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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Entries in garden tools (3)


The Best Root-Dividing Tool for the Perennial Flower Gardener

It’s easy to botch a perennial while dividing its roots. Traditional tools such as a spade or shovel, when strategically positioned over a root clump, can slip out of place and accidentally separate a plant’s stem from its root. The intended new plant is damaged beyond repair. Similarly, the blade of a hand-held saw can tilt from its upright position, cut at the wrong angle and give us nothing but useless, rootless foliage.

These unintended and unwelcome occurrences arise when we deal with mature root balls, including those perennials that dislike being uplifted. Either the density of the roots makes them difficult to penetrate or the gardener cannot gain sufficient control over the blade to make an accurate incision. The feeling is one of frustration. Sometimes it makes a gardener feel inept.

Over the years, I’ve used a variety of products to research the efficacy of one cutting edge over another. When I began gardening, I propagated perennials with pointed and flat edged spades that delivered an unacceptable success rate of 65%.  

Eventually, I moved on to using the half-moon blade of a lawn edger. It provided better precision and my success rate rose to 80%. Unfortunately, the blade was too small and too short to slice through deep or wide root balls. In addition, when applied to hardened, woody roots or when placed upon an awkwardly shaped rhizome cluster, the blade would slip and butcher the plant.

To improve my accuracy, I experimented with a small hacksaw, a small crosscut saw, and a small narrow crosscut saw. All were too cumbersome to carry to a work site. Furthermore, they were ergonomically challenging due to the spatial clearance necessary - and not always available – to draw a toothed blade across a root clump. In time, I resigned myself to the reality that propagating dense root balls would remain an unreliable garden chore.

However, a better solution surfaced when I accidentally discovered a retractable garden blade by Fiskars marketed as a Power Tooth Sliding Carabiner Saw. Yes, its official name is a mouthful.  Intended for cutting branches, its size and shape make it an ideal implement for root ball division.

It is sold in two sizes with a ten or a six-inch blade, I chose the smaller model because it best resembled a giant Exacto knife which I’d always enjoyed using. While the smaller size offers a tighter hand control with better accuracy for my needs, I expect that the ten-inch  blade will be more productive for dividing oversized root balls. At the time of writing this blog, the ten inch blade is better value at Amazon than the six inch blade - which is available at most big box stores. In either size, sharp teeth make this a powerful and precise instrument.

I‘m able to slice through root balls with the precision of a master chef and my success rate has risen to 99 %. Yet, it is safe, portable and convenient because it is lightweight and retractable. When I shove my hand impulsively into my tool bag, I’m certain not to cut myself.

The only feature missing from this product is instant visibility. Fiskars’ customary neon orange trim that makes its collection of garden implements easy to locate, is lacking on this item. A black garden tool dropped onto brown soil disappears from view even when it is literally right under one’s nose. For improved visibility, consider adding strips of red electrician’s tape to its handle. The following photo demonstrates how I solved the problem.

I discovered this item out of necessity. A member of my staff had lost the small retractable blade used to slice open bags of soil amendments and it needed replacing. As soon as I spotted the Fiskars item, I knew it would be a versatile problem-solving tool that would make my staff and I feel competent. It’s the serendipity of occurrences like this that add to the joy of gardening.



Gender in the Garden: Tools for Women

One of the fascinating side effects of hiring college students of both genders has been the opportunity for me to observe the subtle differences in the way that men and women attack a physical challenge. Compared to the male workers who used brute force and muscle strength to accomplish their tasks, and who were content to work both alone and in silence, the female staff relied upon endurance and the continuous verbal encouragement of their co-workers.

In a post-feminist world, it is controversy-inciting to speak or write of gender differences in the workplace. However, personal, anecdotal experience suggests that while the two genders are legally, politically, and socially equal, the minds and bodies of each are not always similar in the way that they deal with issues and tasks.

These differences were not lost upon Ann Adams, RN, MSW, a co-founder of Green Heron Tools. In her own words:- women’s bodies are different from men’s in just about every variable imaginable – from upper- and lower-body strength to grip size, from stature to muscle mass and joint flexibility. 

Liz Brensinger, MPH, is the other co-founder of the company and she reports that using tools that don’t fit or, worse yet, work against your body makes tasks harder and also contributes to injuries and chronic conditions such as lower back pain.

With the support of a U.S. Department of Agriculture Small Business Innovation Research grant, that funded two years of research and development, the co-founders have been able to introduce the first HERgonomic - i.e. ergonomic for women – tool, a shovel-spade hybrid scientifically designed to fit women’s bodies and the way women shovel.

