Garden clothing

Gardeners Hat

In my misspent youth, I lived dangerously. I imbibed too much of substances I shouldn’t have, I drove too fast and without a seatbelt, I slept irregular hours, I sometimes hung out with a dubious crowd, and I didn’t floss.

But as far as I can tell, the only stupid thing I did that had any consequences lasting for more than a few hours was not wearing a hat. Those consequences I see every day in the mirror: age spots on my upper lip and cheekbones, more wrinkles than I would have otherwise, and some discolouration on my forehead. I just thanked my lucky stars that I haven’t had to have a scary spot removed and biopsied.

I’m a garden hat convert

I’m a hat convert now. When I go outside for a session in the garden, I have a selection of hats I can choose from, depending on the weather, the chore ahead of me, and my mood. So why not just use a lot of sunblock? Well, I do that, too. But sunblock, unlike a hat, wears off. Sweat and light rain and squirts from the garden hose all wash it away. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use sunblock. It’s a must, especially on other parts of the body. And even when wearing a hat, you’ll get reflected rays that need to be filtered.

Still, unlike sunblock, a hat blocks nearly all rays coming directly downward. And the broader the rim, the better the sun protection. But a broad rim isn’t for everyone. I personally find a broad rim annoying because it rubs on my back when I’m bent over, which is all the time. But if you’re not as active or fussy about these things, they might be perfect for you.

Other things to look for in a garden hat:

Good fit. It needs to be tight enough to stay on your head—even when you’re bending over—but loose enough to be comfortable. You should be able to easily insert two fingers held flat between your hat and your forehead. But most importantly, your hat should feel like something you can imagine having on your head for hours at a time.

Breathability. In both cold and hot weather, we release an enormous amount of body heat through our heads. One reason straw hats are favourites is that they naturally allow sweat to evaporate. Look, too, for fabric hats with mesh incorporated into the sides.

A sweat band. Many garden hats have soft, absorbent sweatbands built in. They’re great for wicking away sweat and keeping you cool and comfortable.

A cord or strap. Some gardeners never use these; others wouldn’t wear a hat without them. Though most tighten under your chin, try positioning the strap so it tightens in the back, just above the nape of your neck. This may feel more secure and create less chafing for some people, depending on the hat and the head. You can also use long straps to give your head a ventilation break; just drop your hat on your back and let it dangle.

Washability. If you sweat a lot or kick up dust when you garden, you’ll want a washable hat—sweat can destroy most materials over time. For straw hats, a good rinse under the sink is sufficient. With a fabric hat, check the label for washing instructions. Instead of putting it in the dryer, gently shape it (try tossing it over a clean, inverted flower pot) and allow it to air dry.

Sun protection ratings. To quantify how protective a garment is, some clothing carries a label citing its Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) value. The higher the UPF, the greater the protection against harmful ultraviolet rays. Most labeled garden hats boast a rating of UPF 50 or higher. But common sense tells you that no matter how well the fabric blocks the sun, the design of the hat is much more important. A broad-brimmed hat that completely blocks your face could be rated UPF 50, and so could the skimpiest baseball-type cap.

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Garden tools

Edging Tools

Give your landscape a crisp, manicured look—we’ll show you how to choose the right edger for the job.

Go on a power trip

For small lawns with cool-season grasses, a half moon or other manual edger may do the trick. But if you have more than a few dozen yards of grass to edge, you’ll want a power edger. You can rent an edger, of course, but it saves time and money to buy one, especially since some edgers cost the same as just two or three rentals.

As with all power tools, go for the most power with the least weight, at least for models without wheels. Check the blade size—some are as long as 9 inches and cut as deep as 2 inches. Also see if the edger will cut at an angle. This is a nice feature for fancier turf edges and for laying some types of metal or plastic edging.

Another feature to look for is trenching capacity. This is useful for laying cable or running electrical line through a conduit underground. Some edgers have built-in trenching capacity; others have a kit you purchase separately.

Give it some gas

There are two basic types of power edgers: gasoline and electric. Gasoline-powered edgers (photo A) are the most powerful—and power is important, since an underpowered or badly designed edger will gnaw at turf and make a sloppy edge. Gasoline edgers are also the most expensive; most start at about £150. And since they operate on two-cycle engines, you have to deal with sometimes-fussy starters (an especially acute problem in cold weather), some basic maintenance, and mixing fuel with gasoline.

Weight is not an issue with most gasoline edgers because they have wheels—either one wheel to guide them or four to support and guide them. Some four-wheeled models have a neat “curb hopper” feature where one wheel adjusts to go up on a curb or sidewalk to avoid tipping the machine.

