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Essential Tools for Gardening: A Guide to What You Need

Eugene is an avid gardener and has been passionate about growing things for over 40 years. Twitter @EugenesDIYDen

Preparing For the New Growing Season

Even though the fall has arrived and we're heading into the depths of winter, there's no time like the present to buy garden tools and be prepared for the coming of spring!

Getting Started With the Proper Tools

This is a guide for beginner gardeners giving some basic info on selecting tools for the yard and garden. You may have moved into your first house and just need to buy tools out of necessity in order to do basic maintenance. Alternatively, you could be landscaping your new garden or rearranging the layout. In this article, we'll discuss these tools.

What Basic Tools Do I Need?

If you don't have a garden and only have the space to grow in pots and planters, a hand trowel and sweeping brush for cleaning up mess are probably the only garden tools you'll need. For watering, you can get away with a plastic bottle, kettle or jug, but a small watering can is useful.

Only a few other tools can be considered essential, so you can just buy the others as you need them. First, here are the 5 most essential:

  1. Hand trowel (planter)
  2. Watering can
  3. Spade
  4. Rake
  5. Garden shears (hedge clippers)

1. Hand Trowel (Planter)

For planting flowers in beds, planters, pots or window boxes in summer, a hand trowel/planter is necessary. These are available with wooden, plastic or metal handles. Wood tends to have a better grip in the hand than plastic.

2. Watering Can

What's It For?

You can get away with using a bucket, but a watering can is better for watering window boxes, pots, etc. You can also use it for rinsing off concrete or garden seating that you've cleaned. It can also be used as a portable water source for refilling small hand sprayers.

Things to Consider:

The capacity of a watering can is normally 2 gallons or 9 liters. A smaller can with a gallon capacity or less is very handy and easier to lift when watering hanging baskets or other containers at a height. Watering cans are made of plastic or galvanized steel. Plastic cans should be kept out of the sun as UV makes the plastic brittle over time.

Smaller capacity can, suitable for watering hanging baskets

Smaller capacity can, suitable for watering hanging baskets

3. Spade

What's It For?

This is probably the most essential gardening tool for digging holes to plant trees, shrubs, and large flowers.

You can also use a spade for hoeing weeds, although it would be heavier than a hoe which is the proper tool for the job. A spade can be used for edging flower beds and for shoveling small quantities of material. Spades can also be used for chopping the roots of small trees before digging them up.

Things to Consider:

You can buy a spade with a long or short handle. Long handles have more leverage and further reach but this results in a spade a little heavier than one with a short handle. Also, it can be awkward to use in a confined space such as a small glass house. The blade can be long or short. 9 inches should be fine. Anything longer is unwieldy. Spades and other tools are available which are made of stainless steel. This doesn't rust, but can be more expensive and heavier. If the dirt is shaken, knocked or washed off a garden tool before it is stored in a dry shed or garage, corrosion shouldn't be an issue.

It's essential to have the blade of a spade razor sharp to make digging easier. You can do this with a carborundum sharpening stone or an angle grinder if you have access to one. If the blade is very sharp, there is no harm wearing steel toe cap shoes or boots in the garden to protect your toes if you miss your aim digging!

4. Garden Shears (Hedge Clippers or Trimmer)

What's It For?

You will need one of these if you have hedges, shrubs or trees. Shears can also be used to trim grass along pavements, curbs, or edges of flower beds, as well as around trees and shrubs.

Things to Consider:

Try to buy a pair of shears that is mid-priced. Cheap shears have thinner blades which don't hold their shape and can twist and warp if overloaded while trying to cut thick branches. (Shears aren't designed for doing this in any case—see loppers and saws below). With more expensive models you are just paying for the name.

5. Rake

What's It For?

Rakes are useful for raking leaves and other debris into a pile. A lawn rake is used for raking moss and leaves (thatch) from a lawn surface.

Things to Consider:

Rake with the wind. This will make for a less frustrating and time-consuming experience.

What Tools Can be Bought Later?

