Organising your tools

Get rid of excess

Before you start to reorganise, look around the area you’re now using for garden gear, and get rid of everything you don’t use, love, or need. Decide what you can give to a friend, donate to a charity, or sell at a yard sale.

If you can’t bear to get rid of old tools, use them as garden art. Use old trowels for garden gate handles, or broken shovels and bent rakes are great for garden sculptures.

 

Find a home for everything

Once you’ve parted with everything that’s broken, unnecessary, or just plain trash, it’s time to find a home for everything. Once each item has its own specific storage place, you’ll find you can—and will—replace things more readily.

As you plan where each thing should go, first ask yourself which tools you use most often. Pruners? Spade? Garden gloves? Those items need to be most accessible, while the things you use infrequently or annually—vegetable cages or extra stakes, perhaps, can be stored farther away or up high in ceiling rafters.

If you use your spade every weekend, hang it closer to the door than the leaf rake you use only in fall. Put your lawn mower in a place where it’s easy to get at, but not blocking tools hanging on the walls. Place heavy bags of potting soil on easy-to-reach shelves so you don’t have to reach way up or down to access them. And keep chemicals up and away from children’s hands.

Place similar things together so you can accomplish a task smoothly. For instance, put your hand tools and gloves in a bucket, apron, or any handled container that you can tote out to the garden at a moment’s notice. Keep potting soil, plant food, pots, and seeds near each other so you’re ready to pot whenever you get the inclination. Once you’ve found a place for everything, label each area with a label maker or masking tape and a permanent marker so you (and family members) know where each thing belongs. You’ll be amazed at how labeling helps keep things in order.

 

Think vertical

Whether you have a small or large area, storing things vertically will help save space and make everything easy to see. It will also free up floor space for larger items like your lawn mower and wheelbarrow.

Hang a pegboard with hooks for long- and short-handled tools, or simply put up plywood and attach broom holders (available at hardware stores) so you can snap tool handles easily in place. In lieu of broom holders, put in pairs of long screws so the heads of rakes, shovels, and other long-handled tools rest naturally between the two screws. Then label each spot, or trace the shape of each tool on the wall so you know immediately where each one goes.

If you don’t have space to hang everything side by side, buy a small, upright garden storage rack with slots for holding long handles. Systems that attach to a wall are also available. If you have concrete blocks lying around, stack a few on top of each other and place long tool handles upright through the holes (image 2).

To create an out-of-the-way storage spot without spending much time or money, use the small spaces between the exposed beams of your garage or shed walls. Just nail two boards horizontally across the studs at different heights, and slip a spade or hoe between the boards and the wall.

For storing smaller items, look at discount or home stores for an inexpensive clear-vinyl shoe holder that hangs on the wall. It’s more than 20 pockets can store everything from garden gloves and seeds to small hand tools and plant labels, and they’re all easy to see. Hang it on the back of a door or on a wall—it’s a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to store a wide variety of items.

 

Continue to look for solutions

In the week or two after you’ve organised your garden storage area, take note of anything that continues to frustrate you, then find a solution immediately.

Is your shed getting bogged down with papers and bits of trash? Position a large garbage can where you can get to it easily.

Are you constantly losing your tools under a pile of picked weeds? Vow to always put your tools in your new carry-everywhere tool tote, or paint the tool handles orange so you can see them from afar.

Is the tarp you use for hauling leaves hanging in front of an area you need to reach? Store it in the ceiling beams or in a ceiling rack.

As your garden changes, your needs will change—and so should your storage area. Finding solutions right away will keep you on task. Soon you’ll be wasting less time and spending more of it in your garden—which is where, of course, you’d prefer to be.

 

Green House

Not quite ready for a traditional glass greenhouse? Check out the new array of lightweight mini-greenhouses with tiny price tags to match.

 

If you’re an avid gardener, you’ve probably fantasised about having a greenhouse—a lovely, warm, glassed-in garden getaway where you’d tend tiny seedlings, coddle delicate orchids, and harvest beautiful tomatoes, no matter what the weather. Then you checked the prices for traditional greenhouses, and your daydream popped like a soap bubble.

Dream no more. You can enjoy many of the advantages of a greenhouse for a fraction of the price—and in a fraction of the space—if you consider a mini-greenhouse. Ranging from small cold-frame structures to large walk-in freestanding types, these inexpensive greenhouses are designed to be semipermanent, lasting a few to several years.

This new breed of lightweight greenhouse might not have enough space and insulation to make it a great place to hang out for hours on a winter afternoon, but it does help you start seeds and cuttings, overwinter tender plants, grow out-of-season produce, and force spring bulbs into bloom.

 

Many mini-greenhouses are portable and easy to store during the summer. (Some even come with a storage bag.) Shop carefully and you can find one that takes less than 30 minutes to put up or take down. Some manufacturers even tout their mini-greenhouses as “pop-up.” It takes about as much time to put them up as it does a pup tent. These are ideal if you want to use them for only a few weeks: say for starting seedlings in early spring.

