Are power tools just Boys' Toys or useful implements that complete a range of garden jobs more quickly, more efficiently and better than traditional methods? Martyn Loach delves into the pros and cons.
Of course there's traditionalists who insist on using hand shears for cutting hedges and rakes on the lawn. But they are hard work, and the best thing about power tools is in the name, it's their power and muscle that's used, not yours.
Faced with a 10ft laurel hedge most people would reach for the trimmer rather than the shears. Of course the latter still have their place, clipping box, topiary or small hedges, but then so do pedal cycles – great for short journeys but, when you go to Scotland, a motorcycle might be a better choice.
If you have a hedge, clearly an electric hedge trimmer is a good idea. The length of the blade will depend on the size of the hedge and how fast it needs to be cut. You also have to take into consideration weight, cutting a large hedge can be hard work using a heavy trimmer.
The type of hedge determines tooth spacing, small leaf hedges require approx 14mm, larger and thicker hedges like laurel require 20mm and leylandii will demand something like 27mm.
As with most garden power tools, check the cable length – you may need an extension lead. It's also advisable to use goggles, gloves and perhaps ear defenders.
A cordless model might be an good alternative, so that you are not restricted by the length of the cord. Less powerful and more suited to a small hedge, an 18V battery pack will run for 35 mins.
After trimming the hedge, a garden shredder will turn the cuttings into a nice mulch. Taking twigs up to approximately 40mm diameter, one of the most important considerations is the noise they make. Specially designed quieter models are available if you don't want to annoy the neighbours.
Shredders won't handle large branches, for these and other larger cutting jobs you require a pruner or chainsaw.
These definitely need respect and safety equipment, perhaps specialist trousers and heavy duty footwear. Make sure the chainsaw length is greater than the width of the branch and let the chain do the cutting, don't apply too much pressure. Be careful that the chain has stopped before putting it down and remember it's difficult and dangerous to cut above head height.
Many people's pride and joy, a lawn can consume an inordinate amount of time and effort, so it's sensible to have a good quality mower. Rotary mowers feature a horizontal cutting blade and wheels make it suitable to achieve straight lines. Hover mowers are more for small gardens where they are light and easily maneuverable.
Key aspects to look out for are adjustable cutting height, decent sized collection box, good cutting width, folding handle for easier storage and safety switch/blade brake.
For smaller, awkward to cut, or uncultivated areas, a grass trimmer or brush cutter is useful. Similar to the hedge trimmer, the larger the cut the shorter the job and look out for these features: a telescopic shaft, adjustable support handle, tilting head, edging roller guide, twin cutting blades and double line feed.
To efficiently remove leaves from the lawn, a leaf blower or vacuum (these can be combined) will save a lot of time and effort, and an electric lawn rake or scarifier will remove matted grass, moss, leaves and other material that prevents healthy grass growth.
Finally, make sure the patio is spruced up with a pressure washer, even the most robust and powerful machines are portable and light to use and the difference in the appearance not only of slabs but garden furniture and ornaments is marked when cleansed of moss, lichen and algae.