The only garden tools you absolutely need to get the job done.


“What tools should I get for gardening?” It’s a question I get just about every time I give a gardening lecture.

I’ve got a lot of gardening tools. Hand rakes, and four of five different shovels and spades, several types of pruners, a couple of pruning saws, as well as a bow crosscut, three or four hoes, some long- and short- handle weeders, dibbles, a hori-hori knife, a ton of hand tools, and a plethora of other instruments.

Interestingly, I rarely use them. For my vegetable gardening, I generally use only seven tools.

Hoe – I use a Japanese Draw hoe for weeds, to break up clods when I add soil to my raised beds, and to help create rows. It’s just the right size for me, and, because of its design, I can even use it with one hand.

Rake – I use a plain garden bow rake. It’s useful for spreading out soil and compost on my beds, and really helps in levelling beds. For fine leveling, I just turn the rake upside down with the tines sticking upward and drag the top of the rake across the soil. I also use my rake to mark rows for beans and other vegetables.

Hand trowel –  My bend-proof garden trowel works well for digging holes for transplants, for patting down soil or adding soil or compost over seeds. It’s stainless steel and rust resistant, and I don’t have to worry about it bending (which has happened to less well-built trowels more than once. There are several makers who carry bend-proof trowels, so check them out and decide which is best for you.

Wagon – I grew tired of rolling an unwieldy wheelbarrow around the garden, especially when it was full of soil or other heavy materials. So, I splurged and bought myself a nice little wagon. It’s made of strong plastic, can hold up to 300+ pounds, and I can pull it along – a lot easier than pushing a one-wheel wheelbarrow. The wagon also has a lever that allows me to dump the contents – a great boon when unloading heavy compost.

Gloves I have two sets of gloves. The nitrile pair is for summer use, and they last me for about one season. The other is more heavy-duty and somewhat insulated which I use for winter work.

Pocket knife – I always carry my Kershaw pocket knife. As a master gardener, I never know when I will get called out to check someone’s plants, and I can use my trusty knife to do a little soil investigation. It’s great for cutting twine, perhaps cutting small soil roots, prying seedlings out of pots and scoring rootbound seedlings.

My pruners – I have a set of Felco pruners, which are over 10 years old. Whenever I work in the yard, I always carry them in their holster attached to my belt. There are always situations that come up where my Felcos will be useful. And I keep them sharpened and well-cared for. I swear by my Felcos. And they offer right and left handed pruners…something us lefties see very seldom.

That’s about it. I won’t say that I never use my trenching shovel, because I do need it on occasion. Or my scoop shovel that comes in handy unloading a yard of compost from my pickup.  Very occasionally, I will use one of my pruning saws to trim an errant shoot from my vitex or redbud. But those are really exceptions to the rule.

If you love buying tools, go ahead. But if you want to keep things simple, or you’re working on a tight budget, the seven things I mentioned are really the only tools you absolutely need to have a bountiful  garden (vegetable or ornamental).

One word of advice: clean your tools and put them out of the weather after you use them. I wash mine with water making sure all the dirt and grime is off the tool. Then, I use rubbing alcohol and an old rag to sterilize them. I then coat them with a fine film of oil. My pruners and knife usually need sharpening, so I make sure I sharpen them, sterilize them and use a little drop of oil to keep them from rusting. Take care of your tools and they will last a long, long time.

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