Great holiday gifts for gardeners

Whether you’re looking for the perfect present for the garden expert, or someone who just wants to water their lawn, this gift guide has something for everyone.

The ultimate in garden protection

Let’s begin with my absolute favorite garden gadget: the motion-activated sprinkler. You hook it up to your garden hose, point it at the spot you wish to protect … and nothing happens — until a deer, groundhog, cat, dog or tomato-thieving neighbor gets too close to your goodies. Then, the sprinkler lurches into action with a startling “whoosh” before hitting the intruder with a stream of cold water. Deer turn tail and run; cats looking for an outdoor litter box levitate. It’s effective and humane!

I personally use the original version of this product called The Scarecrow. I also like the similar Yard Enforcer from a company called Orbit, which a friend uses to protect his sweet potato patch from hungry deer. Other brands are also available; all are easy to find online and at better garden centers.

Everybody needs new pruners

Yes, every gardener I know would be happy to find a brand-new pair of pruners in their Christmas stocking. But not just any old kind. Pruners are one of those tools where you really do get what you pay for. Cheap pruners are short-lived and hard on your hands. A high-quality pair will last for decades and be ergonomically designed to reduce stress from repetitive movement. They’ll cut cleaner, too.

Make sure you get what are called “bypass pruners.” These types cut clean through plant stems like scissors through paper. Avoid “anvil” pruners; as the name implies, they crush plant stems instead of cutting them cleanly.

I personally use the Fiskar’s Power Gear line; their ergonomic design (approved by the Arthritis Foundation) is very easy on your hand muscles. The Felco line of pruners is also very high-quality.

Give the gift of iron to someone with a weedy lawn

How about a gift for that obsessive lawn owner who’s always out there spraying something on their lawn that makes you cringe? Something that will wipe out their weeds and let you relax your shoulders for a change: iron.

No, not that big iron ingot you sometimes fantasize about throwing at them, but the newest thing in nontoxic lawn care: broadleaf herbicides whose active ingredient is iron. A hefty spray of an iron-based herbicide is death to broad-leafed weeds such as dandelion and plantain, gentle on grass, and, best of all, safe for pets, people, birds, bees and the Chesapeake Bay.

The mail-order firm Gardens Alive was one of the first to offer this natural, nontoxic herbicide (under the name “Iron-X”); you’ll find other brands for sale at retail. Look for HEDTA or FeHEDTA as the active ingredient.

“All I want for Christmas is a bin of worms”

If you’ve been listening to me over the past decade and a half here at WTOP, you know that my answer to almost every question is “compost.” Well, the dirty little secret of compost is that we gardeners never have enough of it, and are always looking for ways to make more — especially ways that include the recycling of our kitchen waste.

One of the best and easiest ways to achieve this is with a stackable worm bin. Kitchen waste can be darned tricky to correctly compost outdoors — you need lots of shredded leaves in the mix and special bins with locking lids to keep out rats and raccoons. But with a worm bin, all you need is your kitchen waste, some shredded newspaper and specialized redworms (NOT earthworms).

A company called Nature’s Footprint makes my personal bin of choice — the Worm Factory: a stackable tower of trays that makes it really easy to harvest finished material and add new. I have the original model (sold by Gardens Alive as the Worm Tower), and their newer Worm Factory 360 looks pretty groovy. You’ll find these and several other models online and at better garden centers.

Visit the Philadelphia Flower Show with privilege

Here’s a gift that’s perfect for anyone who likes plants, whether they’re gardeners with acres of ground or a dreamer in a studio apartment: attending the famed Philadelphia Flower Show in March as a member of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

Why go as a member? PHS members receive free tickets to the show as part of their membership — plus a year’s subscription to their award-winning GROW magazine, use of the exclusive member’s lounge at the Flower Show (a nice place to sit down and rest for a bit, away from the madding crowd), discounts in the Show’s marketplace area and more — often for less than the price of tickets at the door!

That’s right — a “household plus” membership that includes four adult Flower Show tickets costs $105; four adult tickets purchased at the door the day of show would cost $140! (There’s also a “two adult, two kids” version for $85.)

The Philadelphia show is the largest indoor flower show in the world, the perfect cure for the month of March, and just an easy Amtrak ride away.

Mike McGrath was editor-in-chief of Organic Gardening magazine from 1990 through 1997. He has been the host of the nationally syndicated public radio show “You Bet Your Garden” since 1998 and garden editor for WTOP since 1999. Send him your garden or pest control questions at

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