Without doubt the most important piece of equipment needed by a gardener wishing to propagate plants is a knife. Choosing it is perhaps one of the most difficult decisions to make, as so much depends on what sort of work it will be required to carry out.

For most tasks, a medium-weight knife with a sharp carbon-steel blade is best. For grafting, select a fairly heavy knife.

A budding knife has a spatula end for prising open flaps of bark. It is a useful luxury — an ordinary propagation knife is really quite adequate. For very soft cuttings from plants such as dahlias, chrysanthemums and pen-stemons the best tool is a safety razor blade (that is, a one-sided blade with a thick metal-covered edge on the opposite side).

Most gardeners use a knife with a straight cutting blade, which is easy to sharpen, but some prefer a slightly curved blade. A knife with a very curved or hooked blade is not suitable for plant propagation. It is also extremely difficult to sharpen.

A knife should always be easy to open and comfortable to hold when in use. Especially with knives that may be required to cut tough material, the blade when opened should be set back into the handle. This avoids excessive play from side to side so that the blade does not loosen.

Knife blades are either hollow ground on both sides or on one side only: both types are equally efficient. One-sided knives are usually made in both right-handed and left-handed patterns. As a general rule the more expensive a knife is, the better is the quality of blade and overall design. A good-quality steel blade will maintain its sharp cutting edge considerably longer than one of poorer quality and is well worth the extra investment.

Keep a knife just for propagation and do not use it for pruning, cutting string or the

1 Choose a blade with a straight cutting edge as it is simple to sharpen.

2 Use a knife with its blade well set back into the handle.

3 Prise open flaps of bark with the spatula end of a budding knife.

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