IF you know a few tricks of the trade, you can save energy, time, and money in your garden this year. Keep a small pad and pencil on your workbench, for example, and make a list of garden-shopping needs and things to do.
A shoe bag provides great space for tools, spray cans, seed packets, gloves, and other small- to medium-sized equipment. Other handy holders for tools can be made by nailing mousetraps to a shop wall.
A child's wagon will make light work of carrying bags of fertilizer, peat moss, flowerpots, and other bulky equipment to the garden.
Also, think now about what tools you have and will need to do the gardening with minimum effort.
Plan to exchange or borrow tools from a friend or neighbor rather than buy new ones. Watch for tools you may need and buy them at garage sales.
Any gardening book will teach you how to plant, tend, and harvest a garden. Here are other ideas the veterans are eager to share:
Equipment. In preparing your workshop for gardening, hang a big calendar and a pencil on a string over the workbench, on a wall, or wherever you keep tools and supplies. Each time you spray, side-dress (dig fertilizer into the ground), or otherwise treat a plant, note it on the calendar. The calendar can also record information that will be useful for the next gardening season, such as dates for ''first planted, first sprouts, first blooms, first picked, and last picked.''
Install a paper-towel holder and keep towels handy for cleaning hands, harvesting root vegetables, or for wrapping the stem ends of herbs or flowers for a neighborly over-the-fence gift.
Get three plastic buckets. Mark one for water only, another for mixing fungicides and insecticides, and the third for weed killers. Having three buckets saves the thorough cleaning you'd otherwise have to do if you tried to use one pail for all three functions.
In a plastic bag put a measuring cup, measuring spoons, and funnel. Keep the bag in one of the pails, handy for mixing solutions.
Put a 30-gallon trash bucket in the garden and keep it filled with water from the hose. You can quickly dip out buckets of water when you see plants needing it. Use the lid on it to keep out leaves and insects.
A roll of masking tape on your work counter is handy for labeling, wrapping stems, and many other uses.
You can make a handy apron for dirty work from a large plastic bag, simply cutting out holes for your head and arms. Or make another apron from a shoe bag by putting ties on the sides for around your waist and elastic at the top to go around your neck. Keep whatever you need in the pockets when you go to the garden.
Old egg cartons are useful for planting seeds and can be easily carried to the garden for transplanting the seedlings.
Put your name on tools, either by plastic labels or with masking tape. If you lend them, you're more likely to get them back.
To find tools easily in the garden, paint the handles with white enamel paint.
If you use metal trash cans, prevent them from rusting by melting paraffin, pouring it in, and then rotating the can to let the paraffin completely cover the bottom.
If you plan to garden in sneakers, first spray them with starch. After using them, reclean with powdered cleanser and an old toothbrush, again spraying them with starch. You can keep any shoes cleaner by putting a pair of worn-out socks over them. You can wash the socks or simply throw them away.
If one of your plastic pails or containers springs a leak, you can often mend it by painting over it on both sides with clear fingernail polish.
A pail of sand with waste oil poured into it is handy to plunge tools into after use, thus keeping the tools oiled and rust-free. Putting a drop of oil on scissors and pruners will make them work easier. If you grease your hands with petroleum jelly and scrape a bar of soap so that it gets under your fingernails before you garden, cleanup is easier.
A package of cheesecloth (about $2) can protect sprouting seeds from hard rains or birds. Stretch a length over the bed and put stones on the corners to hold it down. A piece of cheesecloth wadded into a ball in a funnel makes a good filter for straining solutions. By using a bent clothes hanger, you can make a butterfly net out of cheesecloth to catch those destructive white cabbage butterflies.
A lightweight basket is ideal as a caddy to carry to the garden with you. It can hold:
* Plastic or rubber gloves. Put tufts of cotton inside the fingers of the gloves if you have long fingernails to protect both the gloves and the nails. Gloves are much easier to put on if you use cornstarch or talcum powder inside the gloves, or lubricate your hands with lotion.
* Old panty hose cut into strips are gentle to plants when used to tie them to stakes or to one another.
* Raid your kitchen for an old fork and large spoon. You'll find many uses for them in the garden.
* Sharpen scissors by cutting through aluminum foil several times. Emery boards can sharpen small tools after use.
* A few pieces of charcoal in the basket will keep tools dry and rust-free.
* An old paring knife is handy. Keep it safe in an old toothbrush holder.
* A whisk boom is great for final smoothing of soil and for quick brushups of spills.
Soil preparation and planting. To rake up excess leaves, put down a tarp or plastic drop cloth, rake the leaves onto it, and pull it to the compost heap or wherever you want them. If you want to bag the leaves, use a large plastic bag turned down over an old TV tray table rack.
Ashes from your wood stove or fireplace are excellent fertilizer for acid soils.
Fill a child's wagon with soil, plant seeds in it, and cover with an old window. When it's time to transplant, just pull the portable hotbed to the garden.
Old carpet pieces are handy to kneel on, to place between the rows to prevent weeds, or as weights over pieces of black plastic used to prevent weeds.
Rings cut from plastic bleach jugs work fine around plants to prevent cutworm damage.
Pour leftover coffee and grounds around plants. Earthworms, nature's tillers and aerators of gardens, love them.
Mark off inches on your trowel and mark off feet on your garden rake with paint, fingernail polish, or a file. This will save you from searching for a ruler when you plant.
Leftover seeds, kept in a closed jar with a packet of moisture absorbent in your refrigerator, will be good for another year.
Finally, keep a lightweight lawn chair handy in the garden. You'll enjoy the peace, beauty, and rewards of your efforts.