It’s hard to put a price on the right tool for the job

Erin Schanes


I believe in using the right tool for the job, which is how I have justified purchasing garden tools, such as my beloved Sneeboer ladies’ spade, with price tags high enough to make you blush. I also apply the garden version of a “cost-per-wearing” calculation often used for wardrobes to tools, and that $140 spade is probably down to pennies per use by this point.

But even my fuzzy math cannot justify a tool I can only see myself using once a year at most. Or at least that’s what I thought until I found out how much not having the right tool stinks.

For the last two years, I’ve grown a pair of pagoda dogwoods (Cornus alternifolia) in large pots. I loved the look of the horizontally tiered small trees flanking the corner of the driveway apron, and the fact they provided flowers in spring and fall color in autumn made them one of the best container centerpieces I’ve used. But two years in a pot was all they were going to handle, so I found a nice spot in the yard for them.

Tucking a few small annuals in the top of the pot was already difficult this spring, so I knew the tree roots were quickly filling up the pot. And that meant that I knew these trees weren’t going to slide right out.

My mind immediately went to a tool I’d seen, again made by the Dutch company Sneeboer. The container knife is a 16-inch-long, double-sided blade with a wood handle that looks more like a sword than a garden tool. It works by sliding along the edges of a pot and cutting roots, much like how you use a knife to release a cake from a pan. But that container knife costs $94 and I could think of only a handful of other times that I could have used it.

So I went for the next best thing — the serrated bread knife from my kitchen. It’s not the first time I’ve borrowed kitchen tools for the garden, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

The bread knife actually worked well, but it wasn’t nearly long enough. This created an upside down, mushroom-shaped root ball that, despite two people pulling on it, would not release. I tried to release it from the bottom by driving a bamboo stake through the drainage hole, but that only succeeded in getting the stake stuck. Then my partner in the great root ball battle attempted to drive a piece of aluminum angle into the pot, which had the expected result of putting a hole through the side of the fiberglass pot.

In the end, there was no solution but to keep slicing deeper, gradually working away at the bottom of the ball. After about an hour of struggling, it finally released its grip.

While all that pulling was going on, I realized that having the right tool is probably worth it, even if you only use it once in awhile. Plus, I think that container knife might double as a good bread knife.



Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login