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Guide to Gardening Tools: What Tools Do You Need? | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Gardening Tools We Consider Indispensable: It Doesn't Take Much!

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What gardening tools do you really need? Here's our short list!

Benjamin Kilbride
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What tools do you need for vegetable gardening? Though many of us at the Almanac are longtime gardeners, our modest selection of tools may surprise you. Here are what we consider to be our 10 indispensable tools—and tips for taking care of them!

When starting a garden for the first time (or the second or third time), the right tools will make a big difference. A sharp tool will make gardening easier and save you time. Don’t get caught up in all the newfangled gardening tools that you’ll see. Focus on basic, quality, durable tools that will last a lifetime.

Note: We have included some links to products as examples. We do not endorse any products; they’re just there so you can see what the tool looks like!

10 Indispensable Garden Tools

Here are our top 10 garden tools. Plus, we included some “extras” below for those interested. Did we forget any essential tools that you find especially useful in the garden? Please comment below!

1. Hand Trowel

A trowel is a small hand tool used for digging at ground level and digging small holes for planting seeds, measuring depths in the soil, and digging up tough weeds. Look for a trowel with a narrow, sturdy blade (stainless steel is a good option) that will cut into the soil easily, as well as one that has a comfortable grip. It’s a gardener’s best friend.

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2. Hand Fork or Cultivator

Another hand tool is called the “fork” or “cultivator.” It’s useful for scratching the soil to remove small weeds and rough up the soil, both in the garden and in a container. Do not scrimp on this tool!  A cheap fork may snap on their first outing. You need a really strong handle and shaft, and solid union where the shaft and head join.

You can often a hand trowel and hand cultivator available in a set (sometimes with a pruner) since they’re such essential gardening tools.

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3. Long-Handled Shovels and Spades

A long-handled spade with a straight-edged, flat blade is good for digging straight-sided holes, cutting roots, removing plants and weeds, and making edgings. There are also long-handled garden shovels with pointed, rounded blade; they are useful for digging holes and moving soil.

Both make gardening easier on the old back. The longer the handle, the more leverage you will have. Look for forged metal. Here’s a good example of a long-handled digging shovel.

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4. Garden Rake

A garden rake or ground rake has metal tines and is used for smoothing out compost or for raking the soil level to create a beautifully crumbly seedbed.

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5. Hand Pruners or Pruning Shears

If we had to pick our most essential tool, it would be the garden pruner. A hand pruner is extremely versatile to cut or trim small branches from perennial plants, shrubs, and trees. Choose a bypass-style pruner, meaning the top blade slices pass the bottom blade, resulting in very quick, tear-free cuts so plants can heal quickly. (With anvil pruners, the other common variety, the top blade chomps down onto the bottom blade. This can damage the stem or branch that you’re cutting.) Hand pruners can also be useful for harvesting ripe vegetables without damaging the plant. Look for razor-sharp blades and a comfortable grip.

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6. Wheelbarrow

You can’t beat a trusty wheelbarrow! It’s great for weeding, hauling soil or leaves, collecting debris, and countless other tasks. The sturdiest wheelbarrows are made of one piece of heavy steel for heavy loads, but heavy-duty plastic wheelbarrows are a better choice for home gardeners. A wheelbarrow is easier to maneuver than a two-wheel yard cart, but less stable. Using a wheelbarrow or yard cart can also help to preserve your back, which is always at risk of strain from constantly bending to plant and weed your garden. 

7. Watering Can

Able to evenly water plants anywhere, a watering can is best suited for small watering jobs. It should have a capacity of a least 2 gallons but be easy to carry when full. Select a plastic or metal model with a removable spout. It’s also often beneficial to keep a smaller watering can around, too—especially when it comes to watering around small container plants.

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8. Garden Fork

This is another digging tool. A garden fork (similar in appearance to a pitch fork) is useful for turning over soil and compost, digging out root crops, and dividing perennials. Its long, metal tines allow it to easily penetrate the soil and avoid the smaller rocks that would get in the way of a shovel. 