As your garden evolves with more chores to take care of, you can start to build up your arsenal of tools. Here are 10 of the most useful to have around:

  1. Wheelbarrow
  2. Shovel
  3. Secateurs
  4. Hoe
  5. Fork
  6. Hand Weeding Tool
  7. Axe, pickaxe, and hatchet
  8. Step ladder
  9. Garden hose
  10. Sprayer

1. Wheelbarrow

What's It For?

For shifting large quantities of stuff when you get fed up using a bucket or garbage bags. A wheelbarrow is pretty much essential for moving large amounts of soil, gravel, hedge clippings and compost from A to B.

Things to Consider:

Available with large and small capacities. You can buy one with a plastic body which won't rust but you can't fire stuff like rocks into it! Try to get a good strong one which will last. Check the supports on the underside of the body as often this is a weak point.

2. Shovel

What's It For?

For shifting material such as dirt/soil, sand, gravel or compost you will need a shovel.

Things to Consider:

These are available in a multitude of shapes and sizes depending on the application. Similar to spades, they can be long or short handled, the blade can be made of steel, stainless steel or aluminum (good for shoveling snow because the blade is light). Also, the blade can be pointed, often called a builders shovel, which makes it easy to dig into a pile, or flat as in the case of a grain shovel. These are like a dustpan and good for sweeping up stuff in conjunction with a brush or rake.

3. Secateurs (Pruning Shears or Pruners)

What's It For?

It can be used for pruning roses but also to snip lumps off shrubs and trees which are getting in your way. Don't cut material beyond about 3/8 or 10mm thickness or you will strain the tool!

Things to Consider:

There are two types; bypass, and anvil. A bypass secateurs is like scissors or hedge shears, a cutting blade slides by a blunt 'blade' called a hook. An anvil shear has a single cutting blade that cuts into a branch pushed against a flat surface or 'anvil'.
A bypass pruner is fine for general purpose pruning of softwood / semi-hardwood around the garden and is less likely to crush stems than an anvil pruner. However, the advantage of an anvil pruner is that the blade cuts mid-way between where a branch is supported on the anvil. So when cutting hardwood, the branch is less likely to pivot.

4. Hoe

What's It For?

This has a light blade and handle and is used for severing top growth on weeds in beds and on stone driveways.

Things to Consider:

If you have an aversion to using weed killer, this is a good alternative. Again, the blade should be kept razor shape for ease of use.

Garden hoe

Garden hoe

5. Fork

What's It For?

A fork is used for digging and loosening soil and lifting vegetation.

Things to Consider:

There are two types, a digging fork, and a lifting fork. A digging fork can be useful for digging into soil containing lots of stones, roots, etc. It would be difficult to use a spade under these conditions. A lifting fork is used for lifting hedge clippings, long grass, weeds etc for transfer to and from a wheelbarrow. You can also rake bulky material with a lifting fork. (it's difficult to do this with a rake).

6. Hand Weeding Tool

What's It For?

Usually, they have prongs which allow you to loosen the dirt around the root and pry it up out of the ground.

Things to Consider:

The two styles to choose from are short-handled and long-handled. The short-handled requires you to work on your knees, while the latter allows you to stand.

7. Axe, Pickaxe, and Hatchet

What's It For?

These are useful for splitting logs and cutting roots of trees and shrubs before digging them up.

Things to Consider:

Each of these tools can be used for similar purposes in a pinch, but it is important to know what situations require the appropriate tool.

8. Step Ladder

What's It For?

A step ladder allows you to reach high places to groom hedges or other higher growing plants.

Things to Consider:

Although not specifically a garden tool, a step ladder is essential for pruning and cutting tall hedges, trees, and shrubs.

9. Garden Hose

What's It For?

For watering during dry spells if your water supply company allows this practice and general washing of stuff. A garden hose on a reel is best because you can roll it up and keep it tidy.

Things to Consider:

Get an outside tap with a threaded spout installed. This will allow you to connect the hose up outside, without the hassle of walking inside with dirty boots and hands to use the kitchen tap.

10. Sprayer

What's It For?

A 1 gallon or 5-liter sprayer is necessary for treating weeds on lawns, around trees, and on gravel driveways.

Things to Consider:

For larger areas, you could also buy a knapsack sprayer which you carry on your back. These have a capacity of 3 to 4 gallons (15 to 18 liters).

What About More Advanced Gardening Tools?

