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  • Gardening Tools: What's What?

    “The workman’s as good as his tools” applies to gardening as much as anything else. The nice thing, however, is that garden tools aren’t expensive and you don’t need many.

    A small collection of basic tools will serve you well and you can add to your arsenal as your gardening skills progress. This list assumes you’ve got a mow-blow-and-go guy. You’re doing the fun stuff.


    The Basic 5

    Gloves – You really do need these. It’s not so much about keeping the dirt from under your fingernails (that’s really hip!) but about protecting your hands. You’ll find simple cotton gloves to leather gloves with extended cuffs to protect your arms. And gloves of all types in between. Some people prefer to use moderately-priced ones and replace them occasionally, while others prefer to invest and wear them out—sort of like treasured baseball gloves. It’s really about what you prefer. If gloves are not comfortable or don’t allow you to move your fingers and work efficiently, the pleasure of gardening is gone.

    Trowel- Trowels are for planting, weeding and mixing. Your choice will be about what’s comfortable in your hand. When choosing, hold it, turn it over, and feel the weight. Select one that feels right and one with a defined point. You also want one that won’t bend if you need it to do some hard work. Don’t buy a cheap one. A good trowel can almost last a lifetime.  Sometimes it takes a couple of trials until you find your favorite. But do find your favorite. Your trowel’s an extension of your hand.

    Pruner – Selecting this garden must-have is similar to choosing a trowel. Choose one that’s comfortable and fits in your hand. That’s assuming it’s a good-quality pruner with a sharp cutting blade. Don’t buy a cheap one—you’ll be throwing it away within weeks. Choose a “by-pass” type. This is where the lower blade closes past the upper blade. Anything else will crush stems and branches. Aluminum-handled pruners are lightweight and sturdy. A really good pair will have replaceable blades—but you’ll probably lose them before you need to change the blades. Experienced gardeners treasure their Felco pruners as much as their firstborn child—maybe more.

    Shovel – It seems like such a big, major tool for such a gentle hobby. But a sharp shovel with a pointed tip will be handy in all sorts of instances. And it will allow you to move or turn quite a bit of soil in a hurry. It’s the perfect size to dig a 1-gallon or 5-gallon size holes—the most common size nursery containers. Get one with a fiberglass handle to lessen the weight and eliminate wood slivers. This is the tool you need to mix compost and fertilizer as you prepare garden beds for planting.

    Garden Hose – You may have an automatic sprinkler system but you still need a hose. You’ll use it to water pots, to spot-water newly-planted trees, flowers and shrubs, to wash off tools, and to “accidently” spray your partner. Don’t waste your money on a cheap one. It will kink and drive you crazy, and it will split in no time. Just buy a Flexogen and be done with it. Buy one long enough to easily reach the farthest point of your garden. Some day you will need to.



    The Next 5 Basic Garden Tools

    Loppers – Loppers are long-handled pruners with large blades. These give you the leverage to prune large, thick branches and roots. They make tough jobs easy. Don’t wait too long to get a pair of these. Aluminum handled ones are lighter, and if your reaching up, the lighter weight is much appreciated