Unorthodox Gardening Tools – 4

Pliers and snips

Spend a few years gardening, and you’ll note how necessary metal wire is for most applications. If you want something to last more than a year or so, you’ll need wire. The garden twine used to tie back roses or tie up tomatoes might last a year under most weather conditions. I’ve known people, including my mother, to use flexible plastic oxygen tubing for tying up climbing roses to a trellis, but the Texas sun leaves that yellowed and brittle within a year. Even with UV inhibitors incorporated into the mix, most plastics only survive for a few years, so even big pots eventually go brittle as their plasticizers outgas and sunlight breaks down the resin’s chemical bonds. If most house and car paint starts to powder and fade within five years, what chance does a Zip-tie have?

(When I was still in high school, my little brother had a 1973 Chevy Vega as his first car. My father purchased it from a friend for $25, after the car responded to a whole new engine rebuild by dropping the transmission, and that friend’s son had painted the beast blue with white racing stripes. He did a great job with the masking, but he didn’t seal the paint, and two or three Dallas summers left it a bit, erm, permeable. In fact, every rainstorm left a line of blue milky water running down the street from where the Vega sat, and trying to wash that beast was an exercise in Sissyphean futility. Even so, that beat the experience we both grew up with further north, where the sun was less intense but road salt during the winters ate out the body panels and left monstrous gaping holes in the floorboards. That Vega finally died not from the paint job, but from scratches in the paint after my brother moved to Wisconsin, and it rusted to pieces within a year of its getting there.)

Of course, wire isn’t a perfect replacement for plastic. Metal fatigue. Excellent transmission of heat and/or electricity. A tensile strength much higher than that of flesh. And, of course, when dealing with puncture wounds caused by a piece of rose tying wire or the wire often used to tie off bales of long-fiber sphagnum moss, there’s always the fun to be had from tasty, tasty tetanus. I mean, why let a little rictus sardonicus get in the way of horticultural glory? Just walk it off.

Seriously, considering all of the sharp and flexible items found in gardening areas, I’m amazed that half of my blood isn’t tetanus booster by now. Consider old rusty nails sticking out of old fencing. More nails dropped to the ground during house construction and forgotten. Insulation staples and brads dropped under the same circumstances. I won’t even start with the amount of ferrous and oxidized treasure tossed into fill dirt used for raised beds or yard grading, all loaded with bacteria left over from the days when oxygen was a deadly waste product. In a lot of those cases, removing the nightmare entirely may be impossible, so you spend your time cutting, filing, and hammering until the obstacle is no longer a threat to children or pets.

This is why every gardening toolkit needs a set of pliers and trimmers. A Leatherman at your side at all times is great, and I implore everyone looking at a cheap knockoff to consider that you get your money’s worth, but sometimes it’s not enough. Hence, alongside mine and my trusty Swiss Army Explorer knife, I recommend getting a set of specialized pliers for those special jobs. They’re usually not expensive (I bought the set of grey-handled long-reach pliers for $20 US), and the first time you need to twist wire, open up split rings, or cut something flush with a wall in a space a hacksaw can’t reach, you’ll thank yourself for snagging the set.

More to come…

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