What makes the best hand pruners, and how to buy ones that are right for you.
We have been through a lot of different pruner shears in our time gardening and on the farm here at Celtic. And I can tell you, there is nothing worse than using a bad set of hand pruners all day. What are some of the key problems with pruners? Well, here is a quick list of things we have experienced over the years:
Cheap Metal Pruner Blade – any pruner that is black metal is typically made of cheap steel and will rust, pit and get dents in the pruner cutting blade. We like stainless, shiny blades for all our garden pruners.
No leverage – Sometimes we have to cut thick stalks and branches with our pruning tools. Many pruners have straight handles with no offset, and this means no leverage in the blade, and pain in the hands.
Not Wide Enough – to cut those big dahlia stalks, or the sunflower broom handle shoots, we need an opening that can handle a decent diameter.
Heavy – low quality hand pruners weigh a ton (cheap steel).
Poor Spring – low quality pruners are not snappy when you open and close them due to a cheap metal spring.
Ok, enough of the bad stuff, the question is, how can I tell a high quality set of pruning shears? Here you go:
In my first post on Sharpening Scissors, I sowed you a quick and easy way to sharpen your garden scissors with my favorite sharpening tool: the diamond hone sharpening paddle. This guide will give you some insight and techniques to keep your garden tools (pruners, loppers and shears) sharp and in tip top shape for the garden. I guess you are asking: Aren’t they sharp enough? Most gardeners will not maintain their tools, and just go on using dull, ineffective blades. But clean cuts are imperative to keeping your plants healthy, and a sharp set of tools makes garden that much more fun, and reduces the time to prune and cut.
Steps for Sharpening Pruners and Other Curved Blade Tools
Clean your blades. We have to get to the steel before we can sharpen. Cleaning the gunk off the blades can help tool function immediately, and the sap dirt and grime can harden over time and make your tools almost useless. You can clean your pruners with dish soap, warm water and a brush or scrubbing sponge. For dried sap on the blades, scrubbing bubbles will help break down the sticky stuff.
Remove rust. You can remove rust by soaking the blades in white vinegar overnight. For stubborn, rusted blades you can also use a wire brush to remove the oxidized metal.
File down large nicks. The sharpening process requires a move from coarse to fine. If you have diamond stone paddles, it makes the process simple. Grab your coarse paddle and run it over the blades at an angle equal to the existing bevel. Focus on any damage areas to smooth out the blade curve. The coarse paddle will remove the top layer of metal and get you to the good shiny stuff. Make sure and get both sides of the blade, but on the flat part, keep your hone flat and just do a few passes.
Sharpening time. Call me strange, but I love this part. Take your medium grit hone and run it over your blade. After a few passes, you will start to feel the metal get smoother, and your blade will begin to sharpen. After quite a few passes of the sharpener, switch to your fine diamond paddle. This will really put a shine to the blade and start to really put that cutting edge in shape. As you sharpen one side of the blade, it will build up a burr on the backside. Make sure and do a few strokes to remove this.
A bit of oil. When sharpening your garden tools, its a great opportunity to lubricate the joints for smooth operation. I use regular sewing machine oil, and just put a few drops on the pruner or lopper nut. Also take a rag and put a drop or two of oil on, and run it over your sharpening work. This will protect the blade from rust and keep the sap from sticking.
And that’s it, simple and effective. Now go enjoy your work! We carry the diamond stone paddles for sharpening in our store, and you can find them here:
This post is a continuation of our raised bed series with all you need to know about raised bed gardening. So, you’ve built your raised bed, and its sitting empty, just waiting for soil so you can begin planting. What you put in your bed is extremely important to the health and longevity of your plants. Soil supports plant growth by providing 5 core items:
An anchor for root systems. By allowing the spread and anchoring of roots, soil provides a means for the plant to remain safe and connected to the ground.
Oxygen – The spaces within good soil allow root systems to access oxygen to grow and prosper.
Water – Soil provides the spaces that hold water for plant growth.
Insulation – soil is a natural blanket for root systems during extreme temperature fluctuations.
Nutrients – Soil provides access to nutrients for plants to grow and thrive.
How you build out your soil composition to provide an optimal growth environment for your plants is key to raised garden success.
There are several questions you need to ask before you get started:
What are you planting? A little master of the obvious here, but you would be surprised how plans change 🙂
Are there any special soil chemistry requirements?
How are you going to irrigate?
Are there special drainage requirements?
What Are You Planting?
