This week, we’re honoring our love of gardening by taking a hard look at our rusty, underperforming hand tools, and seeing if there might be a better way to approach our routine gardening tasks.
Gardeners really vary on how we like to deal with the trimmings and weeds we create when doing the rounds in our gardens. I’ve seen everything from people leaving the twigs and weeds to compost where they fall (be careful with that technique!), to gardeners with giant apron pockets which hold surprising amounts of weeds, to people leaving neat piles of weeds and trimmings, which they collect at the end of the day with a wheelbarrow.
But I’m a professional. You aren’t going to catch any self-respecting pro piling weeds into her pockets or leaving bits about! So I’ve compiled a few of my favorite options for keeping things neat while gardening.
My ideal garden waste receptacle is tough, multi-purpose, low enough to toss things into while kneeling, and easy to lift and carry. Check out the pros and cons with each of these options:
Collapsible leaf bags or containers
Collapsible leaf bags are usually made of a sturdy, water-resistant cloth or vinyl, and have a coiled wire frame which springs upright for gardening and crushes down easily for storage. Some kinds come with zippered lids, and they’re available with or without a hard shell at the bottom, which can help keep the bag from tearing if you tend to drag it along the ground when it’s full.
This is an ideal option if you don’t compost on site. If you put your green waste in your car and take it to the dump for composting, this is great because the containers are often just the right size for going in a trunk or backseat.
Most are sized perfectly so you can put a trash or leaf bag inside, which keeps the inside of the container clean and nice, and when you’re done with the day’s work, it’s wonderful to be able to crush it into a 4” thick hoop and store it easily.
These are tall enough that they are inconvenient to work directly into unless you are standing to prune, so you will still need a bucket or something to weed into. They are also large enough to be hard to lift if filled entirely with heavy weeds.
They also aren’t as sturdy as some other options, so if you are hard on tools or garden professionally, this isn’t your best option.
Summing it up:
Collapsible leaf bags are great for homeowners who have to transport green waste in the car or do a lot of deadheading or trimming.
Check out my favorite collapsible leaf bag at my gardening shop!
Bucket with canvas tool caddy
Canvas tool caddies can make that old laundry detergent bucket into a convenient way of carrying tools around and having a small place to toss weeds as you work.
Buckets with a tool caddy fit into small spaces, so if you want something to keep by the door for those quick weeding sessions, this is your best bet. It could easily live outside on a covered patio if you only kept a few rugged tools in it.
You can tuck a kitchen trash bag into it so that you don’t have to tip it upside-down to get the weeds out.
You ever fill a bucket with something heavy, like wet clay clinging to weed roots, and then bang it against your leg? Ouch! The bottom edge of the bucket seems innocent enough, but I’ve gotten some nasty bruises from lugging full buckets about.
The handle is also terrible. It’s uncomfortable to lift and often flops down in your way. Bucket handles are made for economy, not ergonomics.
Using a tool caddy with your bucket makes it impossible for you to tip your bucket upside-down without emptying your tools. This means the bucket is less multi-use with a caddy on, since you can’t water things with it (not that you’d want to anyway as there’s no pouring spout) or scoop up mulch or soil with it.
Summing it up:
A bucket with a tool caddy is a great option if you regularly go out for 15-minute rounds of weeding or deadheading and want to keep your tools close. It’s not great if you work for longer stretches of time.
Tubtrugs are a particular brand of plastic garden tub with handles. The great thing about them is the incredibly strong, flexible plastic, which makes them nearly impossible to break and means that when you grip the handles, the tub forms a pouring spout. (Please don’t think about getting a generic garden tub – I have tried two off brands and both cracked quickly and were uncomfortable to use – it’s all about the super-flexible rubbery plastic.)
These meet all my standards for being multi-use. I put my tools in them and carry my tools out to the garden area I want to work in, then dump the tools out and toss green waste into my tubtrug. The fact that the top almost closes when I grip the handles means I can even pile long-handled tools into them and carry all my tools in one hand.
They hold water and the tub forms a pouring spout when you hold both handles in one hand, so you can use it for fertilizing or watering in new plants.
The flexible top even makes it useful as a dustpan in a pinch! I can set it on its side and it forms to the ground, making it perfect for scooping up autumn leaves or soil.
The handles are ergonomically designed to be comfy to grip, and the base is rounded so it won’t bruise your legs if you bang it against yourself while walking.
And they are long-lasting. I can’t see any signs of real wear or damage on mine, after a full two years of almost daily professional use.
I use the 10-gallon size, but there are smaller ones available too.
You’ll have to keep a close eye on your tools, because it’s tempting to set your trowel or pruners down on top of the green waste in the tub. I’ve watched more than one person grumpily sorting through their compost bin for their $30 hori-hori!
Summing it up:
Tubtrugs are the toughest and most multi-purpose option, and they’re easily my favorite. If you’re like me and don’t want to run back inside for a watering can, scooping shovel, or dustpan when you’re in the middle of a project, a tubtrug might be your best option too.
Of tarps, contractor bags, and wheelbarrows:
Since we’re on the topic of garden waste, let’s talk briefly about these other garden helpers.
Tarps are awesome for setting longer branches on, or things that aren’t too heavy to lift, like autumn leaves or the mass of leaves from pruning Miscanthus grass. Be sure and set your branches going all in one direction so the tarp’s easy to lift and carry. You can even tie a rope around the tarp and trimmings to make an easy-to-carry bundle. Try not to drag your tarp along concrete – it’s easy to wear holes in them.
Contractor bags are just like a normal trash bag, but they are much thicker, which means you can re-use them many times before they break. If you have to take green waste in your car or truck, this can be a good option for keeping things neat.
Wheelbarrows are great if you’re moving green waste to an on-site compost pile. Many people prefer the type with two wheels – if you’ve ever overfilled your wheelbarrow and had it tip over, you’ll know it’s possible to strain your back, or at best make a decent mess with the one-wheel kinds.
Of course, the two-wheel kinds are heavier and less able to maneuver through tight areas, so it’s a matter of preference as to which is best for you.
What do you use in your garden?
I hope you’ve found these comparisons helpful! Do you use any of these things in your garden, or what tricks have you found that work for you? Let me know in the comments below!