The electric edge

Electric edgers  are wonderfully light and quiet, allowing you to use them late on a summer evening or early on a weekend morning. They also vibrate less than gasoline edgers, and they have no emissions to choke you or the planet.

Electric edgers are available in both corded and battery-powered models. Corded edgers tend to be more powerful than their battery counterparts, but you can use them only so far from the power source. Fortunately, slicing through the cord is seldom a problem for most edgers, but do look for a “cord retention system,” a feature that keeps the cord plugged into the machine.

Battery-powered edgers have most of the same advantages of corded types but also let you move far away from an electrical power source and not mess with a cord. They tend to be slightly heavier, with less power. If it doesn’t have a wheel, look for a lightweight model; if it does have wheels, a heavier model will work fine.

Other options

Other power tools, such as string trimmers and power hedge trimmers, can also be used as edgers, either with a built-in feature or by purchasing additional parts. The more powerful the engine on the machine, the better any attachments will function. Often the least powerful type of edger is the string trimmer that, with an adjustment of the head, can be turned into a string edger. These are okay for trimming a little off the edges around sidewalks and pavement, but they don’t slice well through soil.

Do your homework

Since edgers vary in quality and ease of use, try out a few to see how they perform. See how they fit in your hand. Talk with the sales clerk about how easy or difficult the controls and start-up will be. If the edger doesn’t have wheels, carry it around a bit to see how heavy it is. Will you be able to hold it for an hour or more?

Ask about return policies, and keep your receipt. Unlike, say, a snow blower, an edger is easy to load up and return if you’re not satisfied once you’ve tried it out. Most home and garden centres will allow you to return a power tool as long as you have a receipt and it’s within a specified period of time (usually 30 days).

Choosing a power edger

Our buyer’s guide to getting what you need.

Gas-powered edger

Advantages: Most powerful type. Has wheels to support weight (usually no more than 15 pounds). Some types can make trenches, a plus if laying cable or installing metal or plastic edging. No cord, so you can use it anywhere.
Disadvantages: Loud, has emissions. Two-cycle engines mean more problematic starting, regular maintenance, and mixing oil with gasoline.

Price: £150 to £400 for noncommercial types

Electric bladed edger

Advantages: Quiet, no emissions. May or may not have wheels; if the latter, look for lighter weight. Blade does a far better job of cutting than string.

Battery-operated type allows freedom of movement but often has less power than corded.
Disadvantages: Electric is less powerful than gas, generally. Corded types limit your range and are awkward. Battery-powered types have limited operating time.

Price: £100 to £250

Electric string edger

Advantages: Quiet, no emissions. Usually the least expensive. Very lightweight: sometimes just a few pounds.
Disadvantages: String may have trouble cutting all but the softest grasses.

Not very good for edging beds and borders but will cut grass along sidewalks and drives. Electric is less powerful than gas, generally. As with electric bladed types, corded models limit your range and are awkward. Battery-powered models have limited operating time.
Price: £25 to £150

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Garden tools

Tillers

If you’ve ever spent a spring afternoon turning over a vegetable garden with a spade (followed by a spring evening with a bottle of ibuprofen for your back), you’ve probably fantasised about those monster tillers that plow through the soil with the ease of a heated knife through butter.

It’s tempting to think that a machine might solve all your garden-labor woes—from taming a weed-dominated patch to working in a cover crop to creating a new bed. And it’s true that the right marriage of tiller and gardener can create a state of newfound horticultural bliss. But just as with mismatched couples, the failure to think about abilities and goals can make for a bad relationship.

The first step toward tiller compatibility is deciding which type of tiller is right for you: a rear-tine tiller (the tines are the metal blades that do the digging); a front-tine tiller; or a mini-tiller, also called a cultivator.

Love That Horsepower

Like most machines, tillers cost proportionately more for greater horsepower (hp). Large gardens with more than 5,000 square feet call for a large tiller with at least a 6-hp engine, which costs about £800 to £2,000. Smaller gardens can get by with a 4- to 6-hp machine, costing about £500 to £900. And mini-tillers, or cultivators, generally offer 4 hp or less for about £200 to £400.

Gas engines tend to be more powerful but trickier to start. Look for electric-start engines if you don’t have that “magic touch.” Some mini-tillers are entirely electric, so they’re quiet and lightweight—but you have to deal with a cord.

