One Good Tool Deserves Another

Wisconsin inventor of the CobraHead Weeder keeps the garden tools coming

Noel-Valdes-webNoel Valdes never intended to become an inventor and a business entrepreneur. Two decades ago, he was working as a salesman and manufacturer’s representative in the architectural glass industry. When he wasn’t out selling glass, chances were you could find him working in his Wisconsin garden.

He was in his garden when the idea for his first invention came to him. While working in his raised garden beds with an antique five-tined cultivator hoe—a tool that was popular before power tillers were introduced, the tool broke.

“I was working with the old cultivator hoe when a tine loosened and fell off,” said Valdes. “So I started digging in the dirt with the single tine, and I realized it might make a handy weeder.  I found another old cultivator and used a blade from that tool which I bent to a better angle for use on a short-handle tool. I mounted the blade into a wooden hammer handle and used it for the rest of the gardening season. It quickly became my favorite hand tool.”

To compare his new hand weeder against the other garden tools on the market, Valdes bought every available weeder and tested them side by side. “I was convinced that the antique blade design of my new tool was better and more efficient than any of the newer tools,” said Valdes.

It turned out that Valdes’ homemade tool really did outperform the other weeders and digging tools available.

Inventor becomes entrepreneur

That’s when Valdes the inventor became Valdes the entrepreneur. He started a company to manufacture and sell his new tool. He envisioned a made-in-America tool that could be produced in his home state of Wisconsin. Valdes called his tool the CobraHead® Weeder and Cultivator, in honor of the shape of the single digging tine. (It really did resemble the shape of a cobra’s head.)  Production was sourced to local Wisconsin manufacturers, and the first run of the new CobraHead® Weeder and Cultivator in 2002 started the company on its way.

Cobrahead_WeederToday, the original CobraHead Weeder is still proudly made in America. The wooden handle of the prototype has been upgraded to an environmentally friendly 100% post-industrial recycled polypropylene handle that is strengthened with organic fiber. The ergonomically comfortable handle is molded around the blade to ensure it can never, ever work loose. But the working end of the tool—the steel forged CobraHead® blade—hasn’t changed.

The strong, sharp, tempered blade cuts through and breaks up all soils, even the toughest clay, and it makes short work of cleaning weed-choked gardens.

“We call the CobraHead® ‘the best tool in earth®’, and we really believe it,” said Valdes. “We have testimonials and rave reviews from gardeners and garden writers throughout the US, Canada, the UK and Australia.  There’s a real satisfaction in creating a tool that so many gardeners love to use.”

After the success of the original CobraHead® Weeder, older gardeners started requesting a long-handled version of the tool that would enable them to weed and cultivate their gardens while standing up. Today, the CobraHead® Long Handle, which features a tough wooden handle made of Carolina Ash, is also a best seller. Older gardeners and those with difficulty kneeling find it a particularly enabling garden tool.

The CobraHead “mini” is born

But gardeners kept pestering Valdes to make another new tool. They wanted a smaller version of the original CobraHead® Weeder and Cultivator. “Often women would say they wanted a smaller handle. They also wanted a smaller tool that would fit into a pocket or a carrying belt.”

After years of similar requests, Valdes began working on the CobraHead® “mini” Weeder. He designed a smaller blade, and created a prototype with a wooden file handle that he bought at a hardware store. He loved the new, smaller tool—and so did everyone else who got their hands on it. So Valdes fine-tuned the design for the narrower steel blade, and created an easy-to-hold handle made of the same blend of recycled polypropylene and wood fiber as the best-selling CobraHead® Weeder and Cultivator.

CobraHead-mini-webThe CobraHead® “mini” Weeder was introduced in 2017, and it became an instant hit. Gardeners loved the smaller size, and they bought the new tool even though they already owned an Original CobraHead® Weeder.

“Just about everybody who tries it likes the new smaller CobraHead a lot, and it is now my preferred weeding tool,” admits Valdes. “I still need the Original CobraHead® for planting and when I have to move soil, but the “mini” is now my day-in, day-out weeder. I guess all of my customers were right.”

The new CobraHead® “mini” Weeder sells for $21.95. The Original CobraHead® Weeder and Cultivator hand tool sells for $24.95, and the CobraHead® Long Handle is $59.95. Or choose a package deal for two or three different CobraHead tools at CobraHead tools can also be found in fine garden catalogs and garden centers.


Five Terrific Trees to Plant this Fall

These landscape stars add beauty to any yard

Trees are the anchors in a well-designed landscape. As the largest plants, trees naturally become focal points that draw the eye into a garden. Choosing the right trees can make the difference between an interesting, inviting yard and a boring yard that no one notices.

Different types of trees have varying personalities in the landscape. A flowering tree offers a dramatic show of spring or summer blooms. A stately evergreen is a steady presence that remains constant throughout the year. Fruit trees offer a variety of pleasures during the growing season, beginning with a spring show of blossoms followed by an early-summer fruiting season and a tasty harvest in late summer or fall.

Here are five terrific trees that deserve a spot in any landscape.


