Fiskars PowerGear Loppers (Part Two)

Fiskars-Lopper-Comparison.jpgA year ago, my pruning life changed for the better. I didn’t realize it at first, as my partner Trevor stole my fresh new loppers to cut up kindling and I couldn’t find ‘em for a week. Once I did, I took them out to prune an overgrown Ceanothus into a lovely tree-like shape, and within 15 minutes of starting, my employee Chad had snagged them! Was I jinxed? Why did everyone keep stealing my new loppers?

When I finally got them back, I understood. The Fiskars PowerGear Loppers are small and lightweight, and they take pretty much all the effort out of making a pruning cut, which means that after an hour of cutting, I’m still in the game and feeling ready for more. And they also help me get clean pruning cuts; since I don’t need to use all of my strength to prune, I can focus on good form (you can get the bypass lopper for live wood, and the anvil lopper for dead wood).

I now own four pair so my employees can each have their own, and it’s become one of those indispensable tools in the toolbox. This is the everyday lopper I carry around the garden for small jobs. Check out the video to see me hack at Amy’s poor Buddleia:

Feeling lucky? You too could win your very own PowerGear lopper from Fiskars! Just leave a comment below to enter and I’ll pick a winner at random on Friday May 4th. US only.  EDIT: Michelle is the winner! Congrats, Michelle!

For a second chance, head on over to Garden Rant, where Amy’s giving one away as well! And follow Fiskars on Facebook for more updates and contests. Good luck!

Garrett Wade’s Professional Pruning Saws and Loppers

garrett-wade-saw-and-lopper-3.jpgAre pruning saws mostly the same from brand to brand? I certainly thought so. They cut things (some better than others), and some fold or have a pole attached, but otherwise, pretty similar in how well they function, right? Nope! After trying at least 10 brands of saw over the 16 years I’ve run a landscape maintenance business, I’ve finally found a brand that blows the rest away – the Professional Pruning Saw from Garrett Wade. It’s well-made and has the simple elegance of a tool that’s built to last. [Read more...]

The Worm Factory 360 and The Earth Moved (With Video!)

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When I first bought my own home years ago, there was one fact that made me particularly happy: as a responsible grownup and a homeowner, I was now allowed to get any pets that I darn well wanted, so long as I could take good care of them. No landlords or reluctant parents to tell me I couldn’t!

Chickens were an easy sell to my other half, since we love eggs, as were a couple of kittens. But after that, I started hitting a wall. “Guinea pigs!” I suggested. “Bunnies!” “Geckos!” Each of these brilliant suggestions was met with a dubious stare. Perhaps there were still some limitations on the pet front.

But when I read about vermicomposting, I realized that here was a pet that was useful, quiet, didn’t need their litter box changed, and wouldn’t get snippy with me if I went on vacation. There was still a doubtful eyebrow raise about the relative awesomeness of worms as pets, but there was hardly any reasonable objection to be made. I was to become a proud keeper of worms.

Figuring I’d better learn a little more about my new choice of pet, I picked up a copy of Amy Stewart’s The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms. Even setting aside my new enthusiasm about worms, the book kept me rapt until the wee hours of the night, learning about the relatives of my new pets. Amy has a knack of finding the story in anything, and the curious tales of worms, and the scientists and business people who work with them, read like a thrilling bit of fiction. I mean, you can’t make this stuff up!

And I discovered that worms made me very popular at cocktail parties (at least at the type of cocktail parties I go to). Nothing like  bit of worm trivia, delivered with a cheerful grin, to perk up a boring conversation. Fern Richardson apparently agrees; she started the Twitter hashtag #WormFact to share her favorite tidbits. The fact I can’t get over? There is a type of worm, I believe in Oregon, with lily-scented slime. LILY-scented! I wish I could keep them as pets.