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9. Garden Hoe

A hoe is used to remove shallow-rooted weeds effortlessly. It is also used to create furrows for planting seeds and to break up clumps of soil. Hoe heads come in many different shapes and sizes. Make sure that the metal head is securely attached to the handle. A smooth wooden handle will resist splintering.

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10. Leaf Rakes

Rakes are purpose-built: The leaf rake is lightweight and used for raking up leaves and lawn clippings and for spreading mulch. Metal rakes will last longer and perform better than plastic or wooden ones. Buy a rake that is securely attached to the handle; none of the parts should wiggle!

More Gardening Tools and Supplies

Gardening Gloves

You might not consider gloves essential, but a good pair of gloves can help to prevent blisters and cuts, and will keep your hands clean. Of course, there is certainly something to be said about feeling the dirt between your fingers! For digging, look for gloves that have waterproofing along the palm and fingers. Many gardeners like nitrile gloves like these. Consider longer gloves if you need more protection.

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Garden Scissors

Garden scissors or trimming scissors have very thin, super-sharp blades that are used for deadheading (the removal of dead flowers), snipping herbs and flower stems, and pruning delicate plants. It’s not meant to replace a hand pruner, but to complement it. Look for ergonomically-designed handles.

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Hori-Hori Gardening Knife 

The hori-hori gardening knife is a fairly recent addition to Western gardens. Commonly used in Asia, Hori-hori knives (hori meaning “to dig” in Japanese) are a mix between a knife and trowel, which makes it great for digging small planting holes, harvesting, and cutting down weeds. Some types feature a serrated edge to make cutting even easier, while others feature a ruler printed onto the blade, which helps when measuring planting depth.

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Garden Hose

A garden hose helps carries water long distances. Attach two or more together to reach farther. A cheap hose can be very frustrating; we advise getting a quality rubber hose and look for nickel-plated, heavy-duty brass couplings at both ends of the hose. Arable nozzles or sprayer heads adjust to deliver everything from a gentle sprinkle to a hard stream. Brass and metal parts and fittings are more durable than plastic. Here’s a good example of a high-quality water hose.

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Soaker Hose

The ideal type of garden hose, soaker hoses are low-pressure porous hoses that deliver droplets of water to your garden beds. They are meant to be laid out in the garden around crops (and even landscape shrubs and lawns). When the water is turned on, they leak water through their permeable material and water the garden slowly, steadily, and consistently—which is both important for healthier crops and drastically reduce water waste. There are also raised bed drip irrigation kits

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Watering Wands

If you’re someone who grows in flower boxes and overhead baskets, watering wands have long shafts to make it easier to reach out to water. Unlike a standard hose nozzle, a watering wand delivers a soft, soaking shower. They’re also handy to water closely spaced plants in your garden without stepping on the soil. 

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Padded Kneelers

Knee pads in the garden help to lessen the pressure on your knees. Kneeling is actually easier on your back than squatting. If both positions are too painful, bring a stool out to the garden to sit on or simply sit on the ground.

Soil Monitor

A very handy and inexpensive “extra” is a small soil monitor that you stick in the ground to read water, sun and pH value. You’ll know when it’s time to water, whether the plant is getting enough sun, and if the soil is acidic or alkaline.

Telescope Pruner

This is for reaching out into hedges to lop off branches. To read more about the many different types of pruning tools, including loppers and hand saws, read Pruning 101: Trees and Shrubs!

How to Sharpen and Care for Your Tools

Importantly, take care of your tools so that they last! It’s especially important to keep those blades sharp to make gardening easier.  See our guide on how to sharpen, clean, and care for your tools.

Free Online Gardening Guides

We’ve gathered all of our best beginner gardening guides into a step-by-step series designed to help you learn how to garden! Visit our complete Gardening for Everyone hub, where you’ll find a series of guides—all free! From selecting the right gardening spot to choosing the best vegetables to grow, our Almanac gardening experts are excited to teach gardening to everyone—whether it’s your 1st or 40th garden.

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Gardening Calendar