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You can put more horses to work just whacking weeds than great-grandpa had to plow his whole farm.

Riding mowers, mulching mowers, gas-powered chippers and shredders, electric blowers, chain saws, string trimmers, hand-held tillers . . .Forget rose snippers and hoes. We're talking power gardening here.

"I think it's a male thing," says Anna McCarty, assistant manager at a hardware store. "The women are kind of afraid of the power stuff. That's just my personal opinion. They don't like to turn it on. But the men . . . . It kind of reminds me of that TV show, `Home Improvement.' More power! Usually, the men get what they want. The women just roll their eyes."

To prove a point . . .

"The top-of-the-line model has an overhead valve, full-pressurized lube engine in there," says Miles Embree, gently caressing a John Deere mulching mower. He had that look in his eyes that men get when they're popping open the hood of a friend's new car - doe-eyed admiration mixed with envy. "It mulches better than the rest."

Embree owns a garden business that stocks a store full of power equipment for the lawn and garden.

One of the best-selling items in recent months? Mulching mowers.

A half-acre lawn yields nearly 3 tons of grass clippings a year, which, along with other yard wastes, take up as much as half the space in the nation's landfills. But mulching mowers chop up those grass clippings into tiny fragments, and return them to the lawn where they decompose and nourish the grass.

"You'll see a big improvement in your lawn when you mulch," Embree says.

Just about any mower has mulching capability, but mowers specifically designed for the task do it best. Expect to spend $220 to $500 for a good push-type mulching lawn mower.

Here's a look at some other products for gardeners who like to hear their work:

Power blowers:

"I wouldn't own a broom," says Embree. "This cleans up your sidewalk in a matter of moments. And it doesn't waste any water."

Power blowers use a blast of air to sweep grass clippings from the sidewalk or blow leaves out of the flower bed. Since first introduced about 15 years ago, the blowers have gotten bigger and more powerful - though not much quieter. The loudest ones can drown out a chain saw.

Various attachments can convert a blower into an outdoor vacuum or a power sprayer, or even turn it into a tool to flush leaves from the gutter.

Cost ranges from about $80 for small electric models to $270 for the most powerful gas-powered hand-held models. Backpack models are much more powerful - and more comfortable to carry - but they're also considerably more expensive, and probably out of the question for just average backyard work.


Like mulching mowers, chippers and shredders are ecologically sound. They reduce the volume of yard debris - fallen limbs, leaves and such - and convert it to mulch.

At $300 to $400, they're probably not a wise investment for homeowners with small yards. "But if you're on a 2-acre site, you've got a lot of trees," says Embree. "And you've got a lot of fallen branches."

Another option is renting such a machine on an as-needed basis.

String trimmers:

More commonly known as Weedeaters or Weed Whackers, these garden wonders spin a thin plastic line that slices through grass, weeds and anything else that gets in its way. They're so easy to use, they've virtually replaced the old-fashioned grass shears.

Embree puts trimmers on his "Top 3 Essential Power Garden Tools List", along with blowers and mulching mowers.

The smallest and least expensive are electric models that cost around $35. They're adequate for small jobs, but don't have enough power to trim along sidewalks or other borders.

More powerful are the gas-powered trimmers.

String trimmers, of course, won't chop off a toe or finger, but they can draw blood and smart like the devil, so be sure to wear long pants and sturdy shoes when you use them, manufacturers advise.

Tillers and cultivators:

Tillers have practically been flying out of the showroom door, says Embree. People seem to love these things.

Anyone who's spent hours with a spade in hand preparing a garden plot for planting knows why. Tillers, with their revolving metal blades, can churn up the soil in minutes. The same machines also can be used as cultivators to clear weeds.

A Sears salesman says one popular piece of power equipment this summer is a three-in-one tiller that converts from tiller to trimmer to edger, depending on which of three changeable heads is on it.

The type and size you need depends on the size of your garden, but a reasonably powerful tiller will cost $280-$325.

Hedge trimmers:

Electric hedge trimmers began to replace the old manual chop-chop kind about 50 years ago, and they're still the most popular choice for homeowners. Gasoline models appeared about 15 years ago, and while they're more powerful, they also require a lot of maintenance and they smell.

Both types shear off thousands of snips of shrubbery per minute, usually in a 16- to 20-inch swath. Cost for a hedge trimmer: $30-$150 for electric models, $200-$500 for gas-powered.

(Rebecca Jones is a reporter at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.)