Gardening gifts for those who get down and dirty

 

Special to the Miami Herald

For serious gardeners, there are many useful and appreciated items you can put under the Christmas tree or wrap up for any other gift-giving opportunity.

Here are some suggestions:

•  Clip and cut: Made in Switzerland, Felco pruning shears are precision ergonomic instruments that are easy to use and have replacement parts available so they can last a lifetime. A good place to start shopping is at felco.com where they offer a handy comparison chart of models.

If you don’t know specifics about the gardener on your list, you might opt for the Felco 2, a one-handed pruner (about $55) that is the most popular model the company makes. However, there are over 50 models to choose from with most priced $30 to $70.

•  Protection from the elements: While working outdoors, a gardener may encounter mosquitoes, sun and thorns like the nasty ones on bougainvillea. The best protection is a long-sleeved shirt that blocks the sun’s rays with an SPF of 30 or more. It’s also good if that shirt is made from cloth that wicks moisture and provides bug repellency. Columbia Sportswear Co. makes such shirts for men and women priced at about $85 for its Omni-Shade sun protection line (www.columbia.com).

If you are looking for something less expensive to stick in a stocking, you might opt for a tube or bottle of sun protector with an SPF ranging from 30 to 100. Look for a water-resistant, full-spectrum one that gives maximum protection.

And don’t forget a tube of sun-protecting lip balm that can be tucked into a stocking along with a can or bottle of bug repellant.

Work gloves are another piece of protective gear that every gardener appreciates and needs. But don’t spend your money on those colorful cotton ones with daisies and frogs printed on them.

Instead, go for the ones made of leather or other heavy material that can really protect the hands from thorns and other irritants. Make sure the gloves are sized right so they aren’t bulky and the gardener can get a grip on those weeds.

•  Personal grooming: Even if gardeners wear gloves, they are going to get their hands dirty. That’s why a fingernail brush tucked into a Christmas stocking is a good idea. Try pairing it with a good bar of hand soap.

•  Make it a wet one: Gardeners know that now we are in the dry season, they will probably have to hand water some of their plants — especially the new additions. That’s when a good, functional watering can comes in handy. Sure there are cleverly shaped and colored ones. But I recommend a 2-gallon plastic one without bells and whistles.

What’s important is that it holds enough water so it doesn’t have to be refilled often but it’s not too heavy to carry. Check out the one from Southern Patio that has an easily accessible fill hole not blocked by the handle. Fiskars also has a can with a large fill hole that makes it easy to add liquid fertilizer or drenches. You’ll find many models priced under $10.

A rain gauge measures how much water your garden has received and helps you decide how much you have to supplement with your sprinklers.

A rain gauge can be as simple or artistic as you please. I have a rectangular plastic container with a ruler printed on the side (Weather Channel Waterfall Rain Gauge, about $10). It works fine.

Or you can opt for one like the World’s Coolest Rain Gauge (about $45 from worldscoolestraingauge.com) with its attractive blue floating polycarbonate container, solid copper flute and powder-coated steel stake for long life.

•  Dig it: A seasoned gardener can always use a transplanting garden trowel. Its long, narrow blade is designed to dig deeply in order to get all the roots. It also comes in handy for reaching into small places. You’ll find a good selection priced from $20 to $50.

And because you usually need to be on your knees to use a trowel, a foam kneeling mat is also appreciated ($10 to $35).

•  For the birds: One of the biggest benefits of gardening is the wildlife you’ll attract. Sure the birds can feed off of nature but sometimes it’s fun to be able to watch them as they chow down from a well-placed bird feeder.

I highly recommend the Squirrel-Resistant Caged Tube Feeder by Audubon ($49.99). It’s a metal cage around a plastic tube filled with seed. The cage keeps squirrels and larger birds such as doves, grackles and pigeons away from the food. But it lets painted buntings, finches and even cardinals into the feast.

This time of year you might also want to give your gardener a hummingbird feeder to welcome these tiny visitors. Garden Treasures (about $5) offers one that looks like an inverted test tube with a red plastic base that has a hole in it where the bird sticks its long, thin beak to drink sugar syrup.

Because that sugar syrup can ferment in our Florida heat, it must be either consumed by the birds or changed regularly. That’s why I recommend a smaller capacity feeder. The birds empty it relatively quickly and then it can be refilled with fresh syrup so little goes to waste.

And don’t bother to buy the red nectar often sold with these feeders. It’s easy to make your own by combining one part sugar to four parts water and bringing it to a boil. When it’s cooled, the syrup is ready to use. I make a big batch and store it in the refrigerator. You can make a batch to give along with the birdfeeder.

•  Don’t forget the butterflies: Creating a butterfly garden in South Florida is as easy as planting a few corky-stemmed passionflowers, some wild citrus or Indian blanket and a bit of parsley. Just about any gardener will be happy to receive a pot of these or Florida wildflower seed packets (available from The Garden Gate, $3.49, donnasgardengate.com). You might also provide a guide to butterflies and/or butterfly gardening by visiting www.flmnh.ufl.edu/wildflower/books.asp.

•  A no-fail option: After a day spent lifting, dragging, cutting, pulling and otherwise straining, gardeners often are tired and sore. So this holiday season, tuck a gift card for a massage into that Christmas stocking. I can pretty much guarantee it will be appreciated.

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