As a male gardener, I am unable to test this product personally and my female staff, who might comment upon it, does not return to work until next spring. Instead, I relied upon a Green Heron Tool press release to blog about this product.

D Grip Handle   Unique hergonomic™ shape offers multiple options for hand placement & helps keep wrists in neutral position. Room for both hands = greater control,     Diameter appropriate for women’s hands, resulting in greater comfort & less hand & finger fatigue,  Textured for better grip,  Forward tilt provides added leverage & complements blade angle,  Design incorporates features women preferred in lab and field testing

Shaft   Ash handle provides best strength-to-weight ratio & excellent shock resistance – a strong, durable handle at a relatively light weight,   3 optional lengths make HERS™ truly hergonomic™ – choose the size that matches your height,    Wood is Appalachian Hardwood Verified Sustainable, meaning it comes from eastern U.S. forests where, on average, 2.29 trees are growing for every 1 tree that is harvested.

Blade   Unique design combines features of spade & shovel for maximum versatility,    Enlarged step makes the most of women’s lower-body strength & is safe and comfortable – no narrow blade-top to cut into the sole of the foot. Raised tread ensures good traction,    Made of 16-gauge tempered recycled steel – tough yet 10% thinner for lower weight. Blade flexes under pressure to prevent breakage,  Shaft/blade angle chosen to complement women’s digging style,   Shaft & blade interface is made to last – 6-7 inches  of the wooden shaft are driven into the blade socket, and the two are fastened together with a rivet that goes all the way through the handle for maximum strength & durability.

More information about the tool is available at  and is sold on their website


Be Prepared: Handy Gardening Tools.

Here is a list of what flower gardeners keep in their tool sheds.

1] Trowel: This is a small hand tool used for digging holes for bulbs, annuals and young perennials. If you don’t own a specific tool for digging out weeds, this will make a good temporary substitute. Always select a trowel with an ergonomically shaped handle that allows the strongest arm muscles to do the work while keeping the joints in a natural position. If you suffer from arthritis, select a trowel with handles that are wider than normal [about 1 3/8 inches in diameter].

2]  Short - Handled Spade: A square shaped spade, with a D-shaped handle  that can be used for edging, digging holes for plants, trees and bushes and for digging up perennials.

3] Long - Handled, Round - Pointed Shovel: For digging compacted soil, slicing through roots and for digging out deeply set plants.

4] "Toolstep" or "Trenchfoot."

This is a new product that slides over the spade handle to rest on the head of the blade to form a wider step. The additional width lessens the stress on the sole and arch of the foot when pushing down on the blade. This product is useful if you plan to do a lot of digging. Sold as "Trenchfoot" in the U.S.A., it is available online from the Garden Gate Magazine Store. In Canada, it is known as "Toolstep" and is available online from Lee Valley Tools.

5] Bypass Hand pruner: A pruner is used to deadhead flowers, trim stems, stalks and branches and to cut flowers for indoor use.This is a multipurpose tool and a most important one for keeping a perennial garden tidy. Look for ergonomically shaped handles that are coated in plastic to create a comfortable grip.

6] Weeder: A weeder may be a long or short-handled tool for digging up weeds. This tool is available in many models, some dating back to the Middle Ages. Choose whatever style appeals to you because there is no ultimate weeding tool. Hard packed soil makes weeding difficult so moisten or aerate the earth before starting that chore.

7] Wheelbarrow: Transporting shrubs, tools and earth is hard work. Lighten the load by using a wheelbarrow. Your back will thank you.

8] Garden Hose: The hose should be long enough to bring water to the farthest point of the garden.

9] Adjustable Hose Nozzle: Newly planted vegetation and freshly sown seeds need watering. Ideally, a watering can is best because it delivers water gently. However, a hose, adjusted for low water pressure and attached to a nozzle that is tuned to a fine mist, works just as well and requires less effort.

10] Gardening Gloves: Gloves keep hands and fingernails clean, prevent the formation of hand callouses and protect hands from thorns. Rugged gloves are best for digging with a trowel, shovel or spade but they do not allow for fine work such as planting seedlings. Soft leather gloves made from goat skin or pig skin mold to the hand and allow full use of fine motor skills. They are not easily found and are usually sold in women’s sizes only. Don’t give up the search! Once you’ve tried them, you won’t want to wear anything else on your hands.

11] Kneeling Pad: Something must come between the ground and your kneecaps. A flat spongy kneeling pad is more comfortable than wearing knee pads.

Quality of Tools: Buy the best quality that your budget allows. Better tools last longer and make work easier.