Gardening Tool Guide

Gardening is pleasurable hard work, made easier by using the appropriate tools. If you care for them properly, they should last a lifetime. When purchasing tools, always choose quality over quantity.

Look for ergonomic tools that are designed to spare backs, shoulders, and wrists. Space-age materials make tools lighter, more balanced, and easier to grip and use without developing calluses. Look for tools with features such as replaceable parts, easy cleaning, rustproof metal parts, and a hole in handles so you can hang the tool on a peg. Features such as swivel handles, handle bumpers, and ratchet action will enhance your comfort and the performance of the tool.

Check out the grips in the store before you buy; make sure they will be comfortable after repeated use. Good pruners, for example, come in different sizes to fit your grip, you want ones with handles that don’t open wider than your hand.

Planting and Carrying

  • Shovel. A garden shovel typically has a dished (concave) blade that is rounded or mildly tapered at the tip. Most shovels are long-handled, although you can buy them with short handles, too. Because the blade is canted at an angle to the handle for greater leverage, a shovel is ideal for attacking piles of soil, sand, and other materials you need to load or move.
  • Garden spade. A spade is short-handled and has a flat, squared-off blade. It is ideal for edging beds, digging planting holes, slicing under sod, and working soil amendments into the garden. In a pinch you can even use a spade to chop ice on walks. Its versatility makes it a staple in the tool shed.
  • Trowel. The basic hand tool for digging, a trowel is indispensable for planting bulbs, seedlings, and other small plants in a garden bed. Trowels are available with sturdy handles and narrow or wide cupped metal blades with tapered tips. Different sizes, widths and lengths suit different planting jobs.
  • Wheelbarrows, carts, wagons. A cart or wheelbarrow is indispensable for moving plants, clippings, topsoil, and other heavy materials across your yard. Some features to consider: Two-wheeled carts should be stable and have high sides for large, bulky loads. Some two-wheeled carts with pneumatic tires can support up to 500 pounds. The smaller, nimbler wheelbarrow available in one- or two-wheel models is easier to maneuver around small spaces.

Tools for Working the Soil

  • Hoe. The simplest hoe is basically a straight-edged, square blade attached at a right angle to a long wooden handle. It’s useful for chopping clumps of soil and scraping the soil surface to cut off sprouting weeds. When tilted at an angle, the corner of the blade traces neat planting furrows in prepared soil. Hoe handle length is important, it should come up to nose height. Hold the hoe upright and use only your hands and forearms to move it forward and backward. This means no bending and no backache! There are many different types of hoes. A swan hoe has a curved neck. A diamond hoe has a head that is diamond-shaped, perfect for pulling weeds from between plants.
  • Hand weeder. This tool is basically a miniature hoe. The short handle at the end of a flat, straight-edged blade allows you to maneuver between plants in a bed. The blade may be square or triangular and mounted at various angles for flexibility. Position the blade on the soil and draw it toward you to cut off weeds at or just below the soil level. Or turn the blade upward, so its corner digs deeper to dislodge stones or pry out larger weeds.
  • Garden fork. Also known as a spading fork, the four straight, sturdy steel tines of a garden fork are good for turning and aerating the soil. Use this tool to break up chunks of soil and to work in organic matter, fertilizer, and other amendments. A garden fork copes easily with occasional buried roots or rocks and comes in handy for dividing clumps of perennials.
  • Steel rake. Also called a garden rake, this tool features 12 or 14 short steel tines mounted on a sturdy steel bridge at the end of a long handle. Use a steel rake to dress and smooth out prepared soil in a planting bed. The tines simultaneously break up small clods of soil and corral stones and debris. Use a flathead style to level the soil for planting. Flip the rake over so its bridge scrapes along the surface of the soil.
  • Flexible rake. The business end of this type of rake, sometimes called a lawn or leaf rake, is a fan of flat, flexible tines. Typically bent at their tips, the tines are made of lengths of metal, bamboo, plastic, or even rubber in a variety of styles. The tines are attached to a long handle for easy control. Use a flexible rake to gather light debris that is spread out on beds, lawns, and walks, and to rake up leaves.

Tools for Watering

  • Watering can. Available in a variety of materials from brass to plastic, this tool retains its classic form: a reservoir that holds water is flanked with a bowed handle on one side and a long spout capped with a sprinkler head, or rose, on the other. Choose a can that feels balanced when full and holds a generous amount of water without straining your arms as you carry it.
  • Hose. A hose is indispensable for maintaining plants in any yard or garden larger than a few square feet. Buy the best hose your budget will allow. Choose a rubber or vinyl hose constructed of several layers of mesh and with sturdy connectors to ensure long life.
  • Hose attachments. A nozzle which used to be made of brass and now comes in a variety of materials, sizes, and shapes is essential to control the stream of water coming out of the hose. A watering wand, a long tube extension with a sprinkler head at the tip, converts the hose to a long-distance watering can. Use it to water containers, hanging pots, and beds. The wand should have a shutoff at its connection to the hose to prevent wasting water. Another key tool is a sprinkler, which you attach to the hose and place on the ground. It oscillates or rotates to deliver water to beds and lawns. The best sprinklers have timers and adjustments for the width and direction of the stream.
  • Sprayers. Fertilizers, tonics, fungicides, insecticidal soaps, and many other products are water-soluble and most effective if sprayed on plant foliage. Although many are packaged ready-to-use in spray bottles, they are more economical if you buy them in concentrated form that you mix in water. Sprayers that attach to the hose and dilute automatically are convenient. You might want to have a one- or two-gallon pump sprayer for small jobs. Larger backpack units are useful for spraying fertilizer over broader areas such as lawns.

