I’m a sucker for the next great gardening gadget. But I hate to waste money. I’ve wasted a lot of money. So finally, after too many times getting sucker punched, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. Suffice it to say I was sick and tired of taking the bait on the promise for the best garden tools or products, only to be sorely disappointed. The hype rarely matched the real results.
I was through wasting my time and money on worthless products. The gardening community needed a watchdog, an ally, and someone looking after their wallets to protect them from making the same mistakes I had been guilty of for years.
I made it my mission to find the best of the best gardening products, gear, and gadgets, and then tell the world about them. And I was the right guy for the job.
By that time, I had gardened professionally and personally for years. I had a healthy national platform of enthusiastic gardeners, thanks in part to the television show I hosted on DIY Network, Fresh from the Garden.
I was in the garden full time every day for work and pleasure. To say I had many opportunities and exposures to use countless garden tools and products might even be an understatement.
Game on. My crusade began in 2006 with the launch of The joe gardener® Best of the Must-haves™ – coolest garden gear and gadgets of the year.
I began searching high and low, anywhere I might discover that next great must-have gear for in and around the garden.
My first big discovery came quickly, at The National Hardware Show in Las Vegas. It turned out to be the holy grail for what I was seeking.
I assembled a diverse team of testers of various skill levels to evaluate our treasure-trove of products. After putting everything through the garden grinder of scrutiny, we analyzed the findings and narrowed down our selections to the very best products of the year.
While arriving at our goal of 10 products that first year wasn’t hard. I also wasn’t dead set on getting to that number. If a product didn’t meet our primary criteria: great value, best in class, and high quality, it didn’t make the cut.
I traveled the country presenting our Best of the Must-haves findings to enthusiastic crowds at the largest home and garden shows, including Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival and NBC’s Today Show.
No matter the venue, the presentations were a huge hit. We drew big crowds. That made the show owners, promoters, and producers very happy.
The audience loved it because it was fun, entertaining, educational, and a lot of people left each show with the products we took to present. That was always the plan. Give everything away at the show. Plus, that meant I didn’t have to haul it all back home.
And of course, the product manufacturers loved us. Free advertising and promotion in a very high-profile, hands-on way. What’s not to love?
Yet after lots of home and garden shows and constant product hunting, I was road-weary and a bit discouraged. The economy had taken a dive, and product innovation stalled. While I kept going back to the Hardware Show, I didn’t see anything new or exciting. In fact, it was the same old stuff. Clearly, the well had run dry.
I decided it was time to call a timeout. Over those previous years, we had discovered, promoted, and exhausted all the products worthy of the spotlight.
But I wasn’t going to drag this on year after year if we weren’t finding anything new to get excited about.
The hiatus lasted until 2016. That’s when we took an all-digital path to coincide with the re-launch of joegardener.com. An online Resource Guide seemed to be the perfect solution to breathing new life into a widely popular program while allowing us to get the word out—without having to get out ourselves.
Now we’re back, rested and energized.
Heading into our third annual update since our break, I reflected on all the great products we’ve discovered and shared with the world since the beginning. If they made the list, I loved them. So, it begs the question, of all the items making those lists, what were my all-time favorites?
The following is an attempt to answer that. However, while these are indeed some of my favorites (including my all-time favorite), there are much more that just as easily could have been included here.
My All-time Favorite Must-have Products
Dual-flo Nozzle: This was hands-down, my all-time favorite product. Unfortunately, it’s extinct. It was an ingenious design of a pistol-grip spray nozzle. The brilliance of this product was the second outlet. With a simple twist of the side-mounted lever, you could divert the water from a hard, stiff spray to a gentle but generous flow from the top. Sadly, this product never got the traction of mass market retail distribution to keep it alive and is unavailable today.
Unifork: I still have the original tool I acquired in 2006. This is a super strong, ultra-light, plastic garden-like fork. Originally marketed to the equestrian industry for picking and mucking stalls, I discovered this during another Hardware Show trip. My original Unifork is still going strong, even with near daily use and 24/7 exposure to the elements. If you’re a composter, you need a Unifork.
Soil Knife: The best-known version of any soil knife is the Hori-Hori. Many people recommended this original Japanese knife as their can’t-live-without product. While I strongly agree with its utility in the garden in so many ways, I prefer a different style handle—one that has a more comfortable, ergonomic feel, and not made of wood. My soil knife of choice is on my hip every time I go into the garden.
Dual Soil Knife & Pruner Sheath: This is an accessory you cannot possibly appreciate until you have it. Imagine having constant and ready access to your two most often used tools by your side every time you’re in the garden. For many, it’s a favorite pair of pruning shears and a trusty soil knife. But how do you keep both tools equally accessible? The Dual Soil Knife & Pruner Sheath is the answer. It’s just like the pruning holster you already have on your hip, but this version has the extra pocket to securely store your soil knife too.
Garden Cart: I acquired my first garden cart over 30 years ago as a birthday present to myself. It lasted 25 years. In fact, I still have it. While I used it nearly every day during its life, I finally retired it just a few years ago. But for about $50, I could fully restore it. I loved that cart so much I bought two new ones (small and large). I use them both constantly for gardening chores and so much more. But spend a little more and get a quality cart from a quality company as I did. You get what you pay for, and I’ve never regretted doing so. I’d say 25-plus years of service is a good testament to that.
