This manicured formal lawn could be easily be cared for with only a few hand tools. Don’t believe it? Think Edward Scissorhands, because while it is possible to care for this garden with hand tools it would be a lot of work. What is an eco-friendly toolkit?
A typical storage shed full of lawn and garden tools has mostly gas-powered tools: mower, edger, hedge clippers, weed eater and blower. But, you are not reading this because you are typical, are you: You want to be a good steward of the environment and do your part to keep the air and water clean. You are about to learn what tools you need for eco-friendly, natural gardening and lawn care.
Pollution-Free Mowing and Trimming – Eco-Friendly Toolkit!
The Lawn Mower
Probably the biggest offender and the first organic lawn tool you should consider is the lawn mower. If you do not have one that is gasoline powered, you are ahead of the game. If you do, give some thought to replacing it.
A more environmentally friendly lawn mower would be an electric one. You can drag the power cord around the lawn with you while you are cutting the grass (kind of annoying), or you can get a cordless, rechargeable model. Electricity is a renewable source of energy and a better alternative than burning air-polluting fossil fuels.
Some electric mowers chop up the lawn clippings and leave them behind rather than throw the clippings out from underneath the mower. This can be a good thing if you mow often because the clippings are short and will quickly decompose and provide nutrients for the grass.
However, if you don’t mow often, it’s not so good because the grass clippings are too long and create a thick mat on top of the lawn. Too many long clippings left in place shade the lawn and the overabundance of organic matter can cause thatch and encourage an overabundance of worms. Believe it or not, too many worms can over-aerate your soil. Too much of a good thing can be as bad as too little!
An even better alternative to an electric mower is a hand-powered push mower. Also called a reel (not real!) mower, it derives its power from the person who pushes it, which in many households would be a teenager who wants to borrow the car on the weekend.
Don’t confuse today’s push mowers with the rusted one you remember sitting in three feet of grass in Grandpa’s back yard. Manufacturers and technology makes them easier to push now, and you can keep yours that way by keeping the blades clean and sharp, and by greasing the wheel bearings every year or two.
The Edger and Trimmer
You can purchase gas or electric powered edgers. These normally have a vertical blade that cuts the grass along the edge of a sidewalk. They are quick and handy, but as with the mower, the gas model is not very green. The electric version is greener.
If you want to go even more natural, you can use a rotary lawn edger. It consists of a long handle and one or two wheels that turn a shear blade. You move it back and forth to trim the grass away from the walkway.
Another similar tool is a step edger that you insert where you want to edge, and then step down on it to cut the grass. A trenching tool or a flat-head spade will work in much the same way. The handle and the flat side of these tools make them easy to slide between the walkway and the turf to edge the sidewalk.
Some people used sheep shears for edging and trimming back in the days when Grandpa had that aforementioned reel mower. And I use them in my organic gardening service, just because they are really easy to use and never break. Hand shear trimmers such as sheep shears and other scissor like tools work, and they only require user energy. They are not very practical if you have a very long section to edge or trim, but for short stretches and around shrubbery, they work great.
A line trimmer, or weed eater, is a popular way to trim along a wall or around trees and shrubs. These, too, come in gas and electric versions, and you can essentially do the same job with hand shears, which are kinder to the environment.
A plug or core aerator tool is essential for a healthy lawn. You can get an inexpensive hand-powered tool that pulls two or three plugs at a time and is good for dealing with small to medium size lawns and for trouble spots in a huge lawn. You just hold the handle, push the core removers into the ground with your foot, and pull them out. For big lawns, you can get a wider tool that you pull behind an ATV, riding mower or tractor.
Don’t use spike type lawn aerators. The problem with this method — called spiking – is that although it makes a hole, it actually causes more soil compaction since it doesn’t remove any soil like a plug or core plugger will. A plug aerator, also called a coring aerator, is better for this chore. Rather than push sections of soil further into the ground, it pulls sections out in plug form. This leaves small holes that allow water, oxygen and nutrients to enter the soil. The plugs are left to decompose naturally.
Eco-Friendly Toolkit – Pruning Shears
You will need to prune your trees and shrubs periodically. Dying limbs and branches drain life out of a plant, as do the suckers that grow around the base. Three kinds of pruners help with that chore: anvil, bypass and ratchet. I recommend Felco brand pruning tools. They are what professionals use here in the United States because they are made well, have decently high quality cutting blades, and are affordable.
Anvil pruners have a single blade that cuts an object when the blade is pressed down on it against a flat surface on the pruner, which is the anvil. These are good for cutting dead wood, but they tend to mash up live stems not cutting as cleanly as we would like. A clean cut is a healthy cut from which the plant can easily heal.
Felco bypass pruning shears are notably reliable tools. They are called bypass because they have two blades that bypass each other when pressure is applied to the handle. One blade is thin and sharpened, and the other is thick and not sharpened. This tool is good for making clean cuts on live vegetation without tearing and damaging it.
