Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming

Garden tools

2016-5-Kathy Shreve's tiling or trenching spade by Barb Gorges

Kathy Shreve’s tiling, or trenching, shovel works well for inserting new plants in her perennial bed. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle May 1, 2016, “Must-have garden gear.”

By Barb Gorges

Gardening smart and using the best tools for you and your garden situation means gardening can be less of a chore and more fun, leaving you with time to enjoy your results.

With that in mind, I decided to survey the Laramie County Master Gardeners to find out which tools they consider essential for gardening. I also looked into best garden tool maintenance practices.

Like a good scientist, I checked the literature online and had my own hypothesis on what would surface in the top of the list: tools for digging, cutting, watering, hauling and composting.

Surprisingly, only one person listed a power tool, a rototiller for tilling vegetable beds.

Apparently, most of the Master Gardeners that responded have gardens small enough to use only hand tools, just love gardening by hand, or are in the no-till or minimal till camp.

[Soil science shows that over time the tradition of tilling every year, turning over the top inches of soil, whether by machine or shovel, breaks down soil structure. This disturbs the microbiome community that stores water and provides nutrients to plants. Tilling also exposes weed seeds to light and germination, mandating the use of a hoe or more tilling later.

No-till methods use plant-based mulch as a way to suppress weeds and add nutrients to the soil gradually. The soil is disturbed as little as possible when flowers and vegetables are seeded or transplanted.]

The following is the result of the tools members suggested as we head into the new season.

2016-5-Wanda Manley's hori hori by Barb Gorges

Wanda Manley displays her hori hori. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Hori hori

Outside of the lone rototiller, all the other favorite tools mentioned were split evenly between digging and cutting.

One tool does both: the hori hori.

A Japanese tool, the hori hori is “a cross between a knife and a trowel and I use it for everything,” wrote Salli Halpern.

Wanda Manley said, “This is my ‘go to’ tool…great for fluffing soil, transplanting, making furrows, etc. Does not rust.”

Rosalind Schliske said, “In the last couple of years, my new favorite garden tool is a soil knife.” The “knife” she mentions seems to be a modern hori hori, with a composite handle instead of wood.

The hori hori’s 7-inch cutting blade, serrated on one side, is formed into a shallow length-wise v-shape. It can be used to cut and scoop out a small planting hole and makes a fabulous weed remover.

2016-5-Susan Jones's Corona Egrip Hand Weeder by Barb Gorges

Susan Jones likes her Corona Egrip Weeder. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Susan Jones swears by a hand weeder sold under the Corona brand. It also has a serrated edge, but a molded plastic, more ergonomic handle and a v-shaped tip that helps pop out weeds with taproots like dandelions.


Only Kathy Shreve and Mike Heath mentioned shovels on their lists. Shreve finds a tiling, or trenching shovel to be most useful. The flat-edged, straight and narrow blade is just right for inserting new plants into her established perennial beds. The weight of the wooden handle adds to its heft, she said, giving her a little extra oomph as she digs in.

Shovels and spades (the distinction between them is not clear) come in a wide variety of blade and handle options. It takes some experience to match one with what fits your hands, height, strength and type of digging you need to do. The same is true of hand trowels or hand spades. In our clay-type soils, go for better quality tools that won’t snap as soon as you encounter a tough situation.

2016-5-Wanda Manley's Felco pruners by Barb Gorges

Felco pruners are made to last, with proper maintenance. Photo by Barb Gorges.


One favorite cutting tool was mentioned by both Shreve and Manley by brand name: Felco hand pruners. I finally have a pair myself, after years of being frustrated by cheaper pruners falling apart. Plus, Felco has replaceable parts and accessories available at area garden centers.

Felco pruners are bypass-type cutting tools, meaning the two halves slide by each other as they cut, like scissors, rather than the anvil-type, where one side is a blade and the other side is a flat surface.

Hand pruners might not be the best at snipping chives—you’d want a scissors for that, but they do work fine for cutting flowers and are tough enough for cutting pumpkins off the vine, not to mention doing a little tree and shrub pruning.

2016-5-Bud Davis's Garrett Wade anvil loppers by Barb Gorges

Anvil-type racheting loppers from Garret-Wade are a favorite with Bud Davis. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Once your trees and shrubs get beyond hand pruner size, it’s time to look for loppers.

Both Bud Davis and Shreve swear by their ratcheting loppers, which can handle more than my regular pair, rated only for a maximum branch diameter of 1.25 inches. Shreve prefers the Fiskars brand while Davis got both of his pairs, a bypass for green wood and an anvil-type for dead wood, from Garrett-Wade. His loppers even have telescoping handles to help reach farther or get more leverage.

2016-5-Jim Stallard shovel  sharpening by Barb Gorges

Jim Stallard puts a professional edge on a shovel. Photo by Barb Gorges.


No matter what digging and cutting tools you invest in, maintaining them will save you time, money and effort.

Jim Stallard has been in the seasonal tool sharpening business for 16 years. This year he is at Fort Collins Nursery on Fridays and JAX on Saturdays, both in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Stallard has seen it all, including dirt left on metal long enough that the moisture from it caused rust. He uses a wire brush to clean off dirt before putting away tools. More of us need to think about providing a convenient place to store tools out of the weather—and then train ourselves to put our tools away.

Stallard uses silicone spray lubricant on the metal parts of tools—it’s especially nice on the blades of pruners and loppers because it doesn’t cause them to bind up or rust the way some products do.