Atlas Gloves: Think of Atlas gloves like a second set of skin with the fit and feel of surgeon’s gloves. For a little over five-bucks a pair, they come in multiple sizes and colors. I wear them every time I’m in the garden and always will. I love them that much. I’ve tried knock-offs, and nothing compares to the real thing. You’d be hard-pressed to find a gardener who doesn’t have Atlas Gloves on their favorites list too.
Folding Pruning Saw: One of the keys to a healthy landscape is having the right equipment to maintain it. A quality pruning saw should be in every gardener and weekend warrior’s arsenal. I like having a folding pruning saw that is easy and safe to slip in my back pocket or side sheath always at the ready. A high-quality blade that’s also replaceable is a must in my book. I’ve had many pruning saws in my day, but I’ve settled on one that I prefer over all the rest. (Limited time offer from Corona: use code GROW90JG at checkout for a 20% discount on your entire order.)
Harvest Basket: I love my harvest basket and use it constantly. It’s roomy, lightweight, well-balanced, airy and super attractive. The woven galvanized metal pattern contributes to its great design. Other harvest baskets I’ve tried are heavier, not as roomy and don’t compare. I now own three. I am completely sold on this being my harvest basket of choice.
Drip Irrigation Repair Bucket: If you have a garden of any size, drip irrigation should be a primary way you water plants. While drip systems are surprisingly simple to set up and maintain, they do require a wide array of small parts to customize your system. Imagine having to decide in advance what parts you need as you head into the garden for a new installation or repair. Now you don’t have to. Everything you need and more is included in this cleverly designed bucket. Everyone should have drip irrigation to keep your plants efficiently hydrated, and this bucket should be standard issue equipment for every gardener.
Wireless Remote Weather Station: Science meets technology in my favorite gardening-related gadget. Gardener or not, knowing what’s happening in real-time for weather-related information is incredibly valuable for keeping your garden growing under optimal conditions. While there are many systems on the market to monitor weather, I’m totally happy with my Acurite Weather station. The wireless remote monitoring smartphone app adds to the satisfaction of being able to precisely know what’s going on in my garden from anywhere in the world.
Socks: This is not a typo. As gardeners, considering how much time we spend on our feet, having great footwear is key. The comfort and fit of these socks are unsurpassed. It seems odd to get so excited about a sock brand, but they’ve succeeded in doing so with us. No doubt, part of that has to do with the cool styles and colors, plus they’re 100% sourced and made in the USA. Every person we have ever introduced these socks to has become a huge fan also. See for yourself. Farm to Feet is offering a 25% discount that’s automatically applied at checkout if you use this link by 12/31/17.
Where We Are Now
This post marks the third annual update to the Best of the Must-haves Resource Guide since the relaunch. We’ve continued to find and add new products while exploring innovative ways to include our audience in the hunt.
This year, we’re very excited about the inclusion of our “Fan Favorites.” Recently we invited our friends and fans to tell us about their favorite must-have, can’t-live-without products.
It was quite enlightening. By the time we sorted through the hundreds of responses, we had narrowed down the nominations to eight new-to-us products, ranging from clothing to tools, all designed to make your gardening chores easier.
While we’re not ready to crown them as “joe gardener certified” just yet (since they haven’t gone through our vetting process), we’re confident these are formidable contenders and carry a strong potential of inclusion as Best of the Must-haves for 2019.
If you’re wondering if plans for monetizing our efforts has changed, the answer is yes – slightly. Most of the links to the products in our resource guide and here still go straight to the company that makes or sells it. In most cases, we have no idea if you buy, what you buy or where you buy.
Dumb? Perhaps. But monetization was never the reason I started this endeavor. In a few cases, the links are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on them and buy, we get a tiny commission, at no cost to you. The price is the same regardless.
What is new (and helps offset the cost of this campaign) is that we now partner with a handful of companies who financially support our brands, namely Growing a Greener World (our PBS television series) and our gardening intensive website, joegardener.com. We work with them because they have outstanding reputations and great products that we love anyway. However, including any of their products in our Best-of’s list is neither promised, inferred or expected.
Over the coming year, we’ll continue to look for new fan favorites while putting the newest findings through the rigors, in hopes of adding them to our joe gardener certified list of must-have products.
A Best-of Book Club: A new campaign has emerged from seeking input from our friends and fans: A book club. Perhaps it’s a monthly list of must-read books, or an annual resource guide, much like the guide for garden gear and gadgets. With so many great books on the market, this seems like a no-brainer.
Product Video Reviews: In 2018, we’ll start creating video reviews of the products that make it to joe gardener Certified status. We’ll apply the same production values that you’ve grown accustomed to as we present all the benefits and features of why we love these products. We’ll post them on our YouTube channel, joegardenerTV and on our website. (Be sure to subscribe to our channel so you’re notified whenever we post a new video.)
Online Store: Long overdue, we’ll soon have a single place you can go for one-stop shopping for all our Best of the Must-Have products and more, including brand-new joe gardener and Growing a Greener World tee-shirts, caps and other cool swag. The expected launch of the store is February 2018.
A Comprehensive List of all Past Best of the Must-have Items. Surprisingly we don’t have that as of this posting. But we’re working on it feverishly. We expect to have it by 12/20/17. We’ll link to it here when it’s ready.
Finally, if you have a must-have, can’t-live-without product or book, please let us know in the comments below. If we agree, you get lots of cool joe gardener swag as a thank-you.
Links & Resources
Growing a Greener World (our companion site for our national television series on PBS)
2018 Best of the Must-haves Free Resource Guide. This link also includes other free guides!
Milorganite – Our episode sponsor of this podcast and Brand Partner of joegardener.com