Garden Tools

A hoe

A traditional hoe

Working in the garden is made even more pleasurable when you're using the right tool for the task at hand. While there are thousands of tools on the market, there are a few that a gardener really should have, and some that will simply make the work easier.

A spading fork, which looks like a short pitchfork with wider tines, will help you break up and improve the soil before you plant anything. A bow rake is used to level the soil and gather up debris.

Often, your hands are the most efficient way to pull weeds, but even then you should wear leather or other thick gloves to protect them. Garden kneelers or a garden pad will help preserve your knees.

A garden hoe is great for weeding and otherwise working the soil surface. Traditional garden hoes have a long handle with a wide, flat blade that allows gardeners to remove larger weeds or make furrows for planting.

For smaller weeds, many gardeners prefer stirrup hoes, or scuffle hoes. These have a stirrup-shaped blade that's sharpened across the bottom. As the blade is pushed and pulled through soil, it cuts off weeds at the soil's surface.

Circle hoes are similar in design but have a circular blade. Because the heads are smaller, you can remove weeds without disturbing nearby plants. Weeding forks are helpful for extracting certain tough, thick weeds like wild garlic bulbs.

You’ll need a sturdy shovel for big projects, like planting trees and shrubs. If you’re planting small plants, you can use a trowel, and a pair of quality shears will make pruning and shaping a breeze.

Hand pruning shears are good for small branches, but are no match for larger branches. Lopping shears have longer handles and are operated with both hands. Good quality loppers can slice through branches one-and-a-half inches thick. Even larger branches will require a saw. Look for a quality limb saw to make these cuts safely. Pole pruners allow you to reach small branches high in trees. Electric, gas engine, and rope-operated pole pruners are available. Hedge shears can be manual or power, and are useful when pruning small-leaved plants into formal shapes.

A garden knife

A garden knife

Garden knives can be helpful for simple tasks like cutting twine to stake plants with, loosening a rootbound plant from its pot, or dividing plants. Japanese hori hori knives are popular with many gardeners. They typically have wide, stainless steel blades that are sharp on one side and serrated on the other. They can be used for weeding, pruning, and transplanting. A special grafting knife can be helpful for budding or grafting fruit trees or flowering shrubs.

If you have an overgrown corner of your landscape, a machete can help you easily remove vines and semi-woody perennials from this area. A machete can be helpful when you're cutting back bananas after a freeze or lifting and dividing perennials. And when it comes to cutting down woody invasives, nothing is as efficient as a sharp machete.

And don’t forget the watering can, which comes in handy for watering indoor plants, potted plants, and young seedlings.

Tool Care

Good tools need regular care to keep them working properly and safely. Take the times when you’re doing less in the landscape to evaluate your tools for cleaning, sharpening, and other maintenance needs. Look over the cables and plugs of power tools for damage and make sure safety guards are intact. Take them to a professional if any repairs are needed.

Check the oil levels in your mower and other gas-powered devices. Sharpen your mower blade, pruners, and shovels.

Tools should be cleaned and stored in a dry location. This includes not only large items like shovels and rakes, but also smaller items like pruners and trowels. Be sure to remove soil from garden tools before stowing them. Clean garden tools are an important part of garden sanitation, and can prevent the spread of disease-causing pathogens.


A machete. ©Photo by Dana Cummins. CC-BY-SA.