Garden tools have evolved a lot over the years, from the digging sticks of antiquity to today's highly specialized tools. Every season brings new garden gadgets and buying them can become addictive. Before you buy the latest and greatest garden gizmo, make sure you have all the basic tool groups covered.
Even among the basic garden tools, you are bound to find a wide variety of designs and sizes - enough to cause confusion when shopping. There is a reason for so many options - using the right tool for the right job makes your work easier and more efficient. Here are some of the different tools you might find.
The shovel is the mainstay and workhorse of the garden shed:Round Point
This is a great tool for digging, lifting and throwing. The round point cuts into the soil. The rim on the top of the shovel blade is there to allow added foot pressure for digging holes. Do your feet a favor and look for one with a wider rim if you are planning on doing a lot of digging.
This is excellent for moving materials. The larger size is known as a scoop.
Spades are essentially a smaller version of the shovel with a flatter blade:Garden
Drain or Trench
This is similar to a square point shovel, great for cutting, digging, edging and lifting sod.
This has a narrow head and straighter handle for working in restricted spaces. Also used for transplanting.
Though not a garden tool, it is often found in the garden section. The serrated head is made to rip and lift roofing shingles.
Once-upon-a-time some poor soul was scratching the ground with bare hands and a light bulb came on and -- eureka, the rake was born. Today's rakes take the concept of the human hand and finger dexterity to a bigger scale. They now come in all sizes and styles:Leaf
This is for movement of leaves, grass clippings and other material. The flexible steel or poly tines do a good job of cleaning yard debris from grass. Rakes come in a wide range of sizes. A small shrub rake and a light touch works great when cleaning planting beds. Some of the super-size models can move a lot of leaves, but they will also require extra strength to pull.
Two Styles of Garden Rakes
This tool has strong tines designed for moving or removing debris or working the soil for planting. Use the top edge to level garden beds. Garden rakes come in two styles:
Flat -- has a T-shaped head that is attached directly to the handle for extra strength.
Bow -- the head is attached by two curved steel supports.
This tool is designed specifically to scratch into turf and remove thatch.
Likely to have originated from a forked tree branch, what we often call the pitchfork has its roots in agriculture. Forks are designed in different styles and with different numbers and sizes of tines, depending on the material you will be working. Forks are not a commonly owned tool, but once you own one, you will wish you had purchased one sooner:Hay
This tool has round tines and is useful for moving large amounts of large material such as compost, mulch, brush and of course, hay.
This tool has flat tines that are great for turning soil, lifting plants or bulbs and separating perennials. A spading fork is less jarring to the user than a shovel when digging in rocky soil. You can also use this tool to aerate and relieve soil compaction.
Another simple and ancient tool, the hoe is designed for weeding and light ground breaking. There are many different head sizes and shapes:Regular Garden Variety
The square or rectangular blade is at a right angle to the handle for chopping.
This tool is made more for planting than weeding. The V-shaped blade has a dual purpose. The pointed end is used to dig furrows, the open top part can be used to close the furrows.
This tool has a flat blade on one end for chopping and pointed tips on the other for pulling weeds up by the roots.
Pivots back and forth under the soil for weed cutting action. The blade cuts on the push or pull stroke.
You may find this tool in the garden section. It is basically a garden hoe with holes in it to easily mix mortar or cement products.
Cultivators are designed to scratch the soil either prior to planting or around the plants while growing. They are available with either long handles or as hand tools.
For heavy-duty ground breaking, grubbing out stumps and tough chores in general, these are the tools to use:Mattock
This tool has a combination of chopping and cutting blades for cutting through roots and breaking up ground.
This tool has two pointed ends for especially hard ground breaking.
Post Hole Digger
Here is a tool that you may feel is a luxury item -- until you need one. Post hole diggers let you dig holes deeper and with a little more precision than a shovel.
To avoid a memorable knuckle-busting experience, grip both handles together firmly when digging.
Weed Whacker/Grass Blade
Also known as the slingblade. This precursor to the string trimmer is sharp on both sides. The blade is swung back and forth to cut small plant material, usually in places that mowers can't reach.
Bush Axe/Briar Axe/Ditch Blade
Known by many names, it is a formidable tool made for serious brush removal. It looks a little like a battle axe and deserves caution and respect.
Edgers are made in various styles and shapes, from rectangular to half-moon. The intent is to cut a clean line where a lawn transition occurs, such as a sidewalk or planting bed.
For serious digging, here is the tool. About five feet long and made of solid metal, the blade does a fine job of digging and cutting roots. The flat top serves as a tamper.
Tool Handles and Heads
Some tools are available with more than one handle style. Make your choice based on your personal preference and the level of use your tool will have:
- Long handles offer longer reach and more leverage, but require more arm strength.
- Short handles are best for restricted work areas, but they require more leg strength. Depending on your height, you may be doing a lot of bending. Short handles are often thicker and may have a grip on the handle, making them heavier than a longer tool.
- Many short handled tools have grips. They may be T or D-shaped. Grips give you more control over the tool.
Handles are made of one of several materials:
- Wooden handles (usually ash) offer flexibility and last a long time with proper care.
- Fiberglass handles are stronger, weather-resistant (good for commercial use) and usually more expensive than wood.
- Steel handles are longer-lasting but may vibrate or transfer cold to the user.
- Cushioned or padded handles are available on some tools, making the work a little easier on the hands.
Handles are attached to the head by:
Sockets -- a metal sleeve that extends from the head and wraps around the handle. This type of connection is usually found on less expensive tools.
Sockets with rivets -- a metal sleeve is wrapped around the handle and reinforced with a rivet or screw for additional strength.