 

Portable greenhouses

Portable greenhouses also give you flexibility on where to locate them. If you install a permanent greenhouse, you need to carefully consider the movement of the sun and the growth patterns of trees over the years. Most mini-greenhouses, on the other hand, can simply be plunked down wherever it’s sunny. If it’s not sunny enough, you can move them.

 

Many people want a greenhouse to hold collections of beloved plants, such as orchids or other tropical beauties. Temporary greenhouses are not as good for that. When they’re made out of flexible plastic, temporary greenhouses are not particularly sturdy, and they are harder to heat and ventilate. However, something as simple as milk jugs filled with water helps anchor some designs and also serves as passive solar heat. This method is reported to keep small greenhouses above freezing even when temperatures drop as low as 15°F.

 

Some determined gardeners install fans even in the flimsier sorts of greenhouses. If you choose a design with rigid plastic, it’s likely to have some type of automatic ventilation system. This will prevent delicate plants from cooking on a sunny day when you’re not around to open a flap or door.

 

Stormy weather is another issue. Smaller greenhouses can be anchored with bricks, small boulders, or soil staples. Larger ones need rope and stakes. Hail, too, can damage flexible plastic greenhouses. Some models have replacement covers and repair kits, though handy gardeners can do the repairs with clear glue and heavy clear plastic from the home improvement store.

 

A mini-greenhouse is a clever solution for the gardener who wants some of the advantages of a greenhouse without the steep investment. And come spring, when you’re tending your seedlings even as frost settles in, you may well agree.

 

Cold frame

Advantages: Small, portable, inexpensive. Ideal for starting greens directly in the ground and protecting flats of seedlings for a few weeks in late winter or early spring. Good for chilling pots of forced bulbs. Can be disassembled for storage. Variety of designs, including some that are sized to fit over a group of tomato plants.

Disadvantages: Can’t grow anything taller than several inches. Bending to open and close lid may be a problem for gardeners with limited mobility.

Price range: £20 to £90

 

Bookshelf

 

Advantages: Fairly small. Excellent for a deck or patio. Radiant heat from the house provides even more protection. Multiple shelves mean more space than a cold frame—plus, no bending.

Disadvantages: Limited space. Hard to heat, though some may have additional insulating layers for an additional cost. Prone to tipping in wind, so you may want to weight down or wire or attach to a supporting structure.

Price range: £30 to £100

Pop-up or quick-assemble

 

Advantages: Lots of space for not much money. Most are large enough to walk into and you can even put shelves and/or stands in them. Most have designs that allow you to knock them down in a half hour or less and store easily. Can put directly on grass, if desired—no firm foundation required.

Disadvantages: Very prone to blowing, so be sure to anchor well. Also check design to make sure snow load won’t be an issue. Limited life of a few to several years.

Price range: £150 to £600

Lean-to

 

Advantages: Can be quite substantial. Good for decks and patios. They benefit from the radiant heat and insulation of the attached building. Can do a wide array of gardening in this type of greenhouse. Since it’s near electrical and water sources, you can install a fan, heater, or hydrant. One design fits over a door of a garage, shed, or house so you can walk directly into it from the building.

Disadvantages: Among the most expensive of the mini-greenhouses. Attaching to the house takes work and commitment.

Price range: £250 to £800

Rigid freestanding

 

Advantages: Almost but not quite a traditional greenhouse, this one has economy and limited space in mind. Still light and temporary enough to put on a patio or deck, but more durable than those with flexible plastic shells. Could last a decade or more.

Disadvantages: Can’t knock down and store. More expensive than other types. Does best with a foundation of some sort. Gravel is usually acceptable, but brick, concrete block, or poured concrete is preferable.

Price range: £400 to £1,500

 

Do you need a greenhouse?

 

If you answer “yes” to more than a few of these questions, a greenhouse may be a great gardening resource for you.

 

Would you like to start more plants from seed with more success?

 

If you’re a seed starter, you know that half the struggle is getting those seedlings plenty of light so they grow fast, stocky, and strong. Most indoor grow lights are barely adequate. A greenhouse provides as much light as the sun does.

 

Do you want to get your cuttings off to a better start?

 

A greenhouse allows you to start more cuttings earlier and have better results. You’ll have larger, sturdier plants that will take off faster with less pampering come warmer weather.

 

Do you want to save money by overwintering tender plants?

 

Some of our favourite plants are marginally hardy. A mini-greenhouse, depending on the plant and your climate, allows you to gain approximately two hardiness zones if you grow the plant in a pot and overwinter it in the greenhouse. In colder climates, it’s a resourceful way to overwinter prized plants such as rosemary, fig trees, gardenias, jasmine, and citrus.

 

Do you crave more veggies earlier in the season?

 

Some greenhouses can be constructed with raised beds or set right on the soil. This allows you to start tomatoes and other produce weeks and even months earlier. Then, when temperatures are warm enough, remove the mini-greenhouse. (Charley’s Greenhouse and Garden, for example, makes a special mini-greenhouse tailored for growing tomatoes right in the ground.)