Ivory Silk Lilac Tree

ivory-silk-webLooking for something distinctive enough to make the neighbors stop in their tracks? The Ivory Silk Lilac Tree (Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’) is a small tree that bears huge, one-foot-long flower panicles in late June, well after traditional lilac bushes have given up for the season. The monster flower bunches are creamy white and give off a heady, musky scent that will perfume an entire yard. These trees make a great focal point in small yards, and in large yards they can be planted in a row along a fence line to create a show-stopping tall hedgerow.

The Ivory Silk Lilac Tree blooms more heavily and longer than bush lilac varieties. In the summer, a Tree Lilac is densely covered in beautiful, deep green leaves—a refreshing sight in the height of summer heat. In the fall and winter, the attractive dark-red bark adds an interesting color to the landscape. As if that wasn’t enough, a Tree Lilac can withstand temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero, and it isn’t affected by soil pH like other lilacs.

An Ivory Silk Lilac Tree grows to a manageable 15-25 feet tall and 10-15 feet wide and makes an impact throughout USDA Zones 3-7. A 5-6’ tall bareroot tree sells for $99.95 from


Autumn Blaze Red Maple

autumn-blaze-webAutumn Blaze Red Maple (Acer x freemanii ‘Jeffersred’) is the fastest-growing cold-hardy maple tree that boasts brilliant fall color. This variety was first introduced in 1982 as a cross between a red maple and a silver maple to provide a stronger, more colorful landscape tree. Autumn Blaze Red Maple has become one of the most sought-after maple varieties in the USA.

Due to its upward growth habit, Autumn Blaze Red Maple works well in clusters or as a stand-alone focal point in the yard. The leaves emerge with a slight reddish tint. Then, in autumn the leaves turn a bright orange-red that will still be dazzling your neighbors when other trees have faded. Autumn Blaze Red Maple tree is also disease and pest resistant. This tree is tough enough to persevere during drought conditions and strong enough to withstand heavy snows.

At maturity, an Autumn Blaze Red Maple reaches 40-60 feet tall and 40-60 feet wide. It thrives throughout USDA Zones 4-8. A 5-6’ tall tree in a 3-gallon container sells for $84.95 from


Honeycrisp Apple Tree

honeycrisp-apple-webWhat’s better than biting into a Honeycrisp apple from a local market? Biting into a fresh Honeycrisp apple picked from your own Honeycrisp Apple Tree. The thought of that sweet tang and solid crunch is enough to make your mouth water right now.

A Honeycrisp apple is one of the best-selling fruits in food stores, and a Honeycrisp Apple Tree is a wise investment in your family’s health—and a great addition to any property. A flurry of pink blossoms covers the tree in early spring. Then yellowish green apples cover the tree in late summer and ripen with a red blush in September. But the fruits don’t immediately drop when ripe, so you can take your time in picking them.

This variety needs full sun and well-drained soil for optimal growth. To maximize fruit production, plant another apple tree close by to aid in pollination (such as Gala, Granny Smith, Empire, McIntosh or Red Delicious). This semi-dwarf tree reaches 15-20 feet tall, so it fits comfortably in most yards. Its low canopy makes it ideal for planting under power lines or in other confined locations. A Honeycrisp Apple Tree grows well in USDA Zones 3-8. A 4-5’ tall tree in a 3-gallon container sells for $79.95 from


Austrian Pine

austrian_pine_webAn Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra) is a classic landscape evergreen that looks great every month of the year. When deciduous trees have dropped their leaves and are dormant in freezing weather, an Austrian Pine is a pleasant splash of green in a barren landscape.

This is a densely branched tree that produces long (4-6 inches), dark needles. Austrian Pines are great trees for screening because they are very dense. This evergreen conifer tree thrives in urban locations as well as in windbreaks in more rural settings. It grows well in a variety of soils including limestone and acid soil, and it is very hardy. The spreading branches of a young tree form a pyramidal outline, but at maturity, the tree sometimes achieves a picturesque flat topped head. A fast-growing Austrian Pine makes an attractive Christmas tree when sheared.

For use as a windbreak or a dense screen, space the trees 6 feet apart. When placed in a good site, each tree should reach 5 ft. in height in 6-7 years when starting with a 2-year-old seedling. Austrian Pine trees are cold hardy in USDA Zones 3-8. A 1-gallon tree sells for $34.95 from


Marley’s Pink Parasol Japanese Snowbell

Styrax-Pink-Parasol-webHere’s an interesting and rare weeping form of a small ornamental tree for virtually any landscape. The obvious attraction of Marley’s Pink Parasol® Japanese Snowbell tree is the flower display. Clean, crisp and waxy looking flowers hang like bells in profusion from the stems.  The display is amazing, and even the emerging flower buds are attractive. The incredible flowers are blushed with pink, and the fragrance is reminiscent of cotton candy.