Anyway, we all know the benefits of worm castings: great for seed starting (helps prevent damping-off), helps retain moisture for hanging baskets or container plants, and generally full of good stuff for the soil. Being able to grab a handful of castings anytime is a great way of giving plants a boost.

worm factory 360 (4)And this is why I’ve been using a proper worm bin, the Worm Factory 360, instead of some manner of DIY setup – the castings are super-easy to harvest. My first boss as a gardener had a DIY worm bin in a large tupperware, and on the first rainy day of the year, she had us spend a very long few hours harvesting the castings. It went like this: pick out worms, one by one by one, and after two hours of tedious worm-picking, my boss was able to use the harvested castings in her containers. I am tired just thinking about it.

But a proper worm bin has three or four levels, so as the lower levels fill up with worm castings, you just start adding your vegetable scraps to a higher level to lure the worms up out of the old castings so you can use them. If you’re impatient, something like melon or pumpkin guts will draw them up very fast, and you’ll feel like a rock star when you see how happy the worms are wallowing in their melon bits. It’s not too hard to be a good worm parent, as long as you eat your vegetables and have some occasional peelings, guts or rinds to share.

The Worm Factory 360 is easily the nicest bin I have tried. It is small and square, so it fits under a sink or among a container garden with relative ease, and the flat, sturdy top means you can set a cute pot on top to disguise it. It comes in black, green, or terra cotta, and it kind of looks like a modern little table of some kind once you get it set up. It’s certainly not an eyesore, which is more than I can say about the cats’ litterbox!

Would you like to try your hand at vermicomposting? Amy Stewart and the Worm Factory have teamed up to offer an amazingly awesome giveaway: A copy of The Earth Moved to get you inspired, and a Worm Factory 360 to get you started! Just leave a comment to enter and I’ll pick the lucky winner on Wednesday the 28th. US only. Good luck!

Congrats to Karen of Le Jardinet, who has won! And if you’d like a special discount on The Worm Factory, visit this link until April 30th 2012.

The Tuff-Guard Hose is Lightweight and Doesn’t Kink

the-Tuff-Guard-hose.jpgOne of my most dreaded tasks is when clients have a hose that hasn’t been rolled up properly, so it’s bent and folded and won’t go back into place. Being the responsible horticultural professional I am, if I touch something, I have to leave it perfect. However, rolling up a heavy, kinked hose is a recipe for profuse “dammits”. And a kinked hose happens to the best of us! I have invested in Gilmour Flexogen hoses for years, thinking them the best anti-kink hose, and they are pretty good if you roll them up religiously after every use. But over the years I’ve forgotten once or twice, and I now have a persistent kink which vexes me every time I water. Ugh! So when Tuff-Guard offered to send me one of their kink-free hoses, I was so on it. Their website shows photos of these hoses all tortured into knots yet still unkinked. When I got it I saw why – this thing is downright bouncy! It’s got a springy feel to it and an outer spiraled wrap which keeps it from forming a “memory”. Of course, I took the “no-kink” claim as a challenge and immediately took it upon myself to try to mess my new hose up. I stood on it, jumped on it, tied it into knots, and tried every way I could think of to kink it, to no avail. When they say it is kink-free, they mean it. colors But the other thing I love about this hose is how lightweight it is! You don’t realize how heavy a hose is until you’re trying to carry a big coil of it to the far end of the garden, or you’re pulling on it to wrap it up again. But this one is easily the lightest hose I have ever felt by a large margin. I bent down to pick it up the proper way so that I wouldn’t hurt my back, and immediately felt silly as it weighed nothing. Yet the materials seem so well-engineered that I have faith it’s going to last. It’s made in the USA, after all. Of course if you buy the Tuff-Guard hose, you may wish to invest in a hose reel. It’s so delightfully springy and lightweight that it zooms into a hose reel with little effort, and I put mine into a hose pot in about five seconds – it just wanted to cooperate with me. But the springy nature of it means that it sits much tidier in some kind of hose holder than on its own.