Be sure and check the soil requirements for the types of plants you want to grow. You can put in a broad and general soil mix, but if you want the best growth and healthiest plants, you will need to tailor the soil makeup for your needs. For example, if you are growing carrots, and don’t add sand to create a loose, free growth medium, it will stunt growth. Likewise, a bed that does not drain well will create an environment where bulbs will rot during rainy weather. Any seed site will provide extensive information on the type of soil required for your plants. Example: Johnny’s Seeds.
Are There Special Soil Chemistry Requirements?
pH is one of the most important soil chemistry levels you can adjust for success of your plantings. Slightly acidic pH levels, 6-6.5, are generally most favorable for plant growth, but certain species require adjustments to these numbers. The great part about raised beds is that you typically fill them with soil that is optimized for general plant growth. Some plants may require slight adjustments, and your garden center can advise different amendments to adjust your pH.
How Will You Irrigate Your Raised Bed?
Providing water and a source can sometimes be an afterthought, but it’s easiest build your irrigation out before you add soil to the raised bed. different soil types and plants may require different types of irrigation: drop, sprinkles, spray heads, etc.
Are There Special Drainage Requirements?
Your soil makeup with have a big impact on moisture retention and drainage. Creating a composition that will provide adequate moisture and drain in heavy downpours can be challenging. Certain types of plants do not tolerate poor drainage well, and without adequate drainage you can rot your roots.
The good news? Nowadays there are so many pre-made soil types and amendments at any garden center, you easily add to your raised bed for any type of growth environment. Below is a great “middle of the road” soil composition for your bed:
10% Potting Soil
This mix provides texture and air pockets, along with excellent drainage, and is appropriate for just about any type of plant. You can read more on raised bed gardening and all its glory here: Raised Bed Gardens Category Page
This is the second post in a series on raised bed gardens (First post here: Benefits of Raised Garden Beds). The best thing about raised beds is that you can use just about anything for walls. So how do you build garden box walls? Here is a list of the typical materials you can use.
Wood: The Typical Raised Bed
Creating a wooden raised bed is quite simple, and can range from a few hour project, to one that takes up the whole weekend. You can use just about any type of wood, but ones that naturally prevent rotting are the best choices. Redwood and cedar will provide the most longevity, and turn that beautiful color grey as they age. Avoid pressure treated wood, as the chemicals can leach into the contained soil. How long will wood raised beds last? Cedar and redwood will last 10 – 20 years, other wood types like pine or douglas fir, about 3 – 5 years. 12″ planks are best for the walls, but if you have some carpentry skills, 2-3 feet can provide a convenient gardening experience.
Stone: Raised Bed For the Ages
Stone walls for raised beds have been used for centuries, and endure the test of time. You can use just about any stone, and just stack them or use mortar to make them a bit more permanent. Even if you don’t use mortar, dirt will typically fill the cracks over time for a nice aesthetic.
Concrete: Quick Beds
Concrete blocks can provide a quick and easy road to building a raised garden. You can use traditional square blocks and just stack them, mortar them, or use the manufactured blocks that are so popular at the big home stores. The manufactured blocks are nice as they have grooves to interlock so they don’t fall over. (Home Depot Stackers for Raised Beds)
Metal: The New Raised Bed
Corrugated roofing metal is a new trend in raised beds and if used correctly, it looks quite nice. Combined with a wood top rail, it can provide a nice look and be quite functional. Galvanized metal is rust resistant and will last a long time. You can get the roofing material from any big home store, and its relatively cheap. You just need the means to cut it, and fasten ends.
More on the construction of raised beds in my next post.
So just what is a raised bed? It is a volume of garden soil contained within a set of walls made of wood, stone, metal or concrete that rises above the normal soil level. It’s a popular method of creating a garden space, but has many benefits.
The Benefits of the Raised Garden
Why go to all the extra effort to build a raised bed garden for your flowers or vegetables? Using raised beds can not only improve the quality of your plants and overall gardening experience, but they can also add an aesthetic factor to the garden with shape and dimension. Here are some of the general benefits of raised bed gardening:
Less weeding – Ok, let’s face it, I hate weeds. They are the bane of my existence, and I spend many hours of the day picking, pinching and digging to try and reduce their presence. With a raised bed, you are starting with a fresh and clean soil base, and if you mulch correctly, you should have minimal weeds (at least for a season :))
Control of Soil Chemistry and Makeup – with raised beds, you have total control of the soil, its pH and overall consistency. You can add sand, peat or fertilizer to create the perfect environment for what you are growing. It’s a clean palette, and can be easier to build out than existing soil.
