Tooled up for autumn
As we begin to rake leaves, trim shrubs and shape trees in the garden in autumn, Hannah Stephenson looks at essential tools to help you get the job done quickly
So, are you ready for the great garden tidy-up, when you empty pots of worn-out summer bedding, prepare your lawn for winter, trim hedges and rake leaves? There are a range of tools which will help you make light work of the most arduous jobs. INVEST IN PRUNING TOOLS Some pruning (below) can be done in the autumn to get rid of dead wood and help shape shrubs and trees for the following year. Secateurs are essential and there are two types, anvil and bypass. The anvil works on the principle of a sharp blade cutting down on to an anvil, but the cutting blade needs to be kept really sharp for it to be effective. In bypass secateurs a sharp curved blade bypasses a curved cutting plate, severing a branch without much effort.
You shouldn’t try to cut a branch with a diameter thicker than 1cm (0.5in) with secateurs. Any thicker and you should opt for a pruning saw such as the Silky, a Japanese blade with teeth with three razor-edged facets which cut smooth and don’t leave loose edges.
There are pocket types available, in which the blade folds into the handle until you need to use it, and these are handy for carrying around routinely.
If you are hard-pruning overgrown shrubs, loppers are invaluable. Some come with extendable arms for those branches which are just out of reach, and are ideal for cutting out old congested wood from inside thorny shrubs such as berberis and roses, but they are also good for reducing the size of large branches you have already cut off with the saw, to make them more manageable to take to your local recycling centre. LONG-REACH PRUNING Pole pruners are also useful when it comes to shrubs that are too tall to reach and the ground is too uneven to safely place a ladder. These are basically secateurs attached to an extendable pole, operated by a trigger at the gardener’s end of the pole. You may not be able to cut as accurately as you’d like, but it won’t matter if the trees or shrubs are vigorous. RAKE IT UP If you have plenty of trees, you’re going to need a decent lawn rake to gather up the leaves which have amassed on your lawn or in your flowerbeds. If not dealt with, leaves can harbour pests and diseases over winter and could leave you with a shed load of problems next year. Use either a wide, fan-shaped springy metal rake for the job or a similar plastic version. The important thing is that the rake achieves a good span of the area and preferably has forks which curve inwards at the end, to allow a maximum sweep. Make sure your rake has a strong, long handle. If you want to scarify your lawn, a springtine rake is ideal as it will remove moss and thatch as you rake, allowing new shoots through in spring. You may also want to make use of a garden fork to make holes in the lawn to aerate it and reduce compaction, and fill the holes with sharp sand to aid drainage. MOW AWAY PROBLEMS Lawnmowers can help reduce problems with leaves on the lawn. If you just raise the blades and mow the grass, the leaves should be chopped up and collected in the grass box, ready for composting. If your grass edges are out of control and invaded by weeds, the perfect tool for tackling rough areas is a brushcutter, a bladed tool which will tackle long grass, brambles, weeds and nettles. TRIM HEDGES Give your hedges a trim (left) before the winter months, but make sure you leave enough greenery for birds to nest in and be careful where you trim, in case you disturb any wildlife. Electric hedgetrimmers do the job if you have a power source handy and aren’t prone to cutting through cables, but there are equally good battery-powered hedgetrimmers on the market, which provide just as good a cut. Some recharge within half an hour. BLOW LEAVES AWAY If you have a larger area, use a leaf blower to direct leaves into a pile before bagging them up for the compost bin or to make leaf mould, which can be used as a mulch on beds and borders.
Talking of mulching, if you have a lot of garden debris which you want to break down, such as thick twigs and logs, it might be worth investing in a shredder which will munch thicker clippings into an ideal mulch for your plants — but don’t put in seeding weeds, spiny prunings or diseased plants.
The disadvantage is that they are pretty noisy, so the investment may not go down well with the neighbours.
BLOWN AWAY: leaf blowers can make quick work of tidying up gardens