This month I thought that I would write about a few of my favorite gardening tools. There are still a few shopping days left until Christmas and it may give you some ideas for the gardener in your family.

For starters, Douglas-Hart Nature Center has a nice little gift shop that carries a few random reasonably priced items for all ages. Coles County Extension office carries my favorite gardening gloves. Our durable nitrile garden gloves offer great protection for your hands while still giving you the tactile ability to pull tiny weeds. I just used mine to make my Christmas swag and they kept the sap off my hands and prevented me from getting hives. At $6 a pair, they make great stocking stuffers!

A versatile tool that tops my list is my soil knife- you can also search for it online as a Hori-Hori knife. I use it to plant flowers and veggies by digging an appropriate sized hole with the knife. It has a serrated edge that easily cuts and separates roots on root-bound plants before placing the plant in the ground. I also use it to open plastic bags such as fertilizer, mulch, and peat moss. The sturdy knife also makes pulling weeds easier by loosening the soil around weed roots. You may purchase a sheath and wear it on your belt, if want. I don't have the sheath, but mine does have a bright orange poly handle that comes in handy when I misplace it in my garden.

A couple of other handy weeding tools are my Japanese weeding sickle and my "hoe-dag." They are two different kinds of tools, yet both have sharp blades and slice roots as you pull it towards you under the soil. I have been known to hack at tough roots with both tools. They are also useful to make small trenches to plant fine seeds.

When I'm pruning trees or plants, I love my Felco pruners for small pruning jobs. They came with a spare blade that I have not had to use yet. For more serious pruning, I’ll use a nice pair of loppers or break out my Felco folding hand saw. I have learned the hard way to be very careful with the hand saw. Those teeth really do bite.

My final favorite "garden tool" is my propane flame thrower. It sounds like a hot air balloon while using it and burns everything that it comes in contact with. Mine is powered by a grill-sized propane tank that I pull around with a two-wheeled dolly. It is very effective at cleaning off a garden in no time. It is also supposed to be good at melting ice and snow, but I haven't tried it on that yet.

In closing, in addition to all of these handy (or choppy and dangerous) tools, a box of band-aids and a tube of Neosporin aren't bad ideas for stocking stuffers too!

If you have other questions about your garden or landscape, feel free to contact a Master Gardener volunteer at the University of Illinois Extension office in Charleston at 217-345-7034. You can also check out the many horticulture webpages at the U of I Extension’s website by visiting http://web.extension.illinois.edu/ccdms/ . And be sure to like the Master Gardeners’ Facebook page, at www.facebook.com/ColesCountyMasterGardeners.

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