The flowers on a Marley’s Pink Parasol tree open in late May to mid-June, and few flowering trees can match the show. Marley’s Pink Parasol Japanese Snowbell’s beautiful weeping form ends up becoming a piece of sculpture in the yard or garden. This is the perfect plant to be used as a specimen in a place of distinction in your yard. It’s a great small tree to highlight a berm and an excellent plant to site near a patio, where you can enjoy its great form and amazing flower display. Because of its compact size, a Marley’s Pink Parasol can also be planted in patio pots where you can watch its show of blossoms up close. The shiny, dark-green leaves are more elongated and wider than other Japanese Snowbells, and they contrast nicely with the flowers.

Marley’s Pink Parasol is a long-lived, relatively pest-free tree that likes a somewhat protected site in full sun or partial shade, with nice moist soil that has plenty of organic matter.  Even at maturity, it will only grow 8-10 feet tall and a slender 4-5 feet wide. It grows best in USDA Zones 5-8. A tree in a 2-gallon container sells for $79.45 from


For more information the wide variety of trees and shrubs trees available for growing in the US, visit


Natural Fungus Gnat Control

BTI and organic horticultural oil control pesky fungus gnats

woman with houseplants webAnyone who has grown houseplants has probably dealt with fungus gnats. Adult fungus gnats are tiny flying pests that can swarm like an annoying black cloud whenever an infested houseplant or outdoor potted plant is moved.

Fungus gnats (Bradysia species) are small, mosquito-like insects that commonly infest the growing medium in which houseplants and outdoor potted plants grow. Often, when outdoor plants are brought indoors for the colder months, fungus gnats harbored in the potting mix are brought indoors, where they can quickly infest the soil of other houseplants.

Fungus gnats can be difficult to control. They thrive in moist potting soil, where they lay their eggs. After the eggs hatch, fungus gnat larvae live in the top two to three inches of the potting soil. In the larval stage, the fungus gnat maggots can cause plant damage by eating plant roots. After about two or three weeks, the fungus gnat maggots pupate in the potting soil to become the tiny black adult gnats that fly erratically when a potted plant is moved.

Letting the potting soil dry out between watering helps control fungus gnats. But sometimes more aggressive measures are needed to control the pests. Fortunately, there are now natural, non-chemical solutions that kill fungus gnat infestations.

Kill fungus gnat larvae with BTI

Mosquito Bits 8 ounces webBecause fungus gnats are closely related to mosquitoes, fungus gnat larvae are effectively killed by BTI—the naturally occurring bacterium that is deadly to mosquito larvae. BTI, short for Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, is deadly to mosquito larvae and fungus gnat larvae but harmless to other living things. The bacterium is nature’s way of keeping fungus gnat and mosquito populations down, but it has no effect on other insects (such as bees and butterflies)—nor does it harm animals, fish, birds, plants, pets or people.

BTI is the active ingredient in top-selling Mosquito Bits®, which is approved for the control of fungus gnats. To kill fungus gnat larvae, simply shake the granular Mosquito Bits® onto the potting soil in houseplants and other container-grown plants—including vegetables and herbs. Mosquito Bits® can also be mixed with potting soil prior to planting. When the plants are watered, the BTI in the Mosquito Bits® will be released. After subsequent watering, the BTI is washed below the soil surface. Fungus gnat larvae feed on the BTI and die.

Kill adult fungus gnats with horticultural oil

Summit Year-Round Spray Oil webThere is also an environmentally friendly, organic way to kill infestations of adult fungus gnats. Summit® Year-Round® Spray Oil is a light-weight horticul­tural oil that effectively controls a wide variety of insect pests including fungus gnats. Summit® Year-Round® Spray Oil is OMRI Listed® by the Organic Materials Review Institute and approved for use in certified organic production, and it’s perfect for indoor use.

Unlike many other pesticides that kill insects with toxic chemicals, Summit® Year-Round® Spray Oil literally smothers insects to death. The oil spray blocks an insect’s breathing holes (called spiracles), causing insects to die from asphyxiation.

Summit® Year-Round® Spray Oil can be used any time during the year because it won’t harm plant buds, shoots or leaves. This lightweight oil has no odor, and it will effectively control pests on even sen­sitive plants such as tropical houseplants, roses, impatiens, citrus trees, and ferns. Summit® Year-Round® Spray Oil kills fungus gnats plus a wide variety of insect pests including aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, mealybugs, scale, thrips, lace bugs and more.

Because of its low toxicity, organic Summit® Year-Round® Spray Oil can be used on garden plants and fruit trees right up to the day of harvest. Unlike chemi­cal pesticides which can become less effective after repeated use, there is no known build-up of insect resistance to horticultural oil sprays.

Mosquito Bits® and Summit® Year-Round® Spray Oil are made by Summit Responsible Solu­tions®, which also makes Mosquito Dunks®. Mosquito Bits® are available in an eight-ounce shaker bottle and a large 30-ounce package. Summit® Year-Round® Spray Oil concentrate is available in one pint and one quart bottles, and a handy one-quart ready-to-use spray bottle is also available.

Mosquito Bits® and Summit® Year-Round® Spray Oil are available at home centers, hardware stores, garden centers and at


Mosquito Bits, Summit Year-Round Spray Oil, Mosquito Dunks, Summit Responsible Solutions and “Kills Mosquitoes Before They’re Old Enough to Bite” are registered trademarks of Summit Chemical Company.