Once you have gotten a knack of things, you can try introducing these 7 more advanced gardening tools to your gardening practices:

  1. Lopping shears
  2. Bow or pruning saw
  3. Lawnmower
  4. String trimmer
  5. Powered hedge cutter
  6. Blower
  7. Chipper or shredder

1. Lopping Shears

Used for cutting branches on trees or shrubs of up to 1 1/2 inches or 40 mm. Use the blade so that it cuts diagonally on the stem. This puts less strain on the blade and requires less effort as you are semi cutting along the grain.
Loppers are available with telescopic handles which can be stretched out to give longer reach or pushed in for working in tight spaces. A ratcheting lopper allows you to continuously pump the handles to cut through a branch. These require less effort because you can take a break half-way through, but are slower to use.


A loppers can easily cut branches 1 inch (25mm) thick

A loppers can easily cut branches 1 inch (25mm) thick

2. Bow or Pruning Saw

For cutting branches greater than 1 1/2 inches. You can also use it for cutting logs for your stove/open fire. (see my guide for details).
How to Cut Logs with a Bow Saw and Get Great Exercise!

Choosing a Bow Saw

A saw with a slim, pointed "nose" gets into tighter spaces when you're cutting limbs from trees and there's another growth in the way. I like this Bahco brand saw which has a 21-inch blade and is made by a well known Swedish hand tool manufacturer. It also has a comfortable plastic hand grip so your hand doesn't slip or tire when using the saw for extended periods.
A shorter saw is available that you can also use if you go camping. This one folds up, shielding the blade and can be carried safely in a backpack. It's a Gerber Freescape Camp Saw and takes a standard 12" blade.

selecting-tools-for-gardening
Bahco pointed nose bow saw

Bahco pointed nose bow saw

Gerber Freescape Campsaw

Gerber Freescape Campsaw

3. Lawnmower

What's It For?

Unless you have an extremely small lawn which can be cut with a push-type reel (cylinder) mower, you are going to need to get a power lawn mower. Electric and battery mowers are fine for small lawns.

Things to Consider:

Gas (petrol) mowers are more powerful and a 3.5 HP mower is ok for a small lawn. If you have a medium to large sized lawn and/or only cut the grass when it gets very long, don't buy anything with less than 5 hp.

4. String Trimmer

What's It For?

You can cut grass along pavements, curbs, tree trunks and hedges with these. You can also edge flower beds.

Things to Consider:

The string trimmer is also known as a trimmer, strimmer, weed whacker, and weedeater.

Gas and electric trimmers

Gas and electric trimmers

Recommended String Trimmer: Greenworks 21142 Cordless

Greenworks 21142 model. This has a 10 amp motor (equivalent to over 1100 watt or 1 1/2 HP). The reason I like this machine is because the motor is mounted near the handle end of the shaft unlike lower powered corded electric trimmers that have the motor at the cutting head. This balances the machine better. Because it's electric there are no fumes and it's ideal if you you find it difficult to pull start an engine.

Greenworks 21142 string trimmer.

Greenworks 21142 string trimmer.

5. Powered Hedge Cutter

What's It For?

These are used to make hedge cutting easier, more efficient, and produce more precise results.

Things to Consider:

Electric corded or battery cordless versions can be used for light growth, while gas-powered is for heavy growth up to 20mm (3/4"). Obviously, the corded version has to be used with care to avoid cutting the cable.

6. Blower

What's It For?

Although they are not a substitute for rake and fork for collecting large quantities of leaves, they can be of benefit for blowing dry leaves into a pile or finishing off and sucking up debris or leaves remaining after raking.

Things to Consider:

Again, much like the powered hedge cutter, electric and gas versions are available.

7. Chipper/Shredder

What's It For?

A chipper/shredder is useful for dealing with branches.

Things to Consider:

The shredded material can be used as a mulch for preventing weed growth or as a covering for natural pathways in the garden.

Chipper

Chipper

Chipped branches can be used to suppress weeds

Chipped branches can be used to suppress weeds

© 2012 Eugene Brennan

Comments

PATRICIA DINIZ CATTA PRETA on October 25, 2018:

That's great! Very helpful and easy to understand even for English learners! Thanks