San Diego Floral Association
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Favorite Tool: Japanese Grass Sickle
Reprinted from: July/August 2009 Volume 100, Number 4
Fall in love with this handy hand tool. Photo: Nancy Carol Carter
One garden tool after another has won my heart over the years. I confess. I am fickle. About ten years ago, however, I found a soulmate when I acquired my first fork-tongued weeder with padded grip. It was love at first sight. This weeder allows me the satisfaction of extracting the full roots of the most stubborn weeds and fulfills this one and only job faithfully. We spent many happy hours together in the garden and completely bonded.
Imagine my surprise when a sharp-looking stranger from a foreign land turned my head a couple of years ago. It was
a typical dalliance, begun while attending an out-of-town conference. Between meetings I walked around in the Little Tokyo Historic District of Los Angeles. Never able to pass up a hardware store of any national origin, I was soon poking around in bins of Japanese gardening tools. I picked out a pair of the ultra sharp high-quality pruning shears I’d always meant to buy and a simple wooden-handled tool with a curved blade. I did not know if the second tool had a designated function, but it looked sharp and potentially useful.
The tool was later identified as a Japanese Grass Sickle, sometimes called a Japanese Gardener’s Sickle, hand scythe or serrated blade sickle. In Japan, this traditional hand tool is known by the name nokogama. It is advertised for use in cutting back plant stems, roots or small branches and twigs. As a sickle, it also can be used to trim back ornamental grasses and clear high weeds.
This Japanese import is now my favorite gardening tool. It edged out the weeder in my affections when I discovered the value of the sickle in maintaining big, tough succulent plants. I am not comfortable wielding a sharp machete, but the Japanese sickle is small, lightweight and maneuverable. Yet, it almost effortlessly cuts through the largest and most fibrous agave leaves. Unwanted succulent pups can easily be sheared off above or below ground. In fact, all the tough-armed succulents in my garden can be trimmed up in a trice with this elegantly simple tool.
The razor sharp serrated blade is high carbon steel and has kept its edge since purchase, without being sharpened or receiving any special care. Generally, carbon steel blades are maintained simply by dry storage and cleaning after use. If dampness is a problem, the blades may be oiled for extra protection. The tool cost less than $10 and is more easily found over the Internet or in Asian stores and shopping areas than in mainstream garden stores. –Nancy Carol Carter
Mission: To promote the knowledge and appreciation of horticulture and floriculture in the San Diego region.