Better water retention – Because you control the soil and consistency, if you live in areas with sandy soil, you can make sure your plants get adequate water and it is retained during the hot months.
Minimal soil compaction – Raised beds provide the ability to work an area of soil without walking on it, and compacting it. Loose, fertile soil allows for oxygen to reach the roots, as well as a medium for even water absorption.
Soil temperature – warmer soil temperatures early in the season and later in the season extend your growth window, and raised beds provide a nice extension. Like a garden blanket, the soil volume is insulated from the extremes of ground and air.
Save the back – that extra height brings the garden up to you, and for us older folks in the crowd, it can allow for a gardening experience without the bending and kneeling that is a killer.
This is the first in a series of posts on raised beds, follow us here and on Facebook and Instagram to stay in touch. Here are some other links to some great posts:
Information About Cottage Garden Design and Ideas for the Cottage Garden
As we build out our picket fence cottage garden and put in a new cottage-themed shed, we have been doing a ton of research on cottage design, cottage ideas and themes. Below are some of the best links we have found for your cottage garden research efforts.
Flowering bushes/shrubs are the foundation of any modern garden, offering a privacy screen along a border, attracting bees and birds, and providing amazing color and interest throughout the landscape. With hundreds of types and shapes, there’s a beautiful type bush for every one.
There are some key steps to choosing the right garden bush. First, make sure it’s suited for your USDA Planting Zone. You will need to figure out the area of your garden where you plan to plant it. Does it get full sun or does it like the shade? Here’s the most important items to remember:
Some flowering garden bushes bloom on branches that grew the year before (old wood)
Others bloom on this year’s growth (new wood)
Others bloom on both old and new wood
If you’re not sure and have doubt on what you have with a specific bush, wait until the plant blooms, then prune it to your desired shape. If you prune beforehand, you risk cutting off flower buds and having no flowers for the season.
Here are our garden bush favorites, and a list of flowering bushes/shrubs to add to your garden this year.
Oh the joys of lavender. I have to admit, it is our favorite and we have it throughout our property, including a large field. As a garden bush, lavender provides beautiful form, foliage color interest (Grey green) and amazing colored spike flowers. It is relatively easy to grow in certain zones, and provides scented buds and spikes for harvest.
Size: 1′ to 3′ spread depending on variety and age.
Varieties: Try Grosso and Provence for great all purpose, hardy plants
Ah, the formal and shaped boxwood, the mainstay of the English Cottage Garden. Boxwood garden shrubs come in a wide variety of types, over 140, with varieties that vary in leaf size and color, size and acceptable climate. Buxus can be used as a hedge, anchor or feature, and lends itself nicely to shaping.
Size: Typical varieties grow 1 to 6 feet, with some growing to 20 feet at maturity.
Zone: Boxwoods do best in zones 6-9
Varieties: Most common are American, Japanese, Small Leaf and Hybrids.
Ok, here at Celtic Farm, we absolutely love our hydrangeas. We have propagated them and put them all over the property. Under trees, in garden beds, and even have a patch of about 30 for cut flowers. They are amazing bushes that add color and beautiful shape to any garden scene. Their big, bold flowers come in all types of colors, but blue and pink are the most common.
Size: 3 to 8 feet at maturity.
Varieties: Mophead Hydrangeas are the most common, but there are too many varieties to list. You can find some here: Garden Bush – Hydrangea
We all have them. We all tolerate them. That old pair of scissors that are so dull they bend the paper. In the garden, dull garden scissors or snips can leave wounds that can risk the health of your prize plants. If you knew how easy it was to sharpen them, you’d kick yourself. So let’s take a quick peek and the steps to sharpen scissors, and get them a sharp cutting edge. Fortunately, this technique can be used over and over to sharpen not only all your scissors, but you can sharpen garden snips, secateurs, loppers, and all your other dual blade tools with nearly the same sharpening technique.
What You’ll need:
Diamond Stones (I like Diamond Paddles)
Water or Honing Oil
Paper for sharpened cut testing
A screwdriver (If your scissors have a screw)
A permanent marker (optional)
So, there are a ton of options for actual scissor sharpening when it comes to tools. But I like simple, and diamond stone paddles are my favorite. They come in a set of 3 usually, coarse, medium and fine, and can be used not only to sharpen your scissors, but other tools in your garden shed or shop. And they are relatively cheap and take up minimal space. You can also throw them in your pocket, or garden apron, for access out in the wild.
