For Release December 12, 2004

Gifts for Gardeners

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

When it comes time to do some Christmas shopping, gardeners have to be some of the easiest people to shop for. There are countless numbers of gadgets, tools, supplies and seeds or plants for those blessed with a green thumb. Now some of the things that I'm about to mention may not be what you would typically think of as gardener's gifts, but I think I can rationalize every single item!

Two items that I feel every gardener needs is a rain gauge and a thermometer. You need to know how much natural precipitation you're getting so you know how much you need to water and you need to know what is happening with the daily high and low temperatures. For me, a good rain gauge will be able to measure to the hundredth of an inch and also be able to measure up to ten inches. These rain gauges usually have a large outer tube and then a funnel that collects to a smaller inner cylinder which gives you the accuracy to measure down to a hundredth of an inch. These will usually run around $30.

Obviously you need an indoor/outdoor thermometer and it would be best to have one that records the high and low temperature each day. These used to be very expensive and required drilling through the side of your house to have a sensor outside the house. Technology has changed all that. Many electronics stores have digital indoor/outdoor thermometers with high and low temperature memories. The more expensive ones even have a hygrometer for measuring relative humidity. These are every bit as accurate as most standard thermometers and will cost from $25 to $50. The more expensive ones even allow for multiple temperature sensors up to 300 feet away from the receiver unit.

Staying with the measurement theme, there are a couple of speciality thermometers that you should consider. Every gardener should have a soil thermometer and if your gardener is a composter, then a compost thermometer is very handy also. Both of these usually have a round dial, with a traditional thermometer look to them, and a long metal shaft on the back of the thermometer. This is the temperature sensor. Soil thermometers usually have a 6 to 7 inch probe, while compost thermometers are available with at least a 20 inch probe but you can get them with a 36 inch probe or longer for quite a bit more money. A basic soil thermometer is available for under $15 and a 20 inch compost thermometer is around $30.

Seeds and transplants do best when soil temperatures have risen to a minimum temperature. Air temperature is often not a good indicator of soil temperature so with a soil thermometer you can go out and measure the temperature at 2 to 6 inches down. Compost piles work most effectively when the rotting vegetation creates heat in the range of 120 to 140 degrees. This temperature can be regulated by moisture and stirring. But if you don't know the temperature you may not be sure what you need to do!

There are also some gardener gifts that I am not very fond of. Soil moisture meters, soil pH meters and soil test kits top the list. Most of the ones I see for sale are relatively inexpensive and often are not very accurate. In fact they can result in gardeners doing more harm than good. Trust your fingers to tell you soil moisture and leave soil testing and pH measurements to soil testing labs with calibrated equipment. There are lots of great gifts for gardeners. For more gift ideas for that gardener in your family, give me a call!


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