When you're short on time or money-and who isn't these days?-reliable tools help you use both more efficiently. During the 2008 growing season, we tried out several dozen gardening aids in our test gardens, at the Rodale family farm, and in our own yards. We used the products just as you would in your garden, and put them through a "stress test" designed to simulate the most challenging conditions and treatment in which you would use them. The following eight are the products that worked best and enticed testers back for repeated use. They are our 2009 Editors' Choice winners.
Like most experienced gardeners, we have long recommended Felco brand pruners for their durability and smart design. But to be sure we are not locked into prejudice against other models, we compared them with five other brands. We used them to remove suckers from tomato plants, cut flowers for bouquets, snip twine for trellises, and a variety of other purposes that would make the manufacturers cringe.
The result? The Felco #8 model is still our favorite. The ergonomic design makes every job quick and easy on the hands. It has a wire-cutting notch that is a real blade saver. Easy-to-find-in-the-litter red handles, holster-perfect size, and wide blade opening all add to the appeal to veteran gardeners. $53; felcostore.com
Corona's new Ergo-Action Forged Bypass Pruner is, however, a contender. It borrows Felco's handle shape, and the closing clip is an easier version of Felco's. It has heft and a durable feel, but, unfortunately for those of us who like to keep our tools forever, no replaceable parts. $20; coronaclipper.com
Green Lawn Mower
Electric grass cutters spare you the hassle of refueling messy tanks of gasoline and motor oil, and they don't produce the emissions that make gas-powered mowers an environmental negative. Plus, electrics are easier to start (just flip a switch) and no louder than a vacuum cleaner. A rechargeable battery frees the mower from the leash of a power cord, which can make using an electric grass cutter unwieldy in many yards.
Of the three battery-operated mowers we tested, the Neuton CE 6.2 battery-powered mower cut more consistently than the others. It chopped down thick, at times damp, grass with steady power. With its mulching plug (included) in place, the mower left fine clippings on the lawn that decomposed in a few days. Its 19-inch cutting width is just slightly narrower than the typical gas-powered mower. The Neuton's 36-volt battery takes eight hours to charge and provides power for about an hour.
A few minor but valuable features also distinguish the Neuton from the competition. An easy-to-read gauge lets you know when the battery's charge is waning. You can remove the battery from the mower when you need to recharge it--a handy option for those who don't have a power source where they store their mower. It was the only model we tested that let you keep a spare battery (sold separately), which can double the length of time you have to cut the lawn. And you can raise the cutting height to a healthy 3 inches tall with the shift of a single lever. For that reason alone, we recommend this mower to any organic gardener caring for a lawn that's one-third of an acre or less. $449; neutonpower.com
The electric mower cut down thick, damp grass with steady power for nearly an hour on one charge.