EZ-Walls Plant Protector Extends the Season and Keeps Chickens Off New Plants

EZ-Wall-wall-of-water-protects-plants-4.jpgWhen I tell people I live in coastal California, they get this delightful image in their heads of sunshine, warmth, and many opportunities to suntan. Unfortunately for my vitamin D quota, I live at the other end of the state. It’s foggy, rainy, and doesn’t get all that warm, even in the middle of summer. You can imagine that getting a jump start on the season is something I’m into. I mean, tomato and basil sandwiches, fresh from the garden, are the best! I’ve been looking into seed-starting lights, grafted vegetables, cold frames, and other gadgets to lengthen my growing season and maybe score some real-live, actual tomatoes up in this joint. One of the simplest solutions I’ve found is this inexpensive portable mini greenhouse, called the EZ-wall. You just place it around a tender plant and fill with water for an immediate way of warming and protecting new starts. It even has a drawstring so you can pull the top shut for extra protection.
EZ Wall - wall of water protects plants EZ Wall - wall of water protects plants (2) EZ Wall - wall of water protects plants (6) EZ Wall - wall of water protects plants (7)
You may have seen a competing brand, the Wall-o-water. That works fine too, but what I like about the EZ-wall is that it’s a lot simpler to fill. You just stick the hose into the top, turn the water on, and fill the whole thing in one go. The other brand needs to have each little section filled one by one, which isn’t as convenient. I also like the drawstring at the top of the EZ-wall brand, which gives me a little more control as to how much protection it provides. The best, unexpected benefit? I’ll leave you to see for yourself: EZ Wall - wall of water protects plants (3) Yep, it’s chicken-proof! I can’t even count how many baby plants my lovely ladies have destroyed with their happy scratching at the soil. But the EZ-walls is made of thick enough plastic that I will be very surprised if they damage it with their occasional curious peck or scratch. Want to try EZ-walls for yourself? They’ve kindly offered to send three readers their very own triple-packs of EZ-walls to get started with. Just leave a comment to win! Three winners chosen at random on Tuesday, March 27th. US only. Congrats to Alison, Erika and Melody, our winners!

Lined Goatskin Gloves Keep Hands Warm For Winter Gardening

Forester-Glove-by-Fields-and-Lane.jpgUs pro gardeners are pretty tough. Even so, every year I’m surprised at just how cold winter is. When you go out at 9 am to get a spot of pruning in, and find your breath catching in the cold, you start to appreciate all the little design elements in tools that keep you warm and happy while working outside. So I was very excited to get to test out a pair of Fields and Lane Forester gloves, just in time for rose pruning season. They’re made of soft, flexible goat leather and even have a deliciously fleecy lining on the bottom of the glove to keep your hands cozy and warm. While I usually choose very thin gloves so I can have the best tactile sensation, an infected rose thorn in my knuckle last year made me re-think my safety strategy when pruning roses. Did you know that infected rose thorns can cause a number of nasty diseases? Neither did I, until a hard nodule formed on my knuckle and gave me reason to research the issue. I’m fine, but suffice to say, when you have a scare like that, you realize that taking a few small safety precautions is a small price to pay for good health. When I began looking into some thicker gloves for the coming pruning season, my glove gurus kept mentioning goat leather. It’s buttery-soft, doesn’t crack and get stiff with exposure to mud and water, and conforms to your hands in much the same way as a beloved pair of jeans or boots. They’re the type of gloves where once you break them in, you never want to take them off. (One of my local safety supply distributors even told me that the ladies he works with swear by goatskin to keep their hands soft, since there’s something in the leather that keeps skin supple and happy.) So with rose pruning season coming, I’ve been checking out goatskin gloves to see which is the best. There is definitely a wide range of styles and levels of quality in goatskin gloves. One brand I tested had thick leather that felt like it would need a LOT of wearing to break them in. I’m kind of impatient, so wasn’t really down with that. Another had thinner leather, but had such thick seams that they chafed my fingers and felt like a chore to wear. The Fields and Lane Forester glove has just the right balance – thin leather that’s still tough enough to withstand most rose thorns, flat seams which don’t feel like they’re in my way when gripping or pruning, and that luxurious fleecy lining which makes me feel a little sad to take them off after pruning. The leather is super-soft and provides enough tactile sensation to grip stems accurately and prune with ease. There’s even a little line of stretchy fabric just behind the knuckle that allows the glove to flex easily when you grip. For me, that line falls just behind the spot where I most need thorn protection, so it keeps my knuckles safe while still allowing good movement. My only complaint about the glove is that the thumb seems kind of long and baggy. All of my other fingers fit well inside the medium (I usually take a small, but their measurement chart said for me to try a medium), but the thumb has an extra half inch of space at the tip and feels loose. However, when I took the gloves outside and did some pruning, I noticed that I grip with a part of the thumb where the leather was fitted, so it didn’t turn out to be a problem after all. If you’re on the fence about whether to pick up a pair of these gloves for your winter pruning, Fields and Lane is a company you can definitely be proud to support. Wave Gardening GlovesTheir daughter Bonnie had cerebral palsy, which inspired them on their mission to help people with special needs. They donate money and volunteer their time to help people with special needs in the US and around the world, and it’s obviously a value they hold deeply. They also donated a huge number of gloves in the wake of 9/11 and the Haiti earthquake to help people during the cleanup efforts.