Many safety features are available. Look for safety-switch starting systems, self-cleaning tines, anti-kickback features, protective engine and tine guards, and noise reduction.

Also check out the accessories and bells and whistles. There are power edgers, furrowers, lawn dethatchers, crevice cleaners, and more. Very large tillers have powerful accessories such as log splitters.

To Buy or Not to Buy

Are you sure you need to purchase your own tiller? After reviewing prices and power, you may decide to rent a machine once a year or hire someone to do the work. Large machines rent for about £40 or £50 a day. Renting is a good way to try out a tiller or two before deciding which one to buy—or whether to buy one at all.

Hiring out your tilling may make financial sense, and is a good option if you’re not the world’s strongest, fittest person. Landscaping companies often do it based on hours or area. In the spring, look in the classified ads—you may find people who have purchased tillers for their own large gardens and pay them off by doing tilling for a fee.

There’s some argument about whether you should till with a machine or by hand. By-hand types say tillers can ruin the fragile texture of certain soils and that hardpan problems may develop when a plot is repeatedly tilled at the same depth. (Most tillers have adjustable depths, but few go deeper than 12 or so inches.) And no tiller can double-dig, putting the less-quality subsoil on top and working topsoil down as much as two feet. However, power advocates argue that a good tiller can beautifully incorporate soil amendments into clumpy clay soils, turning them into something remarkable.

Tips for Happy Tilling

To stay safe and keep your tiller happy while improving your soil, follow these simple tips:

  • Avoid working soil when it’s very dry or wet, or you can ruin the soil texture. Wait until it is lightly moist. If necessary, water first.
  • Mow tall vegetation and rake leaves and debris. This prevents plants from getting tangled in the tines.
  • Check the oil in your gas-powered tiller regularly. Change it every 15 hours of running or every two years.
  • On slopes, proceed with caution. Large tillers can tip; use a smaller tiller or avoid tilling altogether.
  • Be careful what you till. Some weeds and invasive plants like nothing better than a good tilling because it chops them up and distributes them throughout the garden. Avoid tilling purslane, bindweed, nutgrass, crabgrass, and johnsongrass.
  • Don’t overwork yourself or the tiller. It’s better on you and the machine to make several passes over an area than to work it all at once.
  • Wear heavy shoes or boots when tilling. If you have a gas-powered engine, use ear plugs. Wear heavy gloves to help absorb shock from the machine.

Rear-Tine Tiller

Description: A novelty 20 years ago, rear-tine tillers have become highly popular. These powerful machines have tines located at the rear. The motor powers the wheels in front, which pull the tiller forward. These machines tend to be heavier (200 pounds or more) and larger than front-tine tillers.
Good choice for large gardens more than 5,000 square feet or hard or stony soils. Tilling width is considerable, often as much as 36 inches. But they tend to be big and difficult to maneuver, making them less suited for gardens where space is tight and you need to turn the machine a lot.

Look for either standard-rotating tines (also known as SRT or forward-rotating), where the tines rotate in the same direction as the wheels, or counter-rotating tines (also known as CRT or rotating toward the rear), where the tines rotate counter to the forward pull of the wheels. This allows for easier tilling of hard soils, including new ground. Some models are available with reversible tine direction, which is the best of both worlds.

Front-Tine Tiller

Description: These have forward-rotating tines located in the front of the machine. Rear-mounted wheels allow you to push the machine from one location to another. The tines pull the machine forward, which is fine in loose soils but problematic in hard or previously untilled soil. And front-tine tillers are usually smaller and lighter than rear-tine tillers, so tines tend to skip over difficult soils rather than digging into them.

Good choice for gardens with less than 5,000 square feet to till and reasonably soft soil.
Look for a balance of weight and manoeuvrability. Heavy front-tine tillers are less likely to skip over the ground, but they’re also less mobile. If possible, give one a trial run before purchasing to make sure it’s right for you and your garden.

Mini-Tiller or Cultivator

Description: These small tillers are light enough to carry to the site, eliminating the need for wheels on most models. Their tilling width may be as little as 6 inches.

Good choice for gardens of less than 1,000 square feet with soft soils. Mini-tillers are not going to turn a vast stretch of sod into a fluffily perfect vegetable garden, but they’re great if you want to till lightly in areas such as raised beds. You can also use them to keep down weeds in long rows of vegetable gardens. Their light weight makes them a good choice for gardeners without a lot of upper-body strength. In comparison, large tillers can give you a real workout, and some have a tendency to run away with you, making tilling something of a wrestling match.

Look for optional accessories that make furrows for planting.

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