Essential Garden Tools
Adapted from Press Democrat Master Gardener Advice to Grow by Column 12/16/23
Whether a seasoned or novice gardener, having a good set of gardening tools is essential to successful gardening. As a new gardener, you don’t need fancy or expensive tools. However, investing in sturdy, well-made tools will save you money in the long run.
Gloves. The best way to protect your hands from injury is to wear gloves. In addition to keeping your hands and fingernails clean and dry, gloves can protect them from harmful chemicals, insect bites or stings and bacterial or fungal infections. Choose a glove that fits your hand snugly so it doesn’t slip off but not so tight that it restricts your ability to do your garden tasks. Different tasks require different gardening gloves. Cloth gloves keep your hands clean and cool but offer little protection. Leather gloves are usually waterproof and offer protection against injury from thorns, cuts and scrapes. Rubber coated gloves are best for using chemicals, but can become hot, and may cause an allergic reaction. Neoprene or nitrile gloves are made from synthetic rubber and are breathable and flexible, which increases dexterity. Nitrile palms give you extra durability and grip. However, thorns can still penetrate through this material.
Hand pruners. These tools are essential for garden tasks such as deadheading and pruning. There are two types of pruners: those with bypass blades and those with anvil blades. Bypass blade pruners are like scissors; the blades pass across each other giving a clean cut. This reduces tearing or crushing of live tissues. They cut branches up to three-quarters of an inch in diameter, depending upon the hardness of the wood. Anvil pruners have a single sharpened cutting blade that strikes down on the flat anvil blade below it. This type of pruner is only recommended for cutting dead branches because they tend to crush branch tissue making it harder for the branch to seal properly. When choosing a pruner, look for features such as hardened steel blades, adjustable blade alignment, and forged aluminum handles with rubberized covers. Choose a model that fits your hand size and your preference for using your right or left hand. A rotating handle is a good choice if you have hand pain.
Sharpener. Sharpening your tools throughout the year is important. Sharp tools are safer and more efficient to use. For your essential tool kit, use a flat mill file or a sharpening stone.
Hori-Hori. Also referred to as a “soil knife” or a “weeding knife”, the Hori- Hori is a multi-purpose blade that is sharp on both sides with one serrated side, a ruler etched into the length of the blade and a notch to cut twine. It is also used for light digging, clearing soil away from the crown of a plant, uprooting weeds, light planting, dividing perennials and transferring small plants.
Shovel and spade. Many garden stores erroneously use the label “shovel” and “spade” interchangeably, but there is a difference in both the shaft (the long round piece of fiberglass or wood) and the blade.
A shovel has a blade that is larger, curved inwards, angled forward and either rounded or pointed at the tip. The angle and the pointed blade in the shovel make it more efficient for cutting into hard soil or through roots. The shaft is typically long and straight, which provides more leverage when digging deep holes.
A spade, by contrast, is straight, and shorter than a shovel. It has a relatively flat blade with a straight edge that tends to be in line with the shaft rather than angled forward. Many spades also have a “T” or “DY” handle. While the spade can be used for digging, it is more efficient to use it to open straight sided holes or trenches, slice through and lift sod, edge lawns and beds, or chop plants off just under the soil surface (also called skimming).
Both the shovel and spade are a staple for garden maintenance. While you can manage with one, having both and using the right one for the task at hand will make your gardening more enjoyable.
Trowel. A trowel is a small, handheld shovel that is used for potting, planting, light digging and weeding. It has a small, rounded blade that can easily dig into the ground in a small space without damaging roots or plants. Trowels are available in many lengths, but the 14-inch trowel offers the most versatility.
Storage. Whether you use a room in your home, a garage, or a garden shed, your essential tools need to be stored properly to help prevent rust and prolong their lifespan. In addition, your gardening experience will be enhanced if your tools are organized, portable and easily accessible. There are many types of portable tool organizers including bags, buckets, belts, wheeled storage units, and others. When choosing a garden tool organizer, consider your specific needs and preferences, the size of your collection, the type of gardening that you do and the amount of storage space that you have. These will determine the size of your tool organizer.
Garden rakes. These are long handled tools with a row of evenly spaced tines at one end. There are a variety of rakes with different designs depending on the task. Leaf rakes have wide, flexible tines and are used to collect leaves and clear away lightweight debris. Bow rakes, which have curved and closely spaced tines, are used for heavy-duty tasks like breaking up soil and leveling the ground surface. Landscape rakes have long, flexible tines and are used for soil preparation, leveling soil, spreading gravel, and creating uniform surfaces.
While not essential, these garden tools are nice to have:
Hand rake. This is a compact sized rake for cleaning up spaces like tight flower beds, garden rows or under dense bushes.
Garden vest or apron. This provides protection from dirt, mud, and plant stains.
Kneeling pad. This is a thick pad with supports on either side to help you get down and back up. Flipped over, it becomes a cushioned seat.
Garden cart or wagon. Either of these can help to move heavy things like mulch, big bags of soil or planters.
Garden hose. Keeping your plants properly hydrated is key to their health. If you do not have an irrigation system, attach a watering wand to a hose to gently water plants.
Garden trug. This is a flexible tub with handles for hauling and storing.