Tang and ferrule -- a metal shaft (tang) extends from the tool head and is inserted into a metal sleeve (ferrule) on the handle.
Forged tools are heat tempered and stronger than tools that are stamped from metal sheets.
Trowel / Transplanter
Bulb planter -- specifically made to dig precise holes for bulbs. Some are marked in inch gradients for exact hole depth. The digging tube grabs and removes soil to allow the bulb to be planted. A long-handled version allows extra pressure from the foot.
This is for precision digging in small spaces. The trowel has a narrow blade that is perfect for installing bedding plants. The transplanter has an even narrower blade.
This is commonly known as a dandelion digger, it looks like a notched screwdriver. It's made to penetrate the soil and remove weed roots from deep in the ground.
Pruners, Loppers, Saws and Shears
No, not a law firm, but a diverse group of cutting tools. Depending on your landscape plantings, you may find a need for all of these. Anvil
Hand held pruners have two distinct styles:
A sharp edged blade makes the cut against a flat-surfaced "anvil". They're best for cutting dead wood and woody stems.
Scissors-style for precision cutting of tender stems. The curved blades make cleaner cuts, can cut nearer to the trunk and don't crush plant tissue as the anvil style pruners can. However, the curved blades make them harder to sharpen than anvil pruners.
This is essentially a bypass or anvil pruner with long handles for extra leverage. The biggest ones can cut material up to about 2" in diameter. Some have ratchet-assisted cutting action, adding torque for easier cutting.
This pruner is used for overhead cuts when loppers will not reach. Pole pruners allow upper tier pruning without climbing or the need for a ladder. A rope and pulley operates the cutter from ground level. A pruning saw attachment is available on some models. Telescoping poles add to the cutting range. Handles may be wood, aluminum or fiberglass.
Pruning saw - for cutting limbs and branches. Pruning saws are available in two basic designs:Standard
This works best when the work area is restricted. The saw cuts on the pull stroke for less awkward work, especially from a ladder. The more teeth a saw has, the more precise the cut. Use large toothed saws for large limbs. The blades may be curved or straight. Some models fold for easier carrying and storage.
This is used for quick cuts on large limbs when the cut is unobstructed.
These are good for trimming around trees and shrubs where a string trimmer could damage bark.
These are used for shaping and trimming shrubs and hedges.
This is the garden version of the sewing basket tool, made for cutting flower stems and string.
To prolong the life of your tools, keep them sharp and never try to cut material larger than the tool is able to handle.
When using a pole pruner wear head and eye safety gear for protection from falling material and always be aware of overhead utility lines.
Wheelbarrows and Carts
For moving everything from compost to trees, you will need some type of transport. Wheelbarrows and carts offer options suitable for everyone from weekend gardeners to professional users:Wheelbarrows and Carts
Plastic Yard Carts
This is the traditional garden standby. Shoveling material in and out is easy. Wheelbarrows tip up for easy unloading. The single-wheel variety requires some strength and sense of balance (let a load of dirt tip over sideways in the lawn and you will know what I mean). A heavy-duty two wheel model is available. Wheelbarrows are manufactured in homeowner and contractor grades. Contractor versions generally have a heavier duty tray support and a thicker gauge tray. Wheelbarrow trays are metal or plastic.
Metal can rust if not cared for. Plastic is virtually weatherproof. Handles are usually wood. You will most likely have to assemble your purchase, but it is not a difficult job. Look for a good pneumatic tire. Keep the wheelbarrow clean and lubricated and it will last a long time.
This is a relatively new member of the family, offering the weekend gardener a combination of the best features of wheelbarrows and garden carts. These carts have two wheels for stability and the front is designed to allow you to tip out material. Some even have tool storage.
Other Lawn and Garden Tools
- For working in flower beds, wagons with tool storage and seating are great back savers.
- Knee pads save wear and tear, both on clothing and kneecaps.
- Don't forget the kids. Scaled down versions of adult tools let the young ones help out in the yard.
Choosing Your Tools
When you are selecting garden tools, you need to make sure you get the right tool for the job, but do not stop there. Part of selecting any tool is the "How does it feel in my hand?" test. When choosing, try to imagine how the tool will feel after a few hours of use. Remember, as the size of the tool increases, the weight of the tool also increases. Larger tools are efficient, just remember to choose one that won't wear you out too quickly.
Part of the fun of gardening is getting your hands dirty. The feel of good potting soil is a pleasure, the feel of thorns, mud, stones, and blisters is another thing altogether. In addition, some garden chemicals should not come in contact with your skin. You had better invest in a good pair of gloves.
- Natural hides -- such as cowhide, pigskin, goatskin or deerskin
- Top grain -- means top layer (not necessarily top quality). It's smoother and more supple than split grain.
- Split/reverse grain -- thick hide split into two rough layers.
- Fabrics -- such as canvas and cotton are, washable, breathable, but also moisture absorbent. Not advised for use with chemicals.
- Synthetic materials such as latex, rubber, PVC and neoprene or nitrile-coated are water, chemical and mud-resistant.
Cuffs prevent material from getting inside the glove.
Gauntlets protect wrists and forearms (rose gloves are a good example).
Grip enhancers such as rubber dots help you hang on.
Glove sizing is not universal, so try them on. Look for specific men's and women's sizing. A "one size fits all" approach may be fine for some jobs, but gloves that are too big can slip off (often at the worst time). A glove that is too small or doesn't fit right can cause something you are trying to avoid - blisters.
Seams are another reason to try a pair of gloves on. See how the seams feel. Seams can be located inside or outside of the glove. One style is constructed with the seam on the top of the palm, another with seams across the back. Try to imagine how the glove will feel after a full day of wear.