Truly Useless Gardening Gifts


Not all garden gifts are appreciated. Source:

With Christmas approaching fast, you may be on the lookout for a good gift for the gardener in your life. Lots of web sites offer gift suggestions for gardeners and I’ll leave that to them. Instead this year, I thought I’d instead publish a “warning” blog about useless garden gifts.

Here are a few less-than-choice products:

  1. Lawn Aerating Sandals

Lawn aerating sandals. Source:

True soil aerators remove plugs of soil, thus letting air in without compacting the soil. These sandals punch holes in the ground, actually compacting the soil rather than aerating it. Plus, they’re awkward to use: they don’t stay on, they get stuck and using them is difficult and exhausting. I doubt if anyone has ever done a full lawn’s worth of punching with them on! And even if someone did get that far, the lawn would be no better aerated than it was before they started!

  1. Solar-Powered Landscape Lights

Solar-Powered Landscape Lights. Source:

They seem like a great idea (hey, no need to connect them to a power source!) and they are certainly widely available, but give off sooo little light! You need to space them about 1 foot (30 cm) apart to make the slightest bit of difference. Plus, they don’t work after a cloudy day (not enough sunlight) or in spots that are shaded (which are, after all, usually those you most need to illuminate), and they cut off early. We actually have a few of these in my garden and my wife likes them … but then she never goes out at night. When I get back from a lecture at 1 am (a common occurrence), they’re never on, so I need to use my smartphone and put it on flashlight mode so I won’t trip over the stupid things!

  1. Chia Pet
20181218D Jeremy Noble,

Chia pet. Source: Jeremy Noble,

These little clay sculptures, usually of animals, that grow green hair when you water them have been around for ages: I can recall seeing them on TV when I was a kid (remember the ch-ch-ch-chia?). The seedlings do come up and sprout, but never look quite as nice as on TV. And take a photo without delay, as the whole show is over in just a week or two, leaving you with a weird clay sculpture covered in dead seedlings to store in the attic or sell at a garage sale.

4.  Flower Seed Mat


Flower seed mats come in many shapes and forms and many brand names, but all function in the same way. Source:

You’re supposed to lay these in the garden (or on top of a pot), water and presto! A beautiful garden will spring up. Fat chance! The recipient will instead get a mess of overcrowded seedlings that so outcompete each other they rarely bloom. Give your friend or family member a pack of seeds and explain how to sow them at a decent spacing! The results will be better … the gift will cost you less.

  1. Bulb Planter

Bulb planter. Source:

I’m referring here to the hand-held bulb planters made of pressed metal. You’re supposed to sink them into the garden and pull out a core of soil, then drop a bulb in. So far, so good. But then you have to get it to release the core of soil. Good luck with that! Plus, it’s awkward to use (you’re on your knees), only digs fairly shallow holes and you need to dig dozens of individual holes when you’re planting bulbs: a lot of work! It’s much faster to use a garden shovel to dig one wide hole at just the right depth, piling the soil to one side, then place the bulbs at the appropriate distance before filling in. And your gift receiver probably already has a shovel.

  1. Watering can sprayer

Watering can sprayer. Source:

There are literally dozens of models of these tools, supposedly useful when you’re watering houseplants, but when would anyone actually need them? Watering is useful and even essential, sure enough, and a top quality watering would make a great gift, but it’s well known that misting houseplants is a waste of time. And just try to spray with one of these: you need one hand to hold the watering can, a second one to spray, there’s a spout in the way, etc. Altogether, it’s very awkward! On the rare occasions when there is a need to spray the leaves of a plant, perhaps to clean them, a simple spray bottle (and your gift recipient probably already owns one) is far easier to use and only requires one hand to operate, not two.

  1. Twist Cultivator

Twist cultivator. Source:

There are all sorts of versions of this tool, also called a stand-up garden tiller, a garden claw or about half a dozen other names. The idea is that you sink its blades into the soil and give the handle a twist, thus breaking up hard soil and aerating it. Try it more than a few minutes and you’d discover that twisting a tool in that manner is just about the most unnatural movement the human body can make! Carpal tunnel syndrome and back pain are pretty much a given. There are a gazillion types of hoes and cultivators that will do the same job with less effort and a more natural movement and the recipient probably already has at least one on hand. And in the age of mulching and “no-till gardening,” what exactly is the point of loosening the soil anyway?

