This is the first post of a series on garden tools. First we’ll look at what garden tools I think are a good starting point for someone just getting into gardening. Future posts will look at more specialized tools, how to maintain your tools and how to use them most efficiently.
Please note that this post contains affiliate links to Amazon.ca – I make a small commission if you purchase tools using these links so thanks in advance if you decide to do so. While some of these tools are not exactly what I own they are comparable in function. But see my note at the end of the post if you can’t afford to buy new tools.
Gardening like so many other hobbies can evolve into a storage shed or garage full of every imaginable tool. Tool catalogs and gardening magazines have pages and pages of tools that promise to make gardening easier. However often these sit collecting dust and rusting away as they end up not being that useful.
So what tools do you really need?
Note that the numbers in front of the tool name correspond to the number in the lead photo above.
1. Trowel: Used for digging holes for planting seeds and transplants, moving soil around and measuring distances between plants and depth of holes. If your trowel doesn’t have measurements engraved on it like the one I own or this one, then at least measure the length of the head, note it down on the handle with a permanent marker and then you can use that as a rough measurement.
2. Weeder: Used for digging up dandelions or other weeds with large taproots. There are lots of different ones on the market, some work better than others. I really like this one (Lee Valley is the only one that seems to have it) as it is strong, pointy and has serrated edges which helps get into hard ground better. Of course you could just use your trowel for weeding but mine is bent from trying to dig out dandelions and I find it never goes deep enough and is too wide.
3. Garden gloves: While many gardeners including myself prefer to work without gloves for some tasks, there are times when you need a decent pair of gloves. Cutting raspberry or rose bushes without gloves is a prickly affair. And in winter or on those cool days in spring or fall a pair of gloves makes gardening a bit more bearable as it keeps your hands warmer. I’ve been happy with the Atlas line of gloves and they have many kinds, including insulated ones for winter. If you really don’t like getting your hands messy you might want to also consider adding a pair of muck gloves – especially useful if you have a pond or two like I have.
4. Pruners: Yes, they are also called secateurs. A good pair kept sharp and clean will cut through fairly thick branches but also can be used to trim delicate branches and even harvest certain vegetables (just make sure they were not used previously to cut any poisonous plants without a good washing). Just don’t try to cut something that is too thick or cut wire or other hard materials that can damage the blade. Buy a pruner where you can replace the blade.
5. Rake: Very useful for smoothing out soil before planting after you have used your hoe or shovel to loosen up and weed. You can either use it tines down or up. A basic tool that lasts forever if you take care of it.
6. Hoe: The garden tool most liked by Santa Claus (“Hoe, Hoe, Hoe!”). But seriously if you need to loosen up soil between rows of plants and weed quickly this is a must have. Having the back side as a two prong cultivator is handy but you need to be careful then not to damage your plants with the side that is up. Keep it sharp and it will slice through annual weeds easily just below the surface of the soil. This type of hoe is a personal preference – there are some Asian hoes a lot of gardeners love but they can be quite pricy.
7. Long handled shovel: While you might be able to get away with just the trowel, for digging any deeper holes, digging up large vegetable plants such as parsnips, digging up bushes and moving larger amounts of soil or compost a large shovel will make your job much easier. Just be careful as a shovelful of heavy clay soil can weigh a lot and you can easily strain your back if you don’t lift properly. I prefer having both a pointed shovel and a rectangular spade, the latter being great for scraping up soil from pavement or cutting into sod.
8. Water hose: If you have a small garden or just have containers you can probably skip this purchase and just use a watering can. But if you have garden beds or lots of containers, lugging around heavy watering cans is going to get tiring very quickly. Even if you have an underground sprinkler system or drip irrigation system like I have, a hose is handy for watering outside of the system’s schedule. Buy a good one and make sure it is long enough to reach everywhere – cheap out and you’ll need to replace it soon as it won’t hold up to the water pressure. You also will need some nozzles – a set like this one is a good idea.
9. Watering can: You might be able to get away with just the hose but it requires having the right nozzle and fine control over the water volume. And if you have a second floor deck like I have getting the hose up there can be a hassle. I have three watering cans, but really only use the largest one and smallest one. I mix in liquid fertilizer at least once a week when I water my pots to keep the nutrient levels up. Good exercise too having to move from the hose bib or rainwater barrel to the garden with a full watering can.
10. Garden Trugs: With all of these tools that you can use to dig up, cut and weed you will also need something to carry the waste to your compost or your municipal garden waste bin. These Garden Trugs are very handy for that purpose – they are easily washed, durable, flexible so you can pour things out without making (too much) of a mess and they come in bright colours that you can’t lose in the garden. However if you have a limited budget to spend on your garden tools, any container works for collecting debris – just reuse something that you would otherwise recycle such as a cardboard box or a large shopping bag.
While it looks like you might have to spend a bit of money to outfit your garden tool shed with enough tools to get started, you might want to first check out garage sales, estate sales, your local online classifieds and friends that might be upgrading their tools or have duplicates before you run out to the garden centre or home centre or order stuff online. Just ensure the tools are in good working condition – tools that are excessively rusty usually indicate that the owner wasn’t careful with them.
So what tools have I left out? Quite a bit actually going by what is sold in a garden centre, home centre and in garden tool catalogs. At some point maybe you will need spiked sandals to aerate your lawn, a sod lifter when you get tired of tromping all over your lawn with the spiked sandals, and a seed spreader when you change your mind about getting rid of the lawn! But don’t buy it now until you are sure you need it and need it often enough. For one-off use you may want to borrow from a fellow gardener or rent.
Do you have any other tools not in the list above that you use all the time and cannot do without? Please share by leaving a comment below.
The next post in the series is 15 Special Tools That You Might Need