Plant Palette

Plant Palette

Gifts for Gardeners

Photo of Jennifer Schultz Nelson

Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture

Gardening continues to be a popular hobby across the U.S., and chances are if you aren't a gardener, you probably know one. You may even know a few people that don't consider themselves a "gardener" but do have a yard or indoor plants to care for.

As the holidays rapidly approach, gifts related to gardening may be just the thing you or your family and friends hope to receive.

I like to rationalize the purchase of a new garden tool or plant as "research" for work, but I think this reasoning is rapidly losing ground at home with my husband. As my dear husband likes to point out, there is only so much room in the garage for more stuff, and our yard is not a research plot.

He's right; I am a sucker for all things related to the garden, especially tools. But I still say there are some things I need to try for myself so I can feel confident in recommending them or not to others. So the following gift suggestions come from me, a gardener, and my experiences.

In looking for the perfect gardening gift this holiday, a rule of thumb is to look for quality. 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.

For many gardeners, their dream is to have a set of garden tools made of stainless steel. This is a pricy dream, but tools made from stainless steel will hold up to a lot of abuse and most importantly, won't rust. A set of full-size stainless steel tools would stress most people's budgets. One alternative is to buy your favorite gardener one tool at a time over several years, or just one of their favorite, most-used tools in stainless steel.

A set of stainless steel hand tools is also a budget-friendly alternative. I received my own set several Christmases ago. Despite almost daily use in the growing season, they look just as good now as they did when they were new nearly ten years ago.

If your favorite gardener also appreciates antiques, consider old garden tools as gifts. Many older tools are a lot more sturdy and well made than anything commonly available in stores today. Keep your eyes peeled at garage and antique sales through the year, and you'll be surprised at what interesting and good quality tools you can find, often at a great price.

One of my favorite tools is one I found at an antique market–it is a small, skinny spade with a sharp tip and a handle a little longer than most hand tools. The man selling it called it a "dandelion tool". It is absolutely the best tool in my collection to extracting pesky dandelions. I've never had a new tool that worked as well!

Another great tool option for gardeners is Japanese gardening tools. The Japanese aren't just good at designing efficient cars–they've designed efficient garden tools too. Occasionally you see a few of them in catalogs, but a quick internet search for "Japanese gardening tools" will pull up a whole new world of garden tools.

The Japanese tool I love is called a Hori-Hori knife. It looks like a dagger made from an old car fender, serrated on one side, a smooth blade on the other. Sometimes you'll find the same tool called a "soil" or "garden knife" in catalogs. I've even seen some available in stainless steel. They make cutting through tough roots or sod an easy chore. The blade is wide and rather concave, making it great for digging through hard soil.

Gardening books are also a great gift, but where do you start? There are so many books out there! Many gardeners don't realize that the University of Illinois publishes several gardening publications, from full-size reference type books, to pocket-size handbooks. One of my favorite items is our insect identification cards. They come in three sets, labeled the "good guys" the "bad guys" and the "ugly guys". Prices range from $5 to $25 for most publications. Contact me for more information–we have many of these publications available at my office.

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. 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!

Consider giving your favorite community-minded gardener the gift of Master Gardener training. The 2008 training begins on January 24, 2008, 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 $125 and includes a two volume 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 if you would like more information.

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