cuts
Wooden Stakes - assorted widths and heights, great in veggie gardens
Floral wire - fixes everything
Fishing wire or clear picture hanging wire - great for discreet trellising
Insect repellant/sunscreen/bite cream/basic first aid kit

Make sure you take care of your tools and always store them in a clean, dry place.
Remember: Metal tools + lazily leaving them out in the rain = trash
See our previous post for tips on cleaning, sharpening and oiling tools. 

Project: Mounted Plant Plaque

Mounted plants are cool. There's really no way around it. When you mount plants onto a plank of wood and hang it up in your home like a prized piece of artwork, you become cool. It's as simple as that. So let's get started!

First, so that while your guests are admiring your plant art you can give them the nerdy plant science behind your success, let's talk a little bit about the best plants for this project. We recommend pothos, philodendron, orchids, staghorn ferns, tillandsia, moss or bromeliads as these plants are either epiphytic or adapted to growing on the trunks and branches of trees. Epiphytes are a group of plants that have adapted to gathering moisture and nutrients through other means than soil, many times the humidity in the air provides all the water the plant needs. The greek roots of epiphyte means 'upon plant'; their roots attach to tree bark (or in some cases buildings and other structures) and secure a higher perch to afford the plant more access to light in places like rainforests where the ground is all but shaded out. Now you know.

Supplies | Photo: Robynne Heymans

Supplies | Photo: Robynne Heymans

1. SUPPLIES

  • board to mount to - we used this one, complete with hanging hardware. You can forage for your own wood and using a picture hanging kit to attach hardware to the back.
  • Moss - we used sphagnum moss but you can also use live sheet moss
  • Floral Wireyou can also use twine or a colored jute
  • Plant - look for something in a 4" or 6" container
  • Nails & Hammer - If you use a solid plank of wood, you will need to add a ring of nails sticking out about a 1/4" around the base of where the plant will be to anchor the twine or wire to.
Moss bed | Photo: Robynne Heymans

Moss bed | Photo: Robynne Heymans

2. MOSS BED

Attach moss to plank under the area you want the plant to live. This will provide additional moisture and space for the roots to grow. Securely attach to the plank either through the slats or to the nails with the twine or wire.

Loosen root ball | Photo: Robynne Heymans

3. PREPARE THE PLANT

Remove the plant from the container and gently loosen the rootball and knock off some of the dirt so you have a sort of spherical ball that fits easily onto the plank. This lets the roots know its time to grow in a new direction and keeps the plant from being too mounded on the plant.

Place the plant | Photo: Robynne Heymans

Place the plant | Photo: Robynne Heymans

4. PLACE THE PLANT

This probably shouldn't be included as 'a step', but good job, you placed a plant on a plank.

Cover with moss | Photo: Robynne Heymans

Cover with moss | Photo: Robynne Heymans

5. COVER WITH MOSS

Cover all the soil with a generous layer of moss, getting in between the leaves. This layer of moss is what prevents the soil from spilling out onto your floor, so you'll want to do a good job with this.

Secure to plank | Photo: Robynne Heymans

Secure to plank | Photo: Robynne Heymans

6. WIRE TO PLANK

Starting in one corner use the twine or wire secure the mound of soil and moss to the plank. Go through the center of the mound in a criss-cross pattern, wrapping the wire or twine around the nails or wood slats at each turn. Finish by tying off discreetly and snipping off any excess twine or wire. 

Hang it up! | photo: Robynne Heymans

Hang it up! | photo: Robynne Heymans

7. HANG YOUR MASTERPIECE

Choose a spot with bright, indirect light (think bright sun filtered through sheer curtains). This plant art works well on its own as a center piece or as part of a gallery wall. To maintain: mist frequently (more often in dry months) to keep moss moist. About once a week put the entire plank in the sink and run under a light stream of water until completely heavy and saturated. Let dry in the sink leaning upright until it stops dripping (15-30 min) and re-hang. Pluck off any yellow or dried leaves as they occur. 

There you go! Now you're a brilliant plant artist and the envy of basically everyone you know. Don't forget to send a picture to your mom, she's going to be so impressed

We'd like to close-out January with this MUST SEE VIDEO on managing your indoor plant relationships. Good luck!

3 Easy Ways to Keep Your Tools in Great Shape

IN THE GARDEN:
January is a great time to clean, oil and sharpen garden tools. Here's a quick guide for how to get your tools in shape for the spring!

Start by gathering:
Your tools
Isopropyl Alcohol
Flat file
Vice
Protective Eyewear and Gloves
Rags
Boiled Linseed Oil

Thoroughly clean all surfaces with Isopropyl alcohol | Image: Koopman

Thoroughly clean all surfaces with Isopropyl alcohol | Image: Koopman

First, thoroughly clean all surfaces of your tools with isopropyl alcohol on a rag. Remove all dirt and get into the cracks to make sure they don't have any leftover garden residue that could cause rusting. Isopropyl alcohol disinfects surfaces and prevents the spread of any fungus or pests. 

Use a file to sharpen along the factory bevel | Image: DMT Sharp

Use a file to sharpen along the factory bevel | Image: DMT Sharp

For the tools with blades (loppers, pruners, shovels and shears) use a file to hone the edge to ensure a sharp blade for clean cuts. Files come in different sizes but most tools can be sharpened with a simple flat file. Make sure to wear protective gloves and eyewear and to secure the tools with a vice for safety. The blade of the tool, whether it's a shovel, loppers or hand pruners, will have a bevel already established so use that angle to sharpen the blade with the file. Move the file from the tip to the bottom of the edge of the blade with light pressure moving away from you. This will take a little bit of practice and different levels of skill depending on the tool. 

Generously apply boiled linseed oil to all metal and wood surfaces | Image: Today's Homeowner

Generously apply boiled linseed oil to all metal and wood surfaces | Image: Today's Homeowner

Next you will want to oil your tools to protect them against rust. Boiled linseed oil is recommended. Just apply the oil to a rag and rub over the metal and wood parts of all of your tools. Allow them to air dry for a few hours. The oil creates a barrier between air and water which reduces oxidation and rust on your tools. 

Clean, dry tool shed | Image: JS online

Clean, dry tool shed | Image: JS online

Finally, store your tools properly. A clean, dry, protected area, aka not out in the rain, will make your tools last many years.

Ideally, you should clean your tools every time you use them, but following these steps during the off season will make up for summer time neglect.