Ratchet pruners are designed to do the cutting in stages, and that reduces the amount of hand pressure needed.
This is good for people with small or weak hands, or arthritis. One company, Better Garden Tools, claims their ratchet pruners can increase leverage by up to 700 percent. Anyone who needs to do a lot of pruning would benefit from a pair of these.
For thicker limbs and branches, you will need loppers. Felco makes loppers in various lengths ranging from 16 to 33 inches that will cut wood up to almost two inches thick. For larger branches, you could use a turbo saw, which will cut limbs up to 10 inches thick. You’ll notice a big difference in the quality and cutting capabilities between a Felco turbo saw and other, lower quality and less expensive hand saws. I know this to be true from experience!
For perennial and annual maintenance you will need some spring-loaded garden scissors or snippers. While the pruners, loppers and saws are great for heavier jobs, garden scissors are good for small jobs. They make it easy to trim thin-stemmed plants such as herbs, and they are good for cutting fresh flowers and working with bonsai.
Another good use for garden snippers and scissors is deadheading.Deadheading is what we call the removal of dead and dying blooms from flowering plants. Once a blossom has faded, seeds will start to form and this takes away energy for making new flowers. Like all plants, even annuals and perennials will try to regenerate dying leaves, and the energy they expend on doing that is better spent making new leaves and new flower buds. Garden scissors or snippers are also handy for cutting string that you might use in gardening, opening bags of product, etc.
Eco Friendly Toolkit for Weeding and Digging
You will need to plant, dig, remove weeds, and turn some soil during your organic gardening adventure. Obviously, you will need a shovel, a trowel, and a hoe–maybe a couple types of each. For example, you should have a spade — a shovel that has a square head and a short handle. You will need its little cousin, too, which is a trowel. These are good for digging small holes for planting, weeding and mixing up potting blends.
A poacher’s spade is the handiest tool a gardener can have. It has a smaller and/or narrower head that is very convenient for digging, planting and transplanting in crowded garden beds and for getting out tough weeds in the lawn and garden. It is also quite handy if you are rabbit hunting, as digging into rabbit holes was this tool’s original use! Poor bunnies . . . except that rabbits love the most beautiful perennials like Asters, Platycodon, and Phlox.
For the hoe, you should have a standard model, a stirrup model, and a thin one for tight spots. The stirrup model, oddly enough, looks like a stirrup, and it is good for scraping vegetation off the ground. We also call that a Wiggle Hoe. You can use it for weeding between plants, but it won’t stop the weeds from growing again if it doesn’t get the roots. For small garden beds, more convenient are short handled hoes that you use on your hands and knees instead of while standing. For areas with lots of little weeds sprouting, a hoe is the best weeding tool you can implement.
Kind of in between a shovel and a trowel is a soil knife. It is typically about 12 inches long with half of that being blade. The blade is wide so you can easily slip it under things to turn them up, turn them over and turn them sideways (sounds like lyrics to a Chubby Checker song, doesn’t it?).
The soil knife is useful for digging up rocks and weeds, planting annuals and bulbs, cutting through plants and roots, cutting and opening supplies, and doing many other things that will occur to you once you have it in your hand. The soil knife is one of my favorite and most useful tools. Just make sure it has an orange or bright colored handle or you will loose it!
Get a digging fork for turning and loosening soil and compost.
A hand cultivator is also good for working the soil around plants when planting and weeding. To remove weeds with super long roots, get a dandelion digger — a tool that has a forked tip for digging down under weeds with long taproots.
Cleaning Up Your Organic Mess
Gardening is a lot like cooking: It’s fun to do, but most people don’t like to clean up the mess. If that teenager mentioned above is not home to do the work, you can use some tools to make it easier on yourself and the environment.
You could use a gas-powered blower or vacuum to clean up, but as we have learned, that is not in the organic gardening handbook. You can go natural by employing some manpowered tools such as wire or bamboo rakes for clippings, grass and leaves. For carports, entryways and walkways use a natural bristle broom and a dustpan.
Again, it’s understandable that these rakes and brooms might not be ideal for covering a lot of ground, but every bit helps. Even if you only do a few areas with these tools and other areas with electric lawn care equipment, you are helping the planet by saving energy. Of course, if you generate your own power off the grid, knock yourself out with electric tools. Just be aware that blowing up dust for that extra clean look pollutes the air with fine particulates, which are very dangerous for our lungs and can cause lasting damage to our health.
Aside from these tools and methods being eco-friendly, they are wallet friendly. These manually powered tools are inexpensive to buy compared to fossil fuel burning engines, and they cost little or nothing to use and maintain. For the price of one high-end gasoline mower, you could have all of the tools you need to maintain your natural, organic lawn.