Category Archives: Tools

A Denverite Visits New Orleans in July, Leaves in Awe That Anything Grows in Colorado, Like, Ever.

Image by McKenna Hynes

I recently returned from a little summer vaca in the South. New Orleans in July (a questionably timed vacation, albeit) is showy and fragrant; the ferns suckle lovingly to any crack and crevice providing green brush-strokes and blots everywhere, palms fill beds and pots alike, all of my houseplants are thriving in the wide open, the sun is scorching, and as our pilot reminded us as we prepared to de-plane, its humid enough to confuse a frog. I was constantly amazed at how effortlessly everything seemed to grow.

While in New Orleans, I was frequently amused by how the rest of the country (mis)understands Colorado living conditions. For the most part, folks think we spend most of the year dreaming of gardens as we stare out our frosty windows waiting for the snow to melt, visiting floral places abroad, and wearing multiple layers of socks at all times. Soooo… basically gardening at 10,000+ feet? While these perceptions are laughable, I started thinking that even though we don’t live in perpetual wintry wonder, the challenges we face to make anything grow aren’t necessarily less surmountable than our fam in the lofty-actual-mountains.

We were welcomed back to Denver with a remarkable storm featuring lightning, torrential rains, booming thunder… and hail. Of course, the very next day was smokin’ hot with nary a whisper of the siege.  Maintaining a vibrant garden in the Front Range is an extreme sport with our baffling daily fluctuations; the entire notion of keeping anything alive here seems impossible at times, but we’ve gotten pretty good at strategizing. Here are a few resources I’ve tracked down this year to help us all maintain beauty, build our skills, and be stewards to our land and community.

Image by McKenna Hynes

Resource Central is a nonprofit organization based in Boulder that helps communities conserve resources and build sustainability efforts simply and cost-effectively. Their water-saving initiatives include native plant sales with simple designs for home gardens and often include low water perennials. They also have a tool library in Boulder where you can borrow for a couple of bucks per day so you don’t just buy the tamper, hedge trimmer, turf roller, or post hole diggers you need so infrequently. 

The cities of Boulder, Lafayette, and Louisville partnered with Resource Central to give customers a Garden In A Box for turf-removal. Their Grass to Garden initiative is available to all communities with tips and resources to convert high water-consuming turf to low water garden areas. For the North Metro area, they have resources for assistance removing and disposing of turf, landscape architect recommendations, and more.


Denver Water coined one of our most successful water-wise strategies with xeriscaping. And to keep sharing the good water word, Denver Water also partnered with local landscape architects to provide us mere civilians with some FREE! FREE! FREE! creativity. For those of us who are new (it’s me) who struggle with vision (all me), and are easily overwhelmed by the thought of starting fresh with a blank canvas (still, totally, all me), they’ve curated a bunch of plans for a variety of situations. They have plans for sloped xeriscaping, budget-friendly xeriscaping, narrow bed xeriscaping, year-round beauty designs, and many more. July is also Smart Irrigation Month! Head to Denver Water for tips on maintaining irrigation systems, watering rules, and efficiency strategies.

And for the grand finale top-notch gardening game-changer, check out Plant Select for all your future dreaming. Plant Select is a nonprofit partnership between Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens, and professional horticulturists to identify smart plant choices for the Rocky Mountian Region. Their mobile-friendly site has a tool to help you find plants that will suit the conditions you’re facing. I tend to challenge the tool to see how obscure or specific I can get, and it always provides me with something unique and gorgeous. Plant Select: taking “right plant right place” to an accessible and fun platform. Say So Long! to the multiple Google tabs researching the same plant with contradicting information on each site; Goodbye! Big Box Store swindlers promising “You REALLY can’t kill this one!” and go get yourself some good, wholesome, ACCURATE information quickly and easily from Plant Select. They also feature some garden designs and ideas.

By McKenna Hynes

Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener since January 2019

Denver Master Gardeners Share Their Favorite Gardening Tools

What’s your best loved, most used, can’t be without garden tool?  Or, if you are new to gardening, what tools will help you the most? According to a recent survey of Denver Master Gardeners, implements that multi-task and are non-mechanical are among the most prized.

horiThe hori hori or Japanese garden knife is favored by more than half of our respondents. One  master gardener describes it as “the Swiss Army knife of garden tools as it is especially helpful in working in tight spaces and bad soils where larger tools can’t get a grip. It weeds, digs, divides, cuts, scales and pries.”

Hori means “to dig” in Japanese and reportedly the tool was designed hundreds of years ago to excavate plants from the mountainsides of Japan. It is nearly indestructible with a sturdy 6-8 inch pointed blade which has a serrated edge on one side, straight on the other. Its simplicity is in keeping with Japanese design principals and some might say it has a bit of a Samurai appearance. Perfect for attacking Colorado’s tough clay soil!

Shovels, troughs, hand spades, pitchforks, hedge shears, hand pruners and narrow rakes with flexible tines all received high praise in our survey, too. Ergonomics are important and many said that the ideal tool is the one that fits you best. A petite gardener reports her favorite small rake is actually a child’s tool, which she didn’t realize for years. It has just the right reach for her and easily fits between plants to clean up leaves and spread mulch.

Pat McClearn found an old-fashioned, rubber handled dandelion digger at the house she purchased in 1963. She’s been weeding and transplanting with it ever since. I’m in awe of Pat’s 50-year-old weeder! Like many others, I find brightly handled tools help me save time not looking for that darn stray trowel.

Breaking up ground with a broadfork

Deb Neeley recommends a broadfork. “It loosens the soil down to 14″, is fun to use and provides a good workout too!  Much kinder alternative for your soil than rototilling.”

The Denver Compost Program  received rave reviews for its ease of use. “The green compost bin – a reason to live!” proclaims Nancy Downs. Anne Beletic is equally enthusiastic about her reciprocal saw for pruning and her cordless electric mower, which makes easy work of mowing her small, hilly lawn. Better for the environment, too!

Several respondents suggested repurposing items from inside the house such as long kitchen scissors, screwdrivers or a chef knife to pull weeds, divide perennials and deadhead. Fancy? No. Effective? Definitely. A retired pillow also makes a great kneeling pad and an apron that covers the knees will keep you tidy. Extra kudos if it has pockets.

Garden clogs got a mention for being comfortable, waterproof and good for trekking through the garden in any weather. Jodi Torpey is a fan of Atlas nitrile touch garden gloves, which are “tough and act like a second skin to protect my hands. They’re the only garden gloves I’ve found that I can use for a full day of work in the garden and hold up for more than one season too.”

So there you have it, some great suggestions for making gardening more enjoyable. Any gardening helpers we’ve missed?

Written by Linda McDonnell with thanks to the  many Denver Master Gardeners who shared their expertise for this post. There were lots of suggestions and every effort was made to mention all of them!