Pruning Tools

You need to prune trees and shrubs to keep them healthy. You might also occasionally need to clip rubbing branches, remove an injured or inconvenient tree limb, and perform general grooming throughout your landscape. Also check other articles – on the main page.

There are several types of pruners:

  • Hand pruner (bypass type). Also known as secateurs, this pruner works one-handed. Its two steel blades bypass each other the top, sharpened blade slices through twigs and stems up to 3/4 inch thick. Some models have soft-grip or swivel handles.
  • Hand pruner (anvil type). Its sharpened top blade cuts by pressing twigs and stems against the thicker lower blade in a crushing, rather than slicing, action. Although this type isn’t as versatile and maneuverable as a bypass pruner, it’s more stable. And it requires less wrist and hand strength to operate.
  • Ratchet pruner. This type of pruner, although touted to cut almost anything, is best used on twigs and stems less than 1/2 inch thick. It was designed for people who lack the hand strength to operate other types of pruners. The racheting action allows you to keep squeezing the handles until the blades cut through the stem.
  • Hedge shears. This long-handled tool with 8- to 10-inch-long carbon steel blades cuts twigs and branches up to 1/2 inch thick. Use it to clip hedges and cut back ornamental grasses.
  • Loppers. Essentially long-handled pruners, loppers require two hands to use. Available with bypass or anvil blades, they cut small branches and stems as thick as your thumb. They also extend your reach and give you improved cutting leverage.
  • Powered hedge clippers. Various models have 18- to 24-inch-long blades the longer ones typically on heavy-duty models with moveable cutting teeth. Some feature double blades that move in opposite directions to cut twiggy hedges more efficiently. The motor gets its power from an electrical cord or a portable battery pack.

Pruning Saws

  • Long-handled pruning saw. This 14- to 16-foot-long tool is ideal for pruning low-hanging tree branches up to 1-1/2 inches thick. It typically has telescoping or extension handles made of wood or fiberglass. The very sharp steel saw at the tip easily slips between foliage-covered branches.
  • Compact pruning saw. The extremely sharp teeth on this compact, wooden-handled saw make quick work of medium-sized stems and branches. Those models that allow the blade to fold into the handle are equipped with a latch to prevent it from folding while you’re using it.
  • Bow pruning saw. The light weight of this saw makes it useful for cutting fallen branches. Its thin, toothed blade is attached at each end to a curved metal handle with a grip at one end. It quickly cuts any log that’s no thicker than the length of the replaceable blade.
  • Straight pruning saw. Once the workhorse for cutting major limbs, this straight-edged saw has been eclipsed by the chainsaw. But it still comes in handy when you don’t want to get out the chainsaw to prune one or two large limbs. Some models offer a choice of coarse teeth on one edge, fine teeth on the other.
  • Chainsaw. Chainsaws cut with teeth linked together on a chain that’s propelled around a grooved guide bar. They are powered by either a gasoline engine or electric motor at speeds up to 45 mph. Because chainsaws are extremely dangerous, manufacturers go to great lengths to develop and equip them with many safety features. Never remove or disable chainbreaks, anti-kickback chain links, tip guards, or throttle interlocks, even if they seem to reduce efficiency.

Accessories for Safety and Comfort

  • Safety glasses. Choose wrap-around, sturdy plastic lenses to protect eyes from flying objects while mowing, sawing, chopping, or tilling. Some models are designed to fit over prescription eyeglasses. Others may be tinted for work in the sun or may be attached to a hard hat for construction or arbor work. Be sure they fit snugly over your ears to prevent slipping.
  • Gloves. Different types of gloves protect hands from different injuries. Have several pairs available for yard-care tasks. Choose leather or cloth gloves to avoid blisters from repetitive tasks such as sawing, pruning, and shoveling. Wide-cuffed or long gloves coated with nitrile or plastic protect wrists and forearms when you’re working with thorny plants. Latex or rubber gloves protect against soil-borne fungi that cause dermatitis. Check the fit by making a fist, then feel for finger fit at the tips of the glove fingers.
  • Kneelers and seats. Kneelers of various kinds cushion your contact with the hard ground. Those that have a metal frame with tall side bars also help you stand up afterward. Low gardening seats-either on metal frames or on wheeled tool carts-also ease back and knee strain. Some knee pads strap on over pants to protect your knees and keep your pants clean.
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