You can use these diamond stone scissor sharpeners dry or wet, and the debate is out on which is better, but i like to use just a little water on the stone, and it seems to help sharpen and keep the stone clean as steel comes off the blade.
Scissor Sharpening Steps
If your scissors have a screw, taking them apart during the sharpening processes can be quite helpful, and you can get access to the full blade. If not you will have to open them fully to get the blades.
Sharpening the scissor blades is a two step process, and it’s important to do both sides of each scissor blade during sharpening.
Take the permanent marker and run it along the front blade of the scissor. This will give you a reference and make sure you have sharpened the entire blade of the scissors.
I start with the back of the scissor blade, or the flat side. The goal here is to remove any burs (very fine), get rid of any rust that has accumulated, and make the edge totally flat. Put the scissors on the edge of a table or bench and run the stone over the scissor blade in a flat, sweeping motion. If should just need a few swipes with the fine paddle, but if there is rust or divots you may need to use the coarse paddle to remove more material. Once you have shiny metal on the blades edge, clean up with your towel and flip to the other side.
Now, let’s talk about how scissors work. They actually shear whatever you are cutting between the contact point, so the angle is very abrupt at the tup of the blade. As we sharpen the scissor blade edge, it will only be about 10 degrees off perpendicular to the bevel side. This seems counter intuitive, and most folks try and sharpen at the bevel angle. You can put the scissor blade in a vise, or hold it securely in your hand, and run the paddle from inside out across the blades edge. A few passes should put a shiny edge on your blades.
Try and cut the paper. A fine blade should cut with out effort, and you should be able to “push” the open blade across the paper, cutting with ease. If you can’t, rinse and repeat.
So that’s it, plain and simple. If you are like me,, you will go on a sharpening binge and sharpen all the scissors in your house garage and even your neighbor’s.
Continuing on our obsession with the cottage garden, it flowers, design principles and overall feel, this post is dedicated to non-plant cottage garden features, both traditional and non-traditional. Here is a list of our favorite elements for the cottage garden.
Fences and Gates
The feeling of contained chaos, or that you are entering a wonderland, is common in the design of the cottage garden. A low fence or wall, usually a picket or stone, is a primary and typically essential element of the garden’s soul. The gate provides an entry point to the garden and its paths, greenery and color.
Overhead: Arches and Pergolas
Vertical elements add to the enclosed spaces within the cottage garden, and arches adorned with climbing beauties like roses and clematis will provide you with a wonderful blended view of the sky and beautiful flowers. Pergolas can establish outdoor rooms or space for chairs, tables and benches.
Sitting: Benches and Chairs
The cottage garden relieves stress, and provides an escape for its owner, family and friends. With all the spaces created, and views of beauty, why not add a chair or bench to sit and gaze, and take in the sights and wonders of nature
Inviting in our flying friends can help establish a wonderful little ecosystem of plants and birds. Placing these beautiful ornaments in a central or planned room within the cottage garden will give you a whole new experience, and add to the overall charm.
The sound of flowing water adds another sense beyond the sights and scents of your cottage garden design. The garden is the perfect place for small, medium or large fountains to add visual interest as well.
This is just a short list of features. Read the rest of our cottage garden series to get ideas for your cottage garden design, and plans.
Picking and Planting Annuals in Your Cottage Garden
Continuing this series on the Cottage Garden, and this post on annuals follows Perennials for the Cottage Garden, and Just What is a Cottage Garden? Annuals provide beauty, texture and amazing color to the cottage garden layout, and there are sooooo many to choose from. Here are some of our favorites, with a list to follow:
There are very few flowers that provide such great vertical interest and color as the Foxglove. With its colorful, spotted spikes, and glorious bell shaped flowers, it will provide a great backdrop to any cottage garden planting scheme..
A great planting companion with the Foxglove, the Snapdragon is also a vertical interest plant, and provides a great layered effect when planted around the foxglove or delphinium. In such a large array of colors, you cant help but find one or many you love.
These plants are cottage garden mainstays, towering at the back of the border in your choice of shades of blue, pink or white. You will need to stake them before they get too tall, and protect them from slugs and snails early in the season. They will add to your cut flower bouquets and provide great beauty.
These fast blooming, heat loving plants will give your cottage design color, foliage and consistent blooms throughout the summer months. These heat lovers will continue to provide flowers as long as you dead head, and come in amazing colors palettes and sizes to bring a smile to any gardeners face.
Here is a big list of annuals and perennials you can add to your cottage garden for enjoyment: