Last Updated on June 26, 2021 by masudalam
To the inexperienced gardener, the process of growing something seems straightforward enough: dig holes and plant stuff with any assortment of common garden tools. On the other hand any experienced gardener, however, will tell you that creating and maintaining a flourishing garden requires some level of education.
The key to their success?
Knowing everything they need about the common gardening tools and their uses. Equipped with the proper knowledge, abundant gardens are within everyone’s grasp. This article will cover common gardening tools, what their proper uses are, which tools are essential, and which tools you could get by without.
For the sake of clarity, it is important to note that most of the gardening tools discussed below are dripping with choices – size, shape, material, power – the list goes on. This article focuses solely on must have gardening tools that are operated manually and that are “generically” constructed. These basic, off-the-rack gardening tools are perfectly adequate for any gardening task.
If you are a consumer who prefers to research the pros and cons of each tool’s element before you buy, you will be best served seeking that information through your own means. Those specifications are far too advanced for the scope of this article.
One final piece of important information to note before we dig into the specifics of common gardening tools and how they’re used: proper tool care and storage is non-negotiable.
- Dirty tools spread infections (including bacteria, blight, rot, and others) as well as infestation (such as aphids, spider mites, flies, gnats, slugs, and others).
- Dull tools wil make the job more much difficult than it needs to be, and that can be dangerous for you as a gardener.
Here’s how: dull tools require more force, which greatly increases your risk of a slipping tool. Slipping tools have the possibility of sending you to the emergency room, should the slip be just right. Finally, your required gardening tools should never be stored outside. Improper storage accelerates the deterioration of your tools, ultimately meaning you either have to spend more time maintaining them, risk injury by using dull tools, or replace them sooner than you may have needed to.
Here are the top 15 must have gardening tools and their uses:
1. Gardening Gloves
If you don’t have the proper personal protective equipment, namely gloves, forget about peaceful gardening. Not only do gloves help keep your hands and nails clean and dry, but they also protect against blisters, calluses, cuts and scrapes (new and old, which can also result in infection), and contact with dangerous chemicals or poisonous insects.
There are a number of hazards to the hands present in the garden. Frankly, it’s silly and risky to garden without gloves. There are a number of choices available – far too many to discuss here. Make your selection based on the requirements of your project.
2. Pruning Shears
Among all the gardening tools, pruning shears are arguably the most important tool in the garden. This particular tool goes by a number of names, including hand pruners, gardening shears, pruning scissors, or garden clippers.
These shears, in essence, are gardening scissors and have the advantage of being lightweight, which helps to reduce muscular strain over long periods of gardening. Pruning shears are considered appropriate for any plant material ¾ of inch in diameter or smaller. Think pencil-sized and thinner, with the primary objective of cutting away unnecessary or unwanted, dead, or diseased growth, either for aesthetics, plant health, or safety.
Pruning shears are also used to stimulate growth and to prepare plants to be transplanted, specifically with the intention of boosting yield. Different pruning styles produce a variety of results, and those variations are far too broad for the scope of this article.
This tool is important to keep clean sharp for all of the reasons mentioned above, but it is important to note that dirty, dull blades will crush instead of cut, which will cause damage to your living plants, in turn creating an environment ripe for infestation.
Think of loppers as basically hand pruners, but with longer handles. By design, this tool serves all the same purposes of hand shears on a larger scale, which means the tool is designed for larger cutting jobs. They are appropriate for any plant matter 1 inch in diameter or smaller
because of the extended handles, they provide a good deal of additional leverage for almost no extra effort. The added length also allows easier access to trim in hard-to-reach places.
Again, different types of loppers serve different purposes and the specificity is larger than the scope of this article. It is important to note that proper placement and use of the blade is required for effective use. This information is easy to learn and a lack of knowledge can cause more harm than good.
Keeping loppers clean and sharp is a must; dirty, dull blades will crush instead of cut.
Loppers come with a couple of disadvantages. Because of their size, they are naturally heavier and two hands are always required for operation, which can drastically increase the rate at which the operator fatigues.
4. Garden Fork
The garden fork’s main purpose is to loosen, lift, and turn soil. This process is helpful for breaking new ground as well as caring for existing greenery.
Perhaps the most curious of all digging tools, a garden fork is exactly as it sounds: a gardening tool that looks like a fork. The garden fork is known by quite a few names – spading fork, digging fork – and has too many variations.
The tines on the garden fork are especially useful for raking up stones and weeds, as well as breaking up dirt clods, especially in compacted, clay, or rocky beds. These tools are also quite effective at unearthing plants or crops with large, tough root structures, whether they need to be transplanted, divided, or discarded.
