Essential Gardening Tools for Beginners and How to Pick Them

Updated on May 23, 2018
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Eugene is an avid gardener and has been passionate about growing things for nearly 40 years. He also has a keen interest in DIY.

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Essential Maintenance in Your Garden During the Summer

Summer has arrived and everything is growing at full pace, so now's a good time to stock up on tools and get stuck into work in the garden!

What Tools to Buy for Gardening?

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. Only a couple are essential, so you can just buy the others as you need them:

  • Hand trowel (planter)
  • Watering can
  • Spade
  • Rake
  • Garden shears (hedge clippers)
  • Wheel barrow
  • Shovel
  • Secateurs (pruning shears)
  • Hoe
  • Hand weeding tool
  • Axe, pick axe and hatchet
  • Step ladder
  • Garden hose
  • Sprayer
  • Lopping shears
  • Bow saw and pruning saw
  • Lawn mower
  • Weedeater (string trimmer or strimmer)
  • Hedge cutter
  • Blower
  • Chipper shredder


What Basic Tools do I Need?

If you don't have a garden and can only grow in pots and planters, a hand trowel and sweeping brush for cleaning up mess are probably the only garden tools you'll need. You can get away with a plastic bottle, kettle or jug for watering, but a small watering can is useful.
If you have a proper garden with flower beds, shrubs and trees, a spade for digging, hedge cutters for trimming and rake for gathering up leaves and clippings are practically essential.

1. Hand Trowel (planter)

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

Steel garden trowel
Steel garden trowel | Source

2. Watering Can

What's it for?

You can get away with using bucket, but a watering can will be needed for watering window boxes, pots etc. A watering with the rose removed also comes in useful for rinsing an area you may have cleaned such as concrete or garden seating. It can also be used as a portable water source for refilling small hand sprayers.

Things to consider:

The capacity is normally 2 gallons or 9 litres. 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.

2 gallon watering can
2 gallon watering can | Source
Smaller capacity can, useful for watering hanging baskets
Smaller capacity can, useful for watering hanging baskets | Source

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 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.
Many garden tools are now available with fibreglass/plastic handles which unlike wood don't become rotten, infested by woodworm or splinter.

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. Don't allow the grinding disk to rest for too long at any spot on the blade as this can cause the steel to lose its temper (That's where the expression came from). An angle grinder whose speed can be set low is ideal. 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!

Long and short handled spades
Long and short handled spades | Source

4. Garden Shears (Hedge Clippers or Trimmer)

What's it for?

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

Things to consider:

Try to buy a 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.

Hedge shears/trimmers
Hedge shears/trimmers | Source

5. Rake

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

Various types of rakes
Various types of rakes | Source

Tools Which 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. A wheelbarrow is pretty much essential for moving large amounts of soil, hedge clippings and compost from A to B.

6. Wheel Barrow

What's it for?

For shifting large quantities of stuff when you get fed up using a bucket or garbage bags.

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.

Galvanized wheel barrow
Galvanized wheel barrow | Source

7. 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.

Various types of shovels
Various types of shovels | Source

8. 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 bypas secateurs is like a scissors or hedge shears, a cutting blades slide by a blunt 'blade' called a hook. An anvil shears 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 hard wood, the branch is less likely to pivot.

Secateurs
Secateurs | Source

9. Hoe

This has a light blade and handle and is used for severing top growth on weeds in beds and on stone drive ways. 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 | Source

10. Fork

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 wheel barrow.

Garden fork
Garden fork | Source

11. Hand Weeding Tool

There are various types available. Usually they have prongs which allow you to loosen the dirt around the root and pry it up out of the ground.

12. Axe, Pick Axe and Hatchet

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

Splitting axe
Splitting axe | Source

13. Step Ladder

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

14. Garden Hose

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. While you're at it, 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.

15. Sprayer

A 1 gallon or 5 liter sprayer is necessary for treating weeds on lawns, around trees and on gravel driveways. 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 30 liters)


16. 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 loppers allows you to continuously pump the handles to cut through a branch.


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

17. Bow Saw or Pruning Saw

For cutting branches greater than 1 1/2 inches

Bow saw
Bow saw | Source

18. Lawn Mower

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. 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.

See hub:

Choosing and Buying a Lawn Mower


19. String Trimmer

Also known as a trimmer, strimmer, weed whacker and weedeater. You can cut grass along pavements, kerbs, tree trunks and hedges with these. You can also edge flower beds. See link:

How to Use a String Trimmer Properly

Gas and electric trimmers
Gas and electric trimmers | Source

20. Powered Hedge Cutter

Electric corded or battery cordless versions for light growth, gas powered for heavy growth. Obviously the corded version has to be used with care to avoid cutting the cable.

Gas powered hedge cutter/trimmer
Gas powered hedge cutter/trimmer | Source

21. Blower

Again electric and gas versions are available. 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.

Gas leaf blowers
Gas leaf blowers | Source

22. Chipper / Shredder

A chipper / shredder is useful for dealing with branches. 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 | Source
Chipped branches can be used to suppress weeds
Chipped branches can be used to suppress weeds | Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Eugene Brennan

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