Want to try the gloves out for yourself? Fields and Lane has offered up a cool prize package of TWO pair of gloves – one pair of the Forester (shown at top) and one pair of the Wave (shown just above). You can keep one for yourself and give one away as a gift!

EDIT: The giveaway has ended and Emily is the winner. Congrats, Emily!

There are two ways to enter:

First, simply leave a comment on this page. Second, head on over to their Facebook page and sign up for the Fields and Lane newsletter. Then come back here and comment again for an additional entry!
I’ll choose a commenter at random on December 7th, 2011 at noon Pacific time. US only. Good luck! Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post; product and compensation were provided. However, all opinions are my own.

Workin’ Like a Pro: Gardening Tools I Adore Right Now

Radius-Garden-PRO-Shovel.jpgYou all know I’m a bit of a tool evangelist. After having countless employees bust up inferior tools during our 40-hour workweeks in the garden, I do get a bit swoony about the tools that last. But of course, merely surviving the garden isn’t good enough for pros. We do so much pruning, digging and planting that our tools need to be ergonomic and fun to use as well. I just wrote my first column for LandscapingNetwork.com about my top five tools of the moment. If you’re looking for great Christmas gifts for the gardener on your list (yes, people, Christmas is coming), or just needing to replace that old non-fun shovel you’ve been struggling with, go on over and check out my picks! P.S. That shovel? It comes in PURPLE, too!

The Fiskars StaySharp Max Reel Mower

Testing-the-Fiskars-Momentum-Mower.jpgThis review is of the premium StaySharp Max reel mower. There are also two budget models available that have different features. Read a comparison of the three mowers in the Fiskars StaySharp line here. Lately, I’ve been realizing just how much I hate mowing my lawn with my old gas mower. It’s stinky, it’s noisy, and the vibrations from the mower make my arms feel weird for some time afterwards. And you know how I feel about garden tools that disturb the neighbors. It was obviously time for a new approach, but when I borrowed a friend’s push mower, it was insultingly hard to use. I mean, mowing should be fun, what with the smell of freshly-cut grass, the birds chirping, and the beautiful surroundings. Yet the traditional mowers make it anything but. That’s why I was so excited to see that Fiskars had created an updated version of the old-skool push mower, to bring it into the new millennium. If you’ve been reading awhile, you’ll know Fiskars makes a ton of my favorite tools, like this pole pruner, geared hedger, and dandelion weeder. So I was keen to see their take on a push mower, especially once I saw the crazy-good reviews on Amazon. The best part? When I mowed my lawn, my cats and chickens barely woke from their naps. Usually it’s a four-alarm sprint to hide from the mower monster!