If you’re looking for a multi-purpose tool, a garden fork can double as a “spade” for moving dirt while digging; however, it is typically used to loosen soil before moving in with the spade. And, because it typically has a short handle, the potential for back pain exists if the garden fork is used as a shovel for too long.
5. Hand Trowel
The simplest way to describe a hand trowel is as a small, hand-held shovel. And, repeating a theme you’ve probably already picked up, like most common gardening tools, there is a large variety of trowels.
Because of the wide variety of hand trowels available, I will specify that I am discussing the traditional hand trowel.
This tool is designed for digging small holes, (places to plant bulbs or other small plants), weeding (removes the root systems), and transferring dirt or transplanting smaller plants.
Since hand trowels really get down in the nitty-gritty, they can transfer a vast number of infections and infestations, including but not limited to insect larvae, fungal spores, and infected or diseased plant matter. Most of these ailments take the firmest root in the soil, so it is absolutely essential to keep hand trowels clean.
6. Garden Spade
Spades are most often used for digging, loosening ground, breaking up, and moving soil or plants.
Often referred to, incorrectly, as a shovel, a spade can be identified by a flat blade with a square-shaped edge. Spades are often narrow and pointed with a blade that makes a bowl of sorts.
They are ideal for larger projects, such as transplanting, removing tree stumps, and trenching. Both spades and shovels are a gardeners last line of defense among common tools for moving a substantial amount of dirt.
As an added bonus, this tool is highly effective at cleanly slicing, dividing, and dicing, which can be useful for sod, flowerbeds, and plant matter disposal. The flat blade is also ideal for edging, helping to give everything a clean, finished look.
Most commonly referred to as, “A broom for outside use,” rakes serve a variety of purposes depending on their design. The following pertains to gardening rakes only, which are also known as bow rakes, level head rakes, or iron rakes.
You can identify this type of rake by the tines, which are typically short and parallel to one another, perpendicular to the handle, and usually constructed with strong materials such as metal.
They are also ideal for removing dead plant matter and debris without damaging the underlying plants, soil, or root system. Rakes are especially important for the health of your garden – failure to remove debris prevents plants from receiving water, nutrients, and healthy air flow. These left-behind debris creates an environment ripe for disease and infestation.
Rakes are also excellent multi-use tools. They turn up soil, break up hardened clumps, aid with stone removal, tamp soil when a project is completed, and mix fertilizer or compost. They are useful tools for removing weeds from ponds and fountains, too, should those features make it to your greenspace.
A hoe can be a useful tool in the garden, but most of their utility can be executed with other, essential gardening tools. A hoe simply makes the tasks that it was designed for easier than using a different tool to complete a hoe’s task.
Hoes are particular effective for shaping (piling soil around the base of a plant, also known as hilling), digging trenches for planting seeds or bulbs, clearing soil, removing weeds, berming, and harvesting root crops. They are ideal for large tasks such as entire gardens (spring weeds, anyone?), root removal, and planting new or crops or digging new irrigation trenches.
Keeping with the theme of healthy gardens, keep your hoes clean – dirty blades dull faster and will require sharpening sooner. And, because they, too, get into the nitty-gritty, can easily spread infection and infestation.
9. Garden Hose with Adjustable Nozzle
The adjustable nozzle on the garden hose helps to regulate water pressure to fit plants’ and soils’ specific needs. The adjustable nozzle also has the added bonus of stopping water flow without having to turn it off at the source. The adjustable nozzle is mostly a tool of convenience, but an essential tool for those seeking efficiency and effectiveness in their gardens, both in terms of time and bodily preservation!
10. Watering Can
I’ll assume most of you are familiar with watering cans, being portable containers used to water plants by hand. There is a large variety of designs, sizes, and materials, all designed for plants’ specific needs. The Internet has a wide variety of resources available to anyone looking to find the right fit for their needs.
Watering cans are used for precise watering in small-scale projects and are not typically intended for large-scale projects due to time and labor intensiveness.There are proponents of hand watering the garden, and they tend to cite benefits including quality time with your garden, an ability to identify and mitigate disease early, low up-front costs (compared to irrigation systems), and low risk of overwatering plants, which is both harmful to the plants and wasteful.
While the champions of hand watering undoubtedly make a great case, the convenience of the irrigation system is something I will never deny myself again.
Related Article: What is the Best Watering System for my Vegetable Garden?
The main use of a wheelbarrow is, “To divide the weight of the goods and the operator equally and to balance them on a single wheel,” which allows loads to be carried by a singular carrier that otherwise would require multiple trips or be impossible to move.
This is perhaps the most versatile tool a gardener could possess. There are two main sub-types or wheelbarrow- plastic or metal buckets and each serve specific purposes.
By design, the wheelbarrow eases strain and increases stamina for gardeners while moving heavy things. But gardener beware: too heavy a load is easily overbalanced in a single-wheeled barrow. Keep your loads manageable and watch for rocks and holes.
Wheelbarrows are particularly useful for moving large and heavy things such as soil, rock, mulch, compost, plants, (trees, large shrubs), mixing concrete and/or fertilizer, debris disposal like dead plant matter and weeds, and sifting specialty crops.
Re-purposing wheelbarrows is its own lengthy subject, but for the purposes of our discussion, any old wheelbarrows can be turned into planters. As an added bonus, your wheelbarrow can function as a handy tool hauler. As mentioned early in the introduction, gardening tools should never be stored outside. Storing them in the wheelbarrow makes for a convenient container when it comes time to get the tools out or to put them away.
The terms “shovel” and “spade” are typically used interchangeably, but these tools are different. Generally speaking, a shovel has a round, bowl-ish blade that comes to a point, and a spade is shaped differently (stay tuned for a description below!)
Once again, there is a huge variety of shovels available to the common gardener, but the utility behind the tool lies in the user’s ability to dig (think transplanting and trenching), lift and move materials (soil, mulch, compost), and remove unwanted material in the garden (tree stumps and other deep-rooted plants). Since the shovel is exclusively designed for moving dirt, there is a high potential of spreading infection and infestation, so be sure to keep it as clean as your other gardening tools.
13. Pruning Saw
This is a tool with a straightforward name and definition. It is most certainly still a saw, but one that is intended for trimming live plants. A pruning saw is easily identifiable by its odd shape. This tool was designed to target plants that are too big for loppers but too small for chainsaws – approximately 1½ to 5 inches in diameter. This tool is the last line of equipment before power tools come out to play.
Keeping with the theme, pruning saws come in all shapes, sizes, and materials, depending on the job you’re facing. It is also important to keep your pruning saws clean and sharp – dull saws are dangerous and cause you bodily harm in the right conditions and dirty saws, like most other dirty tools, spread infection.
Holding with the theme of variety, the weeder is another tool that comes in many shapes and sizes depending on the weed in need of removal.
A weeder is a small hand tool that is designed to remove not only weeds but their root systems as well. Effectively removing all root systems prevents the weeds from re-emerging later in the season and can finally ease the strain of hand-pulling every other week.
Each weeder targets specific root systems but they all serve the same purpose; to pull gently on the plant in order to unearth the root system instead of tugging the plant and breaking off the root. It is the breakage of the root which leads to more of the same weed popping up later, either in the same place, or, infuriatingly, 10 inches from where you pulled that weed out a couple of weeks ago.
The proper weeder allows weeds to be removed without the use of chemicals but can be arduous for large project, so I’d encourage you to run a few trials before deciding if you want to take on a fully overgrown garden by hand.
15. Lawn & Hedge Shears
Another tool with a straightforward name and purpose: to trim grass, shrubs, and other plants. A good pair of lawn shears will allow for a lawn to be cut without a mower; however, this route is massively time consuming. In moderation, lawn shears are especially effective for precision trimming in tough space, like that awkward space between the base of the railing and the staircase.
As with all cutting tools in the garden, keep them clean and sharp to prevent injury and disease.
Another set of “garden scissors” that are identifiable by their long, straight blades. By design, hedge shears cut a larger area in one stroke than any other garden tool. When used properly, this set of shears can make your job in the garden highly efficient.
You’ll pull the hedge shears out if you need to cut multiple small branches at the same time, typically up to ½ an inch in diameter per branch. The best way to conceptualize this tool is as one for giving a shrub, bush, or hedge a “haircut.”
This is truly an extraneous tool, one that is not necessary unless there are formal hedges that need maintaining; however, they can be useful for other gardening tasks. I’ve used mine to cut back perennials in the fall, which are typically cut back to the ground and for taming and deadheading soft-stemmed plants.
The most important thing to keep in mind while using hedge shears is that, so long as the branches in question are soft and/or pliable, they can be used for this task. And of course, keep the shears clean to prevent injury and infection.
Gardening tools are non-negotiable if your aim is to properly maintain a garden. Each tool has a number of sub-varieties, and each is designed for a specific function in the garden. While all gardening tools are helpful when used properly, there are some tools that can be repurposed to function similarly to some of the non-essential tools, which can be helpful for those garderenes just starting out.
Regardless of your experience or education, walking into the garden with sturdy shoes on your feet and general knowledge in your head will make figuring out where to start, how to maintain your garden, and when to let be your plants be feel like second nature.