Around this time of year, there are a lot of products marketed to gardeners in store displays, catalogs and too-good-to-be-true television commercials. Some are gimmicks, but others are actually useful. Determining which is which can be an exercise in wasted time and money, but this year I found an unusually high ratio of great products to wallet-draining novelties. Here are five of the best offerings of 2013. --JESSICA DAMIANO, firstname.lastname@example.org
Stinger Insect Zapper Lantern ($29.99, The Home Depot and homedepot.com): This portable, cordless and rechargeable bug zapper, which covers up to 625 square feet, operates for 31/2 hours on a single charge. Using black UV light technology together with an Octenol lure, it targets mosquitoes and other flying insects either indoors or out. It even doubles as accent lighting. What's more, the zapping is quiet.
Luminous, solar-powered planters ($129, gardeners.com): These frosted white planters are attractive enough during the day, but when night falls they illuminate from within using energy collected from the sun. And they don't simply glow: They light up in your choice of a single color or a color-changing mode to create a fanciful display. You can even use them to light up a shady spot in the garden by placing the sun-catching panel as far as 10 feet away from the planter. Planters are 18 inches in diameter and glow for six to eight hours on a single solar charge.
DriWater time-release watering gel packs ($1.99 each with quantity discounts available at driwater.com): Summer vacations are supposed to be stress-free events. But how can a gardener enjoy them when worrying about heat waves back home that might be destroying all those expensive plants? Now there's another option to relying on the kindness of neighbors: DriWater is an all-natural gel pack that will keep soil moist for up to three weeks. Water your plant, slice the gel pack open and lay it cut-side down on the soil surface, where it will slowly liquefy and ooze out. It's best to begin the process several days to a week before leaving, watering regularly before you go. Works on houseplants, outdoor containers and even garden plants.
Drip Mate Irrigation Spectrum Kit ($49.95, harrisseeds.com and 800-544-7938): If you don't have an automatic irrigation system, this efficient drip-irrigation kit is a viable alternative. Assembly is simple, and the system connects directly to a hose spigot. Water heads spray in a full circle and flow can be adjusted easily. Each kit covers 50 feet.
Plantopia hanging basket ($10.99 for 12 inch, homedepot.com, with free delivery to your local store): Ever wonder why pre-planted hanging baskets from the garden centers are so lush? Their thumbs aren't necessarily any greener than yours; they're just employing a trade secret that involves planting both inside and outside of the planter, versus just planting the top, which is likely what you're doing. Plantopia baskets allow you to have professional results with eight snap-out side panels through which you can insert plants without disturbing their roots. The openings are large enough to accommodate root balls from mature plants grown in 4-inch pots. The result is a basket so full you can't even see the planter. Also available in 14- and 18-inch sizes.