Here are the geeky details:

  • It’s lightweight and easy to push, with an adjustable ergonomic handle
  • A simple adjustable knob changes mowing height from 1″ to a generous 4″ (the highest mowing option of all the mowers that I researched)
  • Has a “floating” blade design so the blades don’t scrape the metal casing, like with other push mowers. This means with good care, the blades need sharpening very, very rarely (every 5-10 years)
  • Reel mowers with their scissor action get a much cleaner cut than rotary mowers, which cut by tearing. No more brown grass tips!
  • Grass clippings were smaller and disbursed into the lawn rather than staying in unattractive clumps on my lawn.
  • Throws cut grass forward, rather than backward onto your shoes or sideways into your garden beds and sidewalk.
  • Optional grass-catcher bag available.
Besides the fact that it’s actually enjoyable to use, my favorite thing about the Fiskars StaySharp Max Mower is that it makes those organic and low-water lawn techniques actually do-able. For one, mowing your grass high helps reduce weeds and keep the lawn from drying out in summer, because the grass blades shade out weed seedlings and keep lawn roots shaded and cool. Yet the vast majority of mowers top out at a shameful 2.5 inches. It’s no wonder we’re all addicted to Weed ‘N’ Feed. We wouldn’t have nearly the weed problems we do if all mowers had the Max’s 4″ capability. Then, it’s best to leave the lawn clippings on the lawn, so they can break down and enrich the soil, keeping the lawn roots moist and adding nutrition to the soil. But rotary gas mowers spit out these yucky clumps that don’t seem to break down very gracefully. The way the Max mower sends an airy stream of teeny clippings in front of the mower means that I can hardly see the clippings on the lawn once I finish mowing. Score! Fiskars Momentum Reel Mower Update: Fiskars has revamped their mower line with two additional mowers. The StaySharp Max is the top of the line version, and they’ve introduced two “economy” models of mower for budget-minded people. Read up on the differences between the three mowers here (the premium Max, which I reviewed here, the Plus and the regular version), and check out the reviews on Amazon below to figure out which is the best one for you. Read reviews and buy here: Fiskars StaySharp Mower: Amazon.com Fiskars StaySharp Plus Mower: Amazon.com Fiskars StaySharp Max Mower: Amazon.com

Great Deal on Bahco Pruners

Felco-VS-Bahco.jpgYou all know how much I love my Bahco pruners. I usually recommend you buy from Amazon, which has the Bahcos without replaceable parts for only $17 before shipping ($22 with shipping). But an alert reader who is handy with the Google skills discovered a fantastic deal over at the Harry Epstein company. The Bahcos are only $12 right now! Shipping varies depending on your location, but I bought four pair of Bahco pruners (yep, I’m hiring) as well as a hedging shear, and the shipping was only $12 for the lot of it. This same alert reader also let me know that since he has a distaste of buying things from China, he checked out the manufacturing locations of Bahcos and found they’re made in Sweden and France. If you’ve been on the fence about trying some Bahcos, or just want to stock up so you and your partner aren’t always arguing over who gets to use the “good” pruners, this would be an opportune time. I use the medium size PG-M2 (middle, above photo), and I normally wear a small glove.

Planting in Tight Spaces with Smart Pots

smartpots.gifRecently I had a client who wanted some plants tucked behind her waterfall. The waterfall had been built right up against her fence, so there was no real planting area – you can’t just pile up soil against a fence, of course. Enter the Smart Pots. Because the spaces were so cramped and oddly-shaped, there was no way to fit normal containers back there. But I remembered seeing some weird, flexible new pots at the nursery on my last trip, so I decided to pick up a few and see if I could make them work in this tough spot. Smart Pots are made of a flexible polypropylene (read: non-degrading) fabric, which allowed me to tuck them in between the waterfall and the fence and scrunch them into whatever shape was needed. It still allowed plenty of root area for the plants, but I was able to fit the pot invisibly between the rocks. Here are the Smart Pots before using: smart pot packaging smartpots are flexible And the waterfall that abruptly ended at the fence, with a sad little ostrich fern trying to grow from the soil a few feet down: before First, I scrunched the Smart Pots into the right places, putting rocks under or to the sides of them to hide the pots. I figured, rightly, that the foliage would hide the pots once they were planted. Tucked in Smart Pots I chose holly ferns and autumn ferns, since holly ferns have a strong evergreen, architectural shape, and autumn ferns have all that fun orangey new growth in spring. placed the ferns in the smartpots to see how they're positioned after - the ferns are now able to fill the area and grow larger These pics were taken right after planting, so they’re still rather small, but I think as the ferns fill in this will look so much more lively and fresh than just having bare fence.