 

Do you enjoy forcing bulbs in winter?

 

If you plant spring-blooming bulbs in fall for forcing into early bloom during winter, a greenhouse may be helpful, depending on your climate. Keep it at refrigerator-like temperatures (40°F to 55°F) for at least 12 weeks to let the bulbs sprout. Then bring them indoors, where they’ll grow and bloom.

 

Ride on lawn mowers

If you have a large property (more than half an acre) and dream about hiring a strong, endlessly energetic teenage boy to work on your landscape 24 hours a day, it might be more realistic to check out the newest lineup of lawn and garden tractors. These heavy lifters do it all: mow the roughest grass and brush, haul brush and firewood, aerate, level a driveway, clear snow, dethatch with some serious oomph, build berms, remove and shift large stones, dig post holes in minutes, till deeply in difficult soils, and haul rock. Some even have hydraulic lift attachments.

Plus, if you like machines, they’re really, really fun. Of course, since these babies cost between £1,000 and £8,000, you have to figure out what you truly need and what you don’t.

 

What’s in a Name?

A quick lesson in terminology:

A riding mower is a mower that you drive. Some attachments may be available, but this is primarily a machine for cutting grass. The cutting deck is usually in front.

 

A lawn tractor also cuts grass, but its cutting deck is mid-mounted, which means it’s more maneuverable. It’s also more powerful, so it can run heavier attachments like power tillers and post-hole diggers.

 

A garden tractor is more powerful yet. It may also cut grass and tends to have large wheels and greater ground clearance. It has enough power for a front-end loader attachment, which is great for levelling, moving, and flattening ground. However, not everyone makes distinctions between a lawn tractor and a garden tractor. The two terms are often used interchangeably.

 

A compact tractor is really just a miniature agricultural tractor. It’s something only a professional landscaper or farmer would need to own, not the mere gardening enthusiast.

 

Where to Buy

Roughly three-fourths of all lawn and garden tractors are purchased at discount home stores, and for good reason—they’re lots cheaper. The rest come from lawn and garden stores.

 

The more conservative route is to purchase from a lawn or farm equipment dealer. Dealers tend to carry the best-quality brands and better-made models of the same brands sold at discount places. They’re also extremely knowledgeable—a huge help at purchase time. They stock plenty of parts, and they can service equipment should anything go awry. And according to some experts, high-end lawn and garden tractors outlive their cheaper counterparts by 50 percent or more. But you pay lots more—often twice as much.

 

So, as with other types of power equipment, you pay more to get more power, more versatility, and more reliability. Only you can determine how much you’re willing to pay for those things.

 

How to Buy

Purchasing the right lawn and garden tractor for your needs can be almost as complicated as purchasing a car (and, in fact, most of these cost more than my first car did). Here are some basic questions to ask about each model you’re considering:

 

How does the manufacturer rank in quality? Even the most shameless salesperson will probably give you some indication of the brand’s reputation. Be sure to ask about the engine, as engines vary considerably in reliability and lifespan.

 

How sturdy are the frame and axle? In cheaper machines, these critical components are made from steel and welded. Better machines have forged or cast-iron axles, which are stronger and a good predictor of overall quality.

 

How good is the transmission? These also vary by price, with some working more smoothly and having fewer service problems. Is it gear-driven, which takes more concentration and effort, or clutch less automatic, which is more convenient and precise?

 

What service can you get? On complex machines such as these, it’s important to ask about warranties and follow-up service. How easy is it to get parts? How will you get the monster, which can weigh several hundred pounds, to and from the service shop? Is pickup and delivery offered?

 

What’s the horsepower? Surprisingly, with lawn and garden tractors, this isn’t as important as you might think. In fact, a too-large engine can stress an under built frame. Overall quality is more critical than sheer might. Still, it’s useful to know that smaller lawn tractors usually run at 4 to 6 horsepower (hp), while high-end garden tractors have 16 to 27 hp.

 

What’s the size of the cutting deck? The wider the deck, the fewer passes you make and the faster you get done. Decks start at 38 inches and run up to 70 inches.  

 

What’s the turn radius? A zero-turn radius is a huge advantage, allowing far better manoeuvrability in tight spots and around obstacles like swing sets. The smaller your property, the more you need this.

 

How does it look and feel? Silly as it sounds, does the machine have a cupholder? Does it have cruise control, which is nice for long runs where your foot can get tired? Does it have a tilt steering wheel, which is reduces arm and upper back fatigue? Does it have a high seat back to reduce lower back fatigue? Does it have an electric power take-off switch (ideal) or a manual lever (less good) to engage cutting blades with minimum effort and more precision? What sort of traction can you expect on slopes and dew-covered grass? What’s the decibel level? (Wear ear muffs or plugs, regardless.)

 

How smoothly does it mow? It might be great on rough grass or brush, but is the cut clean enough to make a beautiful lawn? Does it have a reverse mow function?

 

What’s the speed? Homeowners who used to spend four or five hours mowing their lawn can, with a faster machine, halve that time.