Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
In my opinion, if you have a gardener to shop for this holiday season, you will find no shortage of ideas for gifts. There are many options out there, but my favorites are items that solve some common problems experienced by gardeners of any level.
A great gift for your favorite gardener is a high quality pair of gardening gloves. A good pair will cost around $20 or more. I had a hard time rationalizing this cost with my frugal tendencies. I reluctantly bought a pair last spring to see once and for all whether they were worth the money.
The more expensive gloves come in S-M-L sizes which to me fit dramatically better than my typical $5 or less, one size fits all gloves. The pair I bought was also sized for women's hands, which also seemed to improve the fit. I can honestly report that they were worth the money. I wore gloves most of the time out in the garden this past year, something very unusual for me. The big benefit for me was not having "permanently dirty" hands all spring and summer, and I also didn't have the cracked and sore hands that used to be typical for me during the growing season.
Gardening tools are popular gifts for gardeners, but look for quality when shopping for tools. In my opinion, the market is flooded with what I call "disposable" tools that work for a season or two, then break and are not repairable. It's worth your money to invest in tools that will last a lifetime.
A high-quality set of pruners is a great gift for any gardener. One factor in determining high quality is not necessarily a high price, but the ability to repair and replace parts and sharpen pruner blades. Higher quality pruners also come in different sizes to accommodate different hand sizes, and conditions like arthritis. There are also pruners out there specifically for lefties. I'm left-handed, and when I found my set of left-handed pruners, I was in heaven! I didn't realize how much I was struggling with right-handed pruners until I experienced how much easier pruning was with a left-handed set.
Pruners come in two basic styles, bypass and anvil. For most applications, bypass pruners are the best choice. They work like scissors, slicing their way through plant material, creating a clean cut. Anvil-style pruners have a blade that meets against a flat surface. This often results in the plant material being crushed more than sliced through, especially as the blade dulls. Crushing cut ends is not healthy for plants that are pruned, but for some applications, like cutting up brush or small branches for disposal, it's not an issue.
Any gardener that has a lot of tools and garden supplies will love a way to organize them. There are many options for organizing tools efficiently in the garage or garden shed, and ways to tote tools around the garden.
My favorite way to tote my tools around in the garden is a set of pockets that snaps around and inside a five-gallon bucket. These pockets can be found in either the hardware or garden section of many stores. Everything I routinely use fits in the pockets or in the bucket. I've tried fancier garden totes and tool chests, but I always go back to my bucket. Sometimes simple is best!
Another helpful item for gardening that can be found in the hardware section is a set of knee pads. Unlike kneeling pads commonly sold for gardeners, knee pads move with you. Most of the gardening knee pads I've seen for sale are flimsy at best. Heavy duty knee pads from the hardware section of many stores are much more substantial with thick padding or even gel inserts. Look for sets where the front of the knee is flat for added stability when in a kneeling position. Your favorite gardener will have a lot less pain this spring after marathon planting sessions!
The gift of a label maker and plant tags is the perfect gift for gardeners that collect many varieties of plants. Labels adhered to plant tags are far more durable than the plastic labels that typically come with the plant when it's purchased. Look for label makers that print on clear tape for the most attractive look on plant tags. Often there is heavy duty label tape available that is extra durable for outdoor use. For serious plant collectors, check online for companies that sell plant tags in large quantities—these companies are far more economical than what is found in retail stores.
Consider giving your favorite community-minded gardener the gift of Master Gardener training. The 2010 training begins on Thursday, January 21, 2010, and meets weekly for 12 weeks. Classes are taught by University of Illinois instructors, introducing a wide range of horticultural topics. Trainees gain horticultural knowledge, and help University of Illinois Extension spread the Master Gardener educational mission of "helping others learn to grow".
Cost of the training is $150 and includes a comprehensive reference manual, all class handouts and refreshments. The first half of the training is taught in Springfield, the second half in Decatur. Scholarships and payment plans are available. Trainees agree to give back 60 volunteer hours over a two year period participating in various community education projects, including answering homeowner questions. Call me at 877-6042 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information.