Garden Tools

A pitchfork laying in a compost pile
Pitchforks and spading forks are good for preparing soil, turning compost, and more. Credit: UF/IFAS

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 every gardener really should have. Here are some of our Florida Master Gardener Volunteers’ favorites.

One tool, often overlooked, is a spading fork. It looks like a short pitchfork with wider tines. It will help you break up and improve the soil before you plant and turn the compost pile. A bow rake is a must-have as well. Level the soil and gather up debris with this sturdy rake.

Choosing the right size tool for the job can save gardeners a lot of labor. For big projects, like planting trees and shrubs, you’ll need a sturdy shovel. If you’re planting small plants, you can use a trowel.

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.

A rake scraping leaves away from the ground
A bow rake is a double-sided, metal rake. It breaks up and levels soil with ease. Credit: UF/IFAS

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.

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 as thick as 3 inches. To see what thickness your loppers can handle, check the label.

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 powered, and are useful when pruning small-leaved plants into formal shapes.

A collage of differently sized and shaped pruning tools
Limbs come in all shapes and sizes; so do pruning tools. Credit: UF/IFAS

Garden knives can be helpful for simple tasks like cutting twine to stake plants, loosening a rootbound plant from its pot, or dividing plants. A special grafting knife can be helpful for budding or grafting fruit trees and flowering shrubs, too.

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. This multipurpose tool can be used for weeding, pruning, and transplanting.

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 invasive plants, nothing is as efficient as a sharp machete.

Often, your hands are the most efficient tool for the job, 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.

Last but not least, don’t forget the watering can and wheel barrow. Soil and water are both too heavy to carry far without help.

A long thin spade like tool on a windowsill
A hori hori knife is a multipurpose garden tool. Credit: Jo Zimny, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Tool Care

Good tools need regular care to keep them working properly and safely. Take the time at the beginning of a project to evaluate your tools for cleaning, sharpening, and other maintenance needs.

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

Cleaning your garden tools is an important step and can prevent the spread of disease-causing pathogens. Tools should be cleaned after use 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. And if you find yourself misplacing them in the yard, consider spray painting them with a bright color, like safety orange.

A wheelbarrow full of rich soil in a garden
Cleaning off dirt and debris to extend the life of your wheelbarrow. Credit: UF/IFAS

When in doubt, contact your county Extension office. The Master Gardener Volunteers and Extension agents will be happy to help you choose the right tool for the job!

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