Other benefits:

What I didn’t know when planting is that Smart Pots have a lot of benefits beyond their flexibility. Apparently, plants growing in Smart Pots need less maintenance than plants growing in hard-sided pots. Plants in hard-sided pots need regular transplanting and root-pruning so they don’t become pot-bound, with circling roots that choke the plant. But because Smart Pots are well-aerated – remember, they’re a fabric – the plant roots reach the sides of the container and are “air-pruned”, which means they simply stop growing once they reach the sides of the pot. So you could conceivably leave plants in a Smart Pot longer than in a traditional pot, because plants will naturally stay at the right size. Plants really benefit from highly oxygenated soil, too, so I could see them being particularly healthy in a pot like this. (Fern Richardson from Life on the Balcony actually did her own side-by-side test of a Smart Pot and a regular pot – see the results here.)

Creative uses:

You know what else is cool – apparently, Smart Pots are gopher-resistant!  I guess they don’t like to eat through the sturdy polypropylene felt. So I’d be curious to experiment with using Smart Pots as in-the-ground protection for bulbs or other plants that gophers love to nosh on. The nice thing is that as your bulbs multiply, you can lift up the Smart Pots and easily transplant out some of the bulbs. Usually when I try to divide bulbs, there are a few “dammits” involved as my shovel cuts one of my prized bulbs in half.strawberries in smartpots You can cut holes in the sides and use them as a strawberry pot, or use them inside of a ceramic pot to get the benefits of air-pruning and less transplanting, while having the look of a more permanent ceramic pot. (Kerry Michaels from About.com grows her potatoes in them – see the video here. Fern also has a step-by-step guide to growing potatoes in Smart Pots.)

The giveaway!

After I wrote this post, I asked Smart Pots if they were interested in giving a few away to you guys, and they were kind enough to offer no fewer than FOUR SETS of mixed Smart Pots! Each winner will get a 3-, a 5-, and a 7-gallon Smart Pot, so you can try them out in a variety of ways. If you want to win, just leave a comment, and I’ll pull four winners using random.org next Thursday. Good luck! EDIT: Congratulations to Sharon, Alison, Justin, and Roberta who have each won a set of three Smart Pots! Thanks so much to Smart Pots for providing such a generous giveaway. And thank you to ContestGirl for helping me promote!

Greenland Gardener Wall Garden Kit

IMG_6275.jpgIf you’ve read Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet’s book Garden Up! about vertical gardening, you’ve seen the drool-worthy photos of succulent walls. You might have even thought about getting one of those flat wooden frames to make one of your own. The problem with so many of those succulent wall frames is they require patience, a virtue I have not yet discovered in my gardening life. You plant them, and then you leave them flat until they root – a few weeks at best, months at worst. Not only do you have to be patient, but you have to somehow keep your chickens off the planted frame until you can hang it on a wall (am I the only person with this problem?). The Greenland Gardener wall garden kit changes all of that. It’s a simple metal frame that holds four plastic trays, which hook onto the metal bars on the frame. You can see how it works in the video: It kind of reminds me of that gutter garden trend that’s been popping up lately – the trays are pretty much the same size and shape, only these are oriented diagonally and outward so you can actually see what you’ve planted right away. The one complaint I have is that the endcaps on the plastic trays are a bit flimsy, and snap off easily. I used a bit too much force when planting mine, and had to glue the endcap back onto one of my trays. But when you compare the price of this vertical gardening kit to others (it’s only $30 including shipping, while most of those wooden wall kits that require so much time to root start at $80), having to do a little DIY repair is a small price to pay.

Here’s me in the process of planting mine up:

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And the finished wall garden, prettying up my chicken coop:

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Want to win one?

You know you do. Greenland Gardener has been kind enough to offer up TWO kits to give away, so you’ve got doubly-good chances of winning. Just leave a comment, and I’ll choose two winners next Wednesday June 1st. Good luck! EDIT: Big congrats to Karen and Charlotte, who have each won a kit!