How To Gardening Tools and gadgets that make railroad gardening easier

Tools and gadgets that make railroad gardening easier

By Pat Hayward | February 17, 2020

Useful tools vetted by other hobbyists

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Liz Miller
Seafood fork
Liz Miller
Two for the (rail) road
Liz Miller: Cape May, New Jersey
Zone 7

I have two tools I find quite useful in the railway. The first is called a Trake—a combination of trowel and rake. It’s great for new plantings and for working around established ones. It’s made of aluminum, is lightweight, and won’t rust. Mine is just under 8″ long, though other sizes are available. It’s easy to find in lawn-and-garden centers. Mine cost $4.95.

The second is a seafood fork. It’s a great tool for maintaining track—excellent for getting into those tight spaces and corners and for dislodging acorns, twigs, leaves, and other derailing debris. It has a fork on one end and a flat scoop on the other. It’s also good for spearing hard-to-get leaves out of plants. I found it at a seafood market for 99¢!

Bucket of tools
Cecil Easterday
A pocketbook for gardeners
Cecil Easterday: Near Columbus, Ohio
Zone 5

I don’t have a unique tool, but some of the members of the Columbus Garden Railway Society have commented on my collection of tools that’s standard fare when I go out to work on the railroad. My husband saw me struggling to carry them to the garden, just to find that I had left the right tool for the job back in the garage! One day he surprised me with a bright blue, five-gallon bucket with a liner that has lots and lots of pockets. I always keep it loaded and ready to go.

Here is the current inventory: three sizes of trowel, three different pairs of gloves, a pruning saw, two different pruning shears, a utility knife, a short-
handled hoe, grass shears, plant markers, tweezers, tape measure, whisk broom, hammer, plant labels, plastic trash bag, ball of twine, bag of aquatic fertilizer, and a weed fork kept in paper tube so I can find it quickly. The bucket also carries an uncoupler (some might call it a putty knife), a torpedo level (for straightening buildings), an awl for cleaning ballast from switches, and a screwdriver for cleaning mud from tracks caused by our active mole population. Lastly, it also holds paper towels (for wiping the brow and for cleaning excess glue), clear Silicone (for “gluing” fallen people), glue for building repair (both Pola and QuickGrip), and grass-cloth pegs (green with pointed end and a flat top—perfect for driving into the ground and, with a dab of silicone, keeps people and critters upright for the season). Believe it or not, I don’t need the coaster wagon (another tool I use often) to carry my bucket. I have everything I need (and more) at my fingertips.

Mini rake
Kevin Ylvisaker
A tool for all seasons
Kevin Ylvisaker: Northern Wisconsin
Zone 4

My favorite tool has become the Rumford Oxford Mini Rake. I purchased it in a specialty garden shop. The rake is 20″ long and has a traditional, stained-hardwood handle and tempered-steel blades. The blades are flexible enough to bend around obstacles, yet are incredibly strong. I use the mini rake year round. In the spring and fall, it pulls leaves and branches from the track and from beneath the dwarf conifers and shrubs. In the summer, it dredges out hair algae and things that have fallen into the ponds. It’s great for removing larger stones, mulch, and other debris from between the tracks. This is one tool that will save your fingers.

Soil Scoop and mattock
Ed Frey
Can’t work without ’em
Ed Frey: Northern Colorado
Zone 5

I’ve discovered two tools that I consider indispensable. The first is the “Soil Scoop,” a variation on the typical garden trowel, with a strong, cupped, stainless-steel blade and serrated edges. The shape is especially helpful when lifting plants for relocation, because the cup holds a nice ball of soil around the roots, reducing transplanting shock. It also does a good job of lifting soil out of holes while preparing a planting spot, and the serrated edges are useful in cutting out unwanted roots. I seldom use a straight trowel anymore. “Soil Scoops” are typically sold in garden centers.

The second is a small, specialized mattock, with three, 4″, straight cultivator tines on one side of the head and a 31⁄2″-long blade on the other. I use it often to hack into our stubborn clay soils, break up clods, cut through larger roots, and chop Aspen root knobs out of the lawn and garden. It’s useful, as well, for setting rocks, sculpting road­beds, and dozens of other chores. The tool is just 14″ long, handy for working in tight areas, and, though robustly constructed, is light enough to not give me the sore back I get from a full-sized version. Mine came from Wal-Mart a few years ago for $2 at the end of the season, but I’ve seen some in gardeners’ catalogs and on the

Fish-hook remover
Sue Piper
A “fishy” solution
Sue Piper: Lakeside, California
Zone 10

My favorite “gardening gadget” was discovered by a local garden guru. As unlikely as it may seem, it was designed and is sold as a fish-hook remover. It removes even the tiniest weeds, roots and all, without disturbing the neighboring plantscape. I’ve found an additional use in removing leaves and such from the bottoms of streams and ponds without having to submerge or destroy any delicate rock arrangements. The 91⁄2″ overall length minimizes extra bending and stretching to reach those pesky items needing removal.

The hook remover that we have was made by Baker Manufacturing. I’ve not been able to locate them, but Bass Pro Shops has a similar one of stainless steel that is available online at (Note: They are also called “dehookers.”)

Weed torch
Take a flame to it!
Doug Matheson: Ottawa Valley, Canada
Zone 4

Many of us do not like to use RoundUp or other herbicides wholesale to eradicate weeds, as any overspray can harm good garden plantings. I’ve found that the removal of small select weeds, especially those in the cracks in paving stones or in flagstone walks, can easily be done using a weed torch. This device is a well balanced wand that accepts a propane cylinder attached at one end to produce a very hot flame at the other. The weed torch essentially dessicates a plant with a quick pass, making the selective eradication of weeds very easy. I obtained my weed wand from Lee Valley Tools, but they are available at most full-line gardening centers.

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