The Garden Tools, Essentials, and Must-Haves Every Gardener Should Own
At the end of the day, having a shed (or even just a bucket) full of top-notch gardening tools won’t make or break your garden, but it does make weeding, seeding, fertilizing, and more a whole lot easier, especially if you actually enjoy using your gardening equipment. You’ll still need to give those greens a lot of TLC—without that, even the hardiest plant won’t thrive.
With a little effort, some steady attention, and the help of trusty garden tools, though, you’ll be able to nurture your greenspace into whatever you want it to be, whether that’s a vertical garden or an edible one. Just don’t get caught up in the rat race of gardening tools: Having great tools is important, yes, but that doesn’t mean you need the latest and greatest, or that you need to purchase a whole new set of tools every season.
If you’ve had the same long-handed shovel for years and it’s doing just fine, stick with it for as long as you can. (If it ain’t broke, right?) But if you’re just starting out in the world of plant care, stocking up on helpful essentials—think a hardy hose, an unbreakable trowel, and a sturdy set of gloves—might mean the difference between a successful foray and one that’s quickly abandoned. With a little investment in some solid garden tools, you’ll be enjoying blooms and fresh veggies or herbs in a snap.
Tips for Buying and Storing
Try tools on for size. You can’t dig a hole in the aisle at Home Depot, but you should spend time handling tools, mimicking the actions you perform in the garden. If the tool feels too heavy, you risk injury; if the handle is too long or too big, it won’t be comfortable. Look for D-shape handles on short-shafted tools, such as shovels and digging forks: They are easier on the wrists. If you buy online, make sure tools are returnable.
Opt for tools with wood or coated-metal handles. These are strong but not too heavy. Ash and hickory are the most durable woods. Avoid Douglas fir, which is used for lesser-quality tools, and painted handles (paint is often used to disguise inferior wood). The closer and tighter the grain, the stronger the wood. Manufacturers make many confusing claims about quality, but the words “single forged,” “solid socket,” “carbon steel,” “stainless steel,” “tempered,” and “epoxy coated” are all indicators of well-made tools. Tubular-steel and fiber-glass handles, used on professional tools, are generally too heavy and expensive for use by anyone but professional landscapers.
Store tools properly. Long-handled tools should be hung neatly on a peg rack, which will protect edges from dulling. Short-handled tools can be stored in a garden bag that travels with you as you work.
Best Hand Tools
Hand rake: For picking up piles of leaves and garden trash and gently removing debris from under and around plants without damaging roots or crowns. Choose one in bright colors to help you keep it in sight as you work.
Water breaker: For gently irrigating new plantings or soaking established ones.
Japanese gardener's knife (or hori-hori): This favorite of many professionals does five jobs well. Use it instead of a trowel for digging, planting bulbs, and weeding. The saw blade cuts roots and divides small perennials. The pointed end is a crevice tool.
Shears: For trimming grass around tree trunks and shrubs; edging beds and paths; and cutting back ornamental grasses and clumps of perennials.
Scissors: For deadheading (removing dead flowers); cutting soft-stemmed plants, such as herbs; pruning small or delicate plants; snipping twine; and thinning perennials. For ease of use, look for one with a spring action.
Hand pruner: For cutting branches less than ¾-inch thick; cutting back clumps of perennials; cutting larger flowers; and scoring and slicing root balls before planting.
Hand weeder: The thin, sharp blade removes shallow-rooted weeds; the long handle lets you reach far into beds.
Best Long-Handled Tools
From left to right:
Long-handled pruner: For cutting branches more than ¾ inch thick. Dramm Telescoping lopper (To buy: $39; amazon.com) is lightweight and adjusts easily from 24 inches to 31 inches for greater reach.
Round-headed shovel: For digging holes to plant trees and shrubs and moving loose materials, such as soil, gravel, sand, and compost. This A.M. Leonard Razorback shovel (To buy: $38; amleo.com) has a comfortable footrest.
Transplant spade: For digging holes in confined areas of a densely planted bed. To buy: Lee Valley Tools Steel-Handled Transplant Spade, $47; leevalley.com.
Bow rake: For leveling soil for planting; spreading mulch, gravel, sand, and compost, and removing heavy debris. To buy: A.M. Leonard Bow Rake, $53; amleo.com.
Digging fork: For turning and cultivating unbroken soil, mixing amendments into soil, breaking up clods, and lifting bulbs and perennials for transplanting and dividing. To buy: Lee Valley Tools Steel-Handled Digging Fork, $47; leevalley.com.
Leaf rake: For raking leaves, twigs, grass clippings, and other light debris from lawns. To buy: Available at garden centers, about $15.
Protect Your Hands
Garden gloves are as essential a gardening tool as a shovel or a rake. It may seem extravagant, but owning three pairs will make a multitude of tasks easier. (Your cuticles will thank you, too.)
Washable synthetic gloves: For general maintenance, such as deadheading, weeding in dry soil, and handling seeds. The thin fabric and snug fit allow your fingers maximum dexterity.
Latex-coated cotton gloves: For dirty, wet jobs, like picking up leaves or planting shrubs, and for working with thorny plants (the latex coating is puncture-resistant).
Heavy-duty leather gloves: For tough jobs, like digging holes, clearing brush, and carrying firewood.
Arm protectors: Consider elasticized sleeves if you often prune brambly shrubs.
Best Light Work Gloves
Womanswork Weeding Gloves
Made of thin rubber and breathable nylon (your hands won’t sweat), these offer ultimate tactility, so you can grasp even tiny, hard-to-get weeds. Available in three colors; machine washable.
To buy: $18 for three pairs; womanswork.com.
Best Watering Can
Felco Ergonomic Premium #8
The last pair you’ll ever buy. This expert stainless clipper has a divot to whisk away sap, rubber bumpers to absorb shock, and a notch for cutting wire. All parts are replaceable.
To buy: From $52; amleo.com.
Sneeboer Raised Bed Cultivator
Hand forged in the Netherlands, this three-tined classic, which is long enough to reach under shrubs, makes turning soil, mixing in fertilizer, and unearthing big weeds a pleasure.
To buy: $54; gardentoolcompany.com.
Best Border Spade
Lee Valley Tools Border Spade
A stainless-steel blade and seamless construction (the head will never jiggle) guarantee that this digger is in it for the long haul. Great for edging, uprooting, and making holes.
To buy: $43; leevalley.com.
Coil Garden Hose
Compact when not in use, this lightweight coiled hose can extend up to fifty feet to reach all corners of the yard.
To buy: $54; shopterrain.com.
Sophie Conran Hand Fork
This ergonomic hand fork will help any gardener till her soil with ease. Beautiful in design, this functional tool is also rust-resistant.
To buy: $30; williams-sonoma.com.
Women’s Gardeners Gloves
These supple goatskin gloves mold to the gardener’s hand while providing protection from thorny branches.
To buy: $45; goop.com.
Gardener’s Tool Seat
Stash hand tools in the pockets of this sturdy gardening bench or remove the tool bag completely to keep the seat separate from the storage spot.
To buy: $36; uncommongoods.com.