Gardeners, clean up your act
The Gardener Within: Simple tips to get your lawn and garden tools organized for next year's growing season.
Scripps Howard News Service
Ever gotten ready to spend the day in the garden only to give up because you couldn't find the tools for the job? Or find there's no room on your potting bench to work? Well, then, it's time to reconsider and reorganize you garden gear.
All you need is a corner of the garage, part of a mudroom or even a back-porch wall. Take my friends Stephen and Kristin Pategas, for example. They are two of the most organized gardeners I know. Nothing is out of place, including the countless hand tools and pots they keep meticulously arranged on their wall and potting bench. Although you certainly don't need to be as fastidious, here are some simple tips to straighten up your current space and to get things organized for next year's growing season.
If you haven't used something in over a year, or find yourself saying, "I didn't know that was there!," then pitch it. Decide what you can donate to charity or offer at a yard sale and what is just junk. If you can't part with an old tool for sentimental reasons, re-purpose it either as garden art or for another function. Some old-fashioned claw-weeders, for example, are now handles on gates and shed doors; the tines of a broken soil rake now hang gloves on the wall.
Once you've tossed everything that's broken, unused or just plain trash, find a place for what's left. When every tool has a home it's much easier to replace it when you're done working and to find it next time it's needed.
Ask yourself which tools you use all the time. Which are seasonal? Big soil-turning shovels, landscape rakes and leaf mulchers find a home in the shed rafters most of the year. Hand spades, pruners, gloves and a combination trowel-saw-weeder hang in a five-gallon bucket right on my shed door. These are often all I need for an afternoon of gardening. Keep the lawn mower in a place where it's easy to get to without being in the way. Heavy bags of potting soil, gravel and the like should be stored on a low, heavy-duty shelf at about waist level — right at the potting bench if you have one. You won't have to stoop to pick them up or carry them too far and risk a back injury.
Outline the shapes of tools on a couple of pieces of pegboard attached to the studs of your garage, or under hangers mounted into the walls. Masking tape, a permanent marker or even paint outlines for each tool may make finding and replacing them a no-brainer. Those empty outlines just beg to be filled with tools put back where they belong!
Thinking vertically can really free up floor space and put things at an easy-to-see level. Broom hangers can be used to keep rakes, shovels and brooms in place. Or just use some large screws driven into exposed studs as hangers. Speaking of studs, attach a couple of boards horizontally across some and slip a spade or hoe in the space between the boards and the wall.
Smaller gardening items — hand tools, the hose nozzle and the like — fit into a clear plastic shoe holder hanging on the back of a door. The transparent pockets make all the little items easy to see at a glance. Screw soup cans, coffee cans and oatmeal boxes to the underside of wooden shelves with the open ends facing you. The various-sized cylinders are great little pigeonholes for all kinds of tiny items like plant labels, seed packets, stakes or pens. Keep a dozen or so wire or plastic baskets of various sizes near the door for carrying items like bulbs, tools, harvested vegetables and potted flowers in or out of the garden. Carrying task-related items together reduces the number of trips you need to make back and forth during a job.
After you've gotten organized, keep track of things that still frustrate you and find a new solution right away. A temporary work-around solution becomes just another frustration. As your garden changes, so will your needs. Finding solutions right away will give you more time for spending in the garden.
Joe Lamp'l, host of "Growing a Greener World" on PBS, is a master gardener and author. For more information, visit www.joegardener.com.