Keeping tools sharp—even the blades on shovels and hand spades—makes gardening work easier. You can check online for tips on how to do it yourself, but there is nothing like letting a professional like Stallard put a fresh edge on a tool at the beginning of the season. He’s got the power equipment and the experience to put the right angle on your blade for just a few bucks.

The other essentials

One can make do with old buckets and wheelbarrows for hauling, and make compost with just a simple pile of plant debris. Watering can be as complex as drip irrigation (see for a previous column) or as simple as a hose. I was hoping someone could recommend a hose that never kinks. That would indeed be a tool that makes the work easier.

However, it was Master Gardener intern Richard Steele, who said, “The best tool…is having access to the knowledge of the Master Gardeners.” With that in mind, feel free to call the Laramie County Cooperative Extension office with your garden questions at 307-633-4383.

Gardener’s Wish List


A greenhouse is tops on my gardening wish list. This one is at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Published Dec. 8, 2013, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “What’s on a gardener’s wish list? Garden expert Barb Gorges asked her friends, and here’s what they told her…”

By Barb Gorges

Lately, I’ve been listening to what local gardeners want for Christmas.

Most items on their gardening wish lists are, not surprisingly, utilitarian.

Perhaps they are saving their flights of fancy for the spring seed catalogs.

Collapsible rain barrel

My gardening mentor, Kathy Shreve, told me tops on her list is a collapsible rain barrel—something that would need a fraction of the winter storage space as the large, plastic, 50-gallon, imitation wood variety.

I had my digital elves do a search and they came up with the “Heaven and Earth Knockdown Rain Water Barrel.” Think mini portable swimming pool held up by sturdy poles, complete with a lid, leaf filter, plus connections for your gutter downspout and garden hose.

While they may be listed by popular discount stores, try, a long-time home and garden supply company that offers them in five sizes, from 52 to 250 gallons.


My longtime friend Florence Brown has been eyeing a pair of “Snip and Strip Rose Cutters” with which you can snip the stem and then pull it through a notch at the end of the blade to remove the thorns. Try Lee Valley Tools, But if they are sold out, Santa should look for the “Professional Rose Thorn Stripper” at

Susan Carlson, a friend of Florence’s, also has a sharp object on her wish list—long-handled bypass pruners. I couldn’t find any made by her favorite company, Wiss, but another Swiss maker of cutting tools, Felco, has many models.

It can be aggravating to buy garden hand tools that don’t last more than a season or two, Bob Jansen told me. I agree. I’ve snapped cheap hand trowels while digging in our clayish soil and jammed or broken cheap hand pruners. What Bob wants is quality, which will save him time and money.

Maybe he’d like one of the items on my list, a pair of Felco hand pruners, recommended by several people I’ve talked to. They are available through many sources, such as, but Felco also has its own website, Each type of pruner can be repaired and sharpened. Felco also makes 13 kinds of loppers Susan could choose from, plus lots of information to help in selection. Prices for loppers run $80-$150, hand pruners, $30-$70.

Bob also mentioned he’d like a strong back and younger knees. No problem. They can be hired.


My friend Lila Howell shared her wish list and it really is a list: rain barrels, arborist ladder, new shovel, heat mats for seed starting, new wheelbarrow, plant markers, new hoe, new blade for pruning saw, and a hummingbird feeder. Many of these items are available locally, or through the catalogs I’ve already mentioned (even the hummingbird feeder), but the arborist ladder intrigued me.

A ladder designed for use in maintaining trees is of a sturdier standing, three-legged design. Also known as an orchard ladder, it is available from companies such as, which cater to tree professionals. Who wouldn’t want to go with a product designed to keep professionals safe? The prices range from $250 to over $500. But they are still cheaper than the cherry picker Lila really wants.


My birding friend, Donna Kassel, gardens with the birds in mind. She has many berry producing bushes to feed and shelter them, as well as feeders among her trees and perennial flower beds. Garden tools are not on her list, but garden whimsy is.

We’re not talking about concrete bunnies. But Donna would like to add more garden lights. She has several solar-powered types, perfect for avoiding power cables and power bills. She’d love to have twinkling lights in one of her trees, but how does one charge solar lights hung in a shade tree?

What really catches her fancy is a lighted, bird bath fountain.

The first place my digital elves looked, the website,, popped up. They have scads of birdbaths with fountains, even one for $80 that runs on solar energy. Many of them are of classical Victorian/Italianate design sometimes decorated with little birds.

None of the birdbath fountains seemed to have lights, but there were many lighted, outdoor fountains. One, made of faux stone, has recirculating water pouring between four levels of pools. I’m sure birds would be attracted to the moving water for a drink. The pools might be big enough for baths as well. It’s a bit pricy at $350 (regularly $500), but maybe some clever elves in Donna’s family could build one for her.

Greenhouse Gardener's Companion

Reading Shane Smith’s “Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion” is a must before acquiring a greenhouse.


More than one gardener, including me, has a greenhouse on their wish list.

I keep seeing advertising in garden magazines for Hartley Botanic, an English company, Their largest, non-custom greenhouse is the “Victorian Grand Manor,” measuring 13 feet wide by 13 high by 36 long. It would fit nicely, but no price is listed, not even the calculations for shipping. As they say, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it,” much less afford to replace the glass after each of our hailstorms.

Reading Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director Shane Smith’s “Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion” would be the first step if I get serious about finding a greenhouse suitable for Cheyenne, or anywhere else.

But Santa, I’d settle for a promise of perfect growing weather in 2014.