  1. Knee Pads That Don’t Stay on Your Knees

Knee pads: try before you buy. Source:

Knee pads are great gardening gifts, I’m not denying that … but only if they stay on the receiver’s knees. Many don’t. Look for ones with two sets of straps, to attach above and below the knee. Ideally, you’d actually try the pads on in the store, getting up and down off your knees a few times (older folks can borrow the services of a store clerk for this test). If they don’t stay on your or his/her knees in a store, imagine in the garden!

  1. Gardener’s Journal
20181218J ENG

Gardener’s journal. Source:

Editors keep publishing these, so expect new models every year. I get them all the time as a gift … and then promptly regift them. (If fact, I’m now beginning to wonder if it’s not the same journal that keeps coming back to me, re-regifted?) For a journal to be of any use to a gardener, you’d need to be able to take it into the garden to make notes as you garden. But these journals fall apart if they get moist and are unreadable if they get dirty. I haven’t seen any waterproof, dirtproof journals yet … with pens that don’t get lost in a garden setting (yet another problem). Any garden notes I take go on the computer in the evening, after I’ve finished for the day and cleaned up.

  1. Hose Guides

Hose guides. Source:

The idea with hose guides is to install them around flower and vegetable beds so the hose doesn’t damage the plants when you pull it further along. The problem is, in all the models I’ve tried, the hose always seems to somehow jump over the guide at some point, damaging the plants. Even in the case of models purporting to physically hold the hose in place through an indent of some sort, the hose still manages to come loose and damage is done. So, hose guides are basically a waste of money.

In General

When you’re a gardener looking for a gardening gift, go with your gut instinct. You’ll probably do fine. If you’re not a gardener … ask for help from a store employee. That’s what they’re there for! And do be careful of the words “As seen on TV.” In my experience, they tend to accompany pretty much the least interesting gardening products!

Lawn Aerating Sandals: Don’t Waste Your Money


20170511AOn the list of unnecessary garden tools, the lawn aerating (or aeration) sandal (also called a lawn aerating shoe) is near the top. Theoretically, you put it on and walk all over your lawn. Since the underside is covered in sharp spikes that pierce the ground, which should then aerate the lawn, right?


First, let’s put aside the discussion about whether aerating turf really is really necessary… and, depending on your type of soil, it’s more often a waste of time than useful. (Hint: aerating a lawn is only effective if the soil is very dense and hard, probably clay, and even then, must be followed by topdressing with compost or a much lighter soil if you expect to change anything.)

Here, however, let’s just assume that your lawn really would benefit from a good aeration. If so, can a simple sandal replace a mechanical aerator?

Not a chance!

It Punches Without Aerating


Mechanical lawn aerators don’t just punch holes into the ground, they remove cores of soil.

Remember that a mechanical lawn aerator works by removing cores of soil. This leaves holes that air can penetrate so as to reach the roots of the lawn grass. An aerating sandal doesn’t remove soil cores: it only punches holes the ground, thus compacting the soil even further. The holes it makes pack the soil particles even more densely than before, leaving a smooth and impermeable perimeter. Thus they reduce air circulation to the roots.

Okay, there are now holes in the soil that contain a bit of air, but the roots can’t take advantage of them, compressed as they are by an overly dense soil.

Also, the damage caused to lawn grasses (which are living plants, after all) by punching multiple holes—thus perforating their roots, tearing into their crown and chopping up their rhizomes—can be considerable and the lawn will take a long time to recover from the wounds. (This is one of the reasons why lawn aeration remains a technique of questionable utility.)

Not So Easy to Use

20170511BAlso, walking on the lawn with these sandals is not like taking a simply stroll. First, you have to push your foot straight down, then straight up, sort of like a marionette, and that quickly becomes quite exhausting! And despite the various straps added to the sandal and its supposed “one size fits all” technology, they tend to either twist to the left or right as you walk or come undone. As a result, you often spend more time adjusting them than “aerating.”

Essentially, aerating sandals are totally useless, something you’d do best to sell off a garage sale with all the other ineffective items that you’ve accumulated over the years. I recommend saving your lawn-care budget for something that really can help your lawn grow better!