Gifts for Gardeners

As 2020 winds down, the holiday gifting season is heating up!  If you have a gardener on your gift-giving list this year, below are several gift ideas from gardening experts.  


Every gardener needs quality tools - and every gardening expert I asked mentioned at least one type of garden tool!  Durable hats, gloves, kneeling pads, and plant labels are necessary and relatively inexpensive. Well-made hand tools like bypass pruners, folding saws, soil knives, trowels, shovels, and watering wands last for years and serve as great reminders of the giver’s thoughtfulness. Don’t forget about garden tubs, wheelbarrows, and carts that make hauling plants and garden clean up so much easier.

Sometimes, more expensive tools are called for. Our Turfgrass expert, Adam Thoms, always requests a robotic mower to mow his home lawn (though I’m not sure his dog would approve). DNR Forester, Mark Vitosh counted a battery powered chain saw as one of his best gifts ever!

For the more practical gardener, consider assembling a garden tool care kit. This can be as simple as a file to sharpen shovels and a small bottle of multi-purpose oil to lubricate joints on pruners. Or it can also include a sturdy wire brush to remove dirt and grime, linseed oil to clean wooden handles, a set of new lawn mower blades, or even a gift certificate to a local hardware store for lawn mower maintenance.


Another staple gift for gardeners is, of course, plants. While plants may be far from our minds in winter, poinsettias, amaryllis, and houseplants are seasonal options. These plants are delightful to give and receive, but choose plants carefully, as some gardeners have strong plant preferences. If unsure, a gift certificate to a local garden center allows gardeners to choose the plants that best suit their home, landscape or lifestyle and supports local economies. Many gardeners also purchase seed from mail-order seed companies in January. Therefore, a gift certificate to their favorite seed company is often appreciated and used quickly.

Ed Lyon, Director at Reiman Gardens, reminds us that membership to a local public garden is another thoughtful gift option. Iowa is blessed with several botanical gardens and arboreta throughout the state. What better way to get landscape and plant ideas than from wandering around a public garden?  Attending a workshop or talk at a public garden (gatherings will happen again) is also a way to connect with other like-minded gardeners around the state!

Books and Resources

The 2021 Extension Garden Calendar is a potential resource and can be ordered now from Iowa State University Extension.

Winter is the best time to review and reflect on past gardening endeavors -- and to plot new ones. Books, catalogs, and a garden journals offer novel ideas and ways to document garden successes. The 2021 Extension Garden Calendar is a potential resource and can be ordered now from Iowa State University Extension. There are also several home and garden magazines/books that are published in Iowa or written by Iowa authors. Check out books and articles from Kelly Norris, Cathy Wilkinson Barash, Veronica Lawson Fowler, Ed Lyon, Jan Riggenbach, and Beth Cody that feature Iowa gardens or gardening practices. Magazines subscriptions from Better Homes and Gardens and Garden Gate, both of which are published in Iowa, often feature Midwestern garden ideas too! 

Susan DeBlieck, Iowa Master Gardener Coordinator, reminds us to think about those young budding gardeners too!  There are many garden related children’s books that can be shared, so multiple generations learn to enjoy gardening, nature, and agriculture.

Winter activities indoors

While it is difficult to garden outdoors during the winter in Iowa, there are indoor activities to do. Winter is the best time to design landscape beds or borders. Landscape architect, Lisa Nunamaker, stresses the importance of good drafting tools like micron pens or colored pencils -- or even landscaping apps on your smart phone or tablet. There is nothing better than dreaming and designing new areas of your landscape while the snow falls.

Gardeners are also keen observers of seasonal change in the landscape. So, it is not surprising that many gardeners watch, photograph, and enjoy winter wildlife -- especially birds. Bird books and bird feeders are popular gifts for gardeners. Materials for bird houses, bat boxes, and even insect hotels for assembly by gardeners, are gifts that will provide winter enjoyment and help prepare for the upcoming gardening season.

Know your gardener

Lastly, don’t be afraid to try something not on the typical garden gift buying list. If you know your gardener well, the best ideas may seem a bit strange at first. Aaron Steil, Assistant Director of Reiman Gardens, regarded a truckload of mulch as one of his most appreciated gifts. I still remember fondly the 7 tons of compost promised one holiday that was delivered the following spring! 

If you think about what your gardener enjoys or needs, you too will find a thoughtful gift that will be appreciated for the upcoming gardening season.


Cynthia Haynes Professor

Dr. Haynes is a Professor of Horticulture at Iowa State University in Ames.  Her primary responsibilities are in teaching and extension.  She teaches several courses for the Department of Horticulture including Home Horticulture and Herbaceous Ornamentals.  She also has extension r...

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