Even if you’re one of those people who finishes the gift-buying months ahead, there’s always someone who slips through the cracks. If those people happen to enjoy having a bit of dirt under their fingernails, you have plenty of last-minute options.

While most garden writers will wax eloquently about a perfect packet of seed as a stocking stuffer or that camellia with the bloom so perfect it looks computer generated, my redneck farm boy roots default to practical things that help get the job done.

To the uninitiated one shovel is pretty much like any other. But, every gardener needs a D-handled spade and a 4- or 5-inch trenching shovel.

So-named because of the shape of the end of the handle, a D-handled spade is perfect for re-defining shrub bed edges and digging and moving shrubs, trees and perennials. Those with the long, tapering blade work best.

Trenching shovels come in widths from 2 to 6 inches and are designed to remove soil from irrigation and utility trenches. But, the 4- to 5-inch ones are perfect for smaller planting projects involving shrubs, perennials and annuals. The smaller blade doesn’t move as much soil, so those with compromised backs can get the work done without ending up in traction.

These specialty shovels are available anywhere that garden tools are sold. The higher quality ones with the stronger handles will cost more. Tools are like everything else. You get what you pay for.

Even if you purchase the best quality, remember that these are not intended to be pry bars.

Seasoned gardeners know that keeping tools sharp makes the job much easier. So, while you’re picking out the perfect shovel, grab a large flat file to put a nice edge on it. Those with counter space in the shop can use a bench grinder to make fast work of the sharpening chore.

Any time you’re working with things with handles and sharp edges, you need gloves and eye protection to stay safe.

Bulky cowhide gloves with the cloth backs are fine for handling bulky items such as stones, blocks and pavers. But, they don’t fit tightly around the fingers which makes intricate work difficult. Coated cloth gloves are perfect for working on irrigation systems. I like the tighter fitting all-leather gloves for general garden tasks such as pruning.

Safety glasses are much more comfortable these days. They even have some with magnifying lenses at the bottom for those of us who remember that Paul McCartney was in another band before Wings.

While we have safety in mind, pick up a pair of ear muffs or plugs to protect their hearing when operating trimmers, blowers and other small equipment. The prices range from a few dollars to $50 or more for those with built-in radios. You can even find them with Bluetooth that will sync with a personal song list.

Things are usually pretty slow during the holiday season when it comes to garden problems. Our Plant Clinic in Wilmington will be closed until Jan. 2. But, you can check out our website http://ces.ncsu.edu, where you can post your questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Extension center. In Pender County, call 910-259-1238; New Hanover County 910-798-7660; Brunswick County 910-253-2610.