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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Jan 12

Tools of the Trade

Posted on January 12, 2018 at 9:00 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Somewhere in the vast library of garden reading material in my life, I came across the remark that a gardener should not be without a hori-hori knife. This bit of advice stuck with me this past holiday season, as I ogled one while perusing websites and catalogs looking for the perfect gifts.

A gift from me to me sounded like a great idea. The order was placed and I forgot about it until the mail arrived. Oh my. May I say this is a tool all gardeners should find on their belts as they enter the hallows of their garden. 

 Hori-hori gardening knife

The hori-hori is a thick, tapered knife with inch lines marked along the center of the scooped blade. This scoop acts as a trowel, and the inch markers indicate just how deep you are digging for things such as bulbs. One side of the blade is smooth and the other is serrated for sawing. The tip slices into the soil like a hot knife through butter.

I immediately put this gem to the test. Some bulbs patiently awaited going into the ground, and the tool made short order of the job. One of the containers I used was filled with crusty soil and weeds that quickly surrendered to the blade. The rich soil beneath soon became friable and easy to plant within. 

Next on the test was weeding. Again, the tip of the blade sliced into the soil to easily unearth the root systems of the grasses I was removing. It would have been impossible for me to pull them by hand without just tearing the leaves and leaving the roots intact for regrowth.

I have yet to try the saw portion of the knife. It does not appear particularly sharp and I wonder about its purpose. Perhaps you, my readers, may know?

Picking the right tools of the trade is essential. Often more than one tool can get the job done, but our choice can make a task simple or more complex. Consider a handsaw and a chainsaw: Both will work, but one will take a lot longer. 

On the other hand, precision is also an important element to consider when working with tools. That chainsaw might be the best choice for removing large tree limbs, but it would not be the tool to pick up when pruning roses. The rose requires a precise, clean cut just 1/8 to a 1/4 inch above a leaf node on the outside of the branch to keep the plant growing outward in the right direction. As handy as the hori-hori knife is for other tasks, I instinctively knew it would lack the precision for the job; therefore, my roses will see never see it either.

And speaking of pruning: Pruning season is upon us. Before making any cuts, be sure tools are oiled, sharpened, and sterilized with a solution of bleach and water to avoid spreading potential diseases from plant to plant. 

As for this gardener, I will be heading west—far west—and will bring the blog to you from the Big Island of Hawaii next week. There are sure to be a few new plants to explore and share with all of you from these tropics.


Anonymous User
January 13, 2018 at 12:26 PM
Appropriate pruning information is hard to come by. My ancient copy of "Sunset' s Pruning Handbook" has been a reliable standby. Online is the excellent site with videos: "Plant Amnesty" , a West Coast resource . I recommend it. Alice Bachelder
Anonymous User
January 16, 2018 at 6:43 PM
I love my Hori hori. Got it from Amazon and have given as gifts-even to a farmer who loves his too! Mary W

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