Gardening season is in high swing across the country.
Judging by picture-perfect plants on social media and in magazines, you might think you’d need a lot of money to garden. But people have grown plants for eons with no more than elementary tools.
So, while AeroGardens might be trendy and even handy, you really only need a few key tools to coax a bountiful harvest from your garden patch.
It’s worth making room in your budget for the following items. All of them can save you time, trouble or money. All prices below were accurate as of July 30.
1. Pruning Snips
Fiskars’ Micro-Tip Pruning Snips ($8.99 for the standard version at Amazon) are a rare instance of a high-quality tool at a low price.
I use them, and they’ve held up well to almost daily use for everything from pruning indoor and outdoor plants to harvesting herbs and vegetables to cutting flowers.
Note that Fiskars makes both a standard and a nonstick version of these snips. The company says the latter features “a special non-stick coating to help reduce jamming and resin buildup when cutting sticky materials.”
I bought the standard version, as it was cheaper and I figured the rubbing alcohol with which I routinely clean my garden tools might degrade the nonstick coating anyhow. I’ve had no issues with the standard version, although I seldom cut sticky things.
2. Moisture meter
Moisture meters tell you exactly how moist your soil is, taking the guesswork out of watering — which can be a matter of life and death for plants.
This makes them handy for novice gardeners and folks who don’t have a naturally green thumb.
3. Rain gauge
More experienced or confident gardeners may not need or want to bother with a moisture meter, which generally must be stuck into the ground to get a reading. But they would likely appreciate the convenience of a rain gauge.
Rain gauges require no work. They simply collect rain in a way that shows you how many inches fell in the immediate area.
You can buy one for as little as a couple of bucks or DIY one — just do a web search for tutorials. But for a gift or a splurge, the World’s Coolest Rain Gauge ($34.95 at The Grommet) seems pretty darn neat.
Compost is basically broken-down natural materials like food scraps and yard waste. As such, it’s one of Mother Nature’s fertilizers — and technically free. All you need is a system that houses compostable materials you have gathered and hastens their breakdown.
If you have the time, space and a DIY spirit, you can craft a composter for next to nothing — do a search for tutorials. To make compost the fast and easy way, though, invest in a composter.
I settled on a two-chambered model called Yimby ($79 at Walmart). It has met all of my expectations, creating usable compost within weeks while giving me the added bonus of a bit of an arm workout every time I turn it.
5. Worm castings
“Worm castings” is basically a euphemism for worm manure. It’s sold as a gardening product just as the manure of cows and certain other animals is.
Don’t worry, though. Worm castings look, feel and smell more like dirt than manure, at least in my experience.
Worm castings are a double-duty manure, though. Studies have found that in addition to fertilizing plants, they can help protect plants from disease-causing pathogens.
Yes, I know, this seems a given. But it’s worth underscoring that if you can spare a little more time and effort, you can save a lot of money by growing plants from seeds rather than buying young plants.
Example: My husband called me from Costco this spring, excited to find banana pepper plants there.
“They already have peppers growing on them,” he said.
I don’t recall their cost, but whether it was $5 or $500, I still would have told him it’s a rip-off.
“I just ordered banana pepper seeds,” I said. “If you can wait two months, I’ll give you a whole patio full of banana pepper plants for $3 — the price I paid for a pack of seeds.”
Growing from seed also gives you more choices, as the variety of plants for which you can buy seeds is generally wider than the variety of plants sold as plants. Just take a look at the options at eBay, Amazon or a seed company like Baker Creek.
7. A regional gardening guide
Hit up Amazon's book section and do a search for your neck of the woods and the word “gardening.” For example: “Florida gardening.”
Then, carefully consider the titles that pop up. You’ll likely find one filled with location-specific information that will save you time, money and frustration.
For folks in Florida, I recommend “Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening The Secret to Growing Piles of Food in the Sunshine State.” (Prices vary by format.)
8. ‘Perennial Vegetables’
Perennial plants generally live several years or longer, whereas annual plants are shorter-lived and must be grown anew each year. So, perennials tend to require less time and money.
That’s why “Perennial Vegetables From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener's Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles" (prices vary by format) is one of few gardening books I would recommend to anyone interested in growing food. It’s a thoroughly researched and detailed guide to the best perennial vegetables for folks across the U.S.
9. Mason jars
I use Mason jars all over my house as everything from drinking glasses to food storage containers to organizational devices. Gardening is no exception.
I store seed packets in half-gallon Mason jars ($16.01 for six at Walmart) with airtight seals and use various sizes of Mason jars to preserve vegetables.
If you need multiple Mason jars of the same type, it’s cheapest to buy a box of them from somewhere like Amazon or Walmart. For single jars, I find it’s cheapest to stop by Hobby Lobby, although I turn to an online retailer called Mason Jar Lifestyle for harder-to-find jars and accessories.
10. Food preservation aides
If you need a great gift for a vegetable or fruit gardener, package several sizes of Mason jars with a book like “DIY Canning: Over 100 Small-Batch Recipes for All Seasons.” (Prices vary by format.)
To take your gift up a notch, toss in a food preservation tool or two. For example, gardeners who preserve their produce by canning could likely use some canning lids ($3 at Walmart).
Someone who ferments food or wants to try fermenting will appreciate some kind of air valve. I recently tried Masontops' "Pickle Pipe" airlocks ($21.95 at Amazon for a four-piece set for regular-mouth Mason jars), and I love them. You will see a picture of these airlocks above.
For bonus points, package everything in a basket that your gift recipient can use to hold produce while harvesting. You may be able to find one at a thrift store.
What items do you consider gardening essentials? Let us know why by commenting below or on Facebook.
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