Every season—sometimes it seems like every day—we hear from garden-product makers who want us to try a revolutionary new tool or gizmo that's certain to make tending our beds easier, more rewarding, and downright fun. But our group of evaluators (which includes OG editors and test gardeners, as well as the pros who care for the gardens of our founders, the Rodale family) is a skeptical bunch. We've tried a shed full of products that are at best nothing special and at worst [insert favorite expression for manure here]. After this season's trials with dozens of products, we all agree that these 12 deliver on their promises and are worthy of our Editors' Choice award this year (and might make a nice gift for your own holiday list).
Testers included: Lisa Gabory, Josh Brunner, Dale Geist, Pam Ruch, Brad Pollock, and Suzanne Royer. Not shown: Don Boekelheide, Maggie Kuschner, and Zazel Lov?
Josh likes the Pocketboy 170 Folding Saw for its comfortable rubber handle and secure locking mechanism. The clip-on carrying case keeps it handy (such as on Josh's belt here), and the blade is replaceable. Pam and Maggie rely on the extra-fine-toothed tool for fast and smooth pruning of errant branches in the OG Test Garden. $29; silkystore.com
You can protect crops from flying pests effectively without toxic sprays using this product created by a home gardener. Pam notes that the medium Moth-Blocker completely prevented cabbage moths from laying their eggs on broccoli and cauliflower, then went on to protect Brussels-sprout seedlings destined for the fall garden. $35; mothblocker.com
Row Cover/Shade Fabric
Nylon reinforcing threads make Tufbell more durable than other row covers, says Don, our North Carolina test gardener. Here, Josh and OG art director Gavin Robinson use it in the OG Test Garden to let sunlight and water reach the plants while protecting them from weather and animal damage. $60 for 20 feet; groworganic.com
The shape and sharp edges of the Pro Gardener's Digging Tool, popular with professionals, make it great for digging out tough weeds, report Pam and her crew. The serrated edge cuts roots and vines—especially the massive roots of biennial weeds such as burdock, Pam adds. $57; garrettwade.com
The Adventure Hat does much more than provide some shade, Pam says. The lightweight fabric fully blocks the sunlight, protecting your face, nose, ears, and back of the neck from harmful rays. "I love this hat," says the usually restrained Pam, "and you can quote me." $38; groworganic.com
The OXO Garden Kneeling Mat is our constant companion in the garden. The extra thickness makes kneeling easy and keeps dampness at bay. You can work longer in the garden because the kneeler makes it easy to change position—flip it closed, and it's a comfortable seat. $15; oxo.com
Professionals who regularly work with tools know that sharp edges make everything from shovels and spades to pruners much more effective. The Swiss Professional Sharpener lets you give your tools a fresh edge quickly and easily without disassembling them. $28; gardenhardware.com
Okay, this one is pure fun, but we enjoyed the iFlyer BirdSong Scanning Wand all season long. Recorded in the wild, the songs of 206 birds and 10 frogs are captured on bar codes in a pocket-sized book, and you play the sounds by simply passing the penlike instrument over the bar codes. Adults wanted to use this audio wildlife ID guide as much as children. Included are a carrying case, plus shoulder and wrist straps. $100; identiflyer.com
We spend a surprising amount of time thinking about, discussing, and making identification signs for our plots. Lisa, who cares for the ornamental beds at the Rodale family gardens, raved about the Brother PT-1280 Label Maker because it allowed her to fit all the plant information she wanted on one label. And the labels stayed clear and legible after a whole season of exposure. Techno-savvy gardeners can use the labeler to transfer plant information to their computers for future reference. About $40 at office-supply stores; brotherlabelmaker.com
The most useful cultivator this season was the new Stihl MM 55 Yard Boss. Dale and Brad found it powerful for cultivating and aerating soil at the Rodale family gardens, and its new handle and wheel innovations make it easy to manipulate. About $330; stihlusa.com
Suzanne especially liked the unique shape of the Unifork for gathering large amounts of material. Made of high-grade polypropylene, it will never rust and is lightweight. Vegetable gardener and tester Brad reports that it's surprisingly effective at heavy-duty compost turning and mulching. $40; unionjackstable.com
Designed to relieve arm, hand, and wrist stress, the Radius long-handled tools won over all of our testers (male and female). With stainless-steel working ends, a unique handle design, and generous stepping edges, these tools proved both comfortable to use, Lisa reports, and strong enough for every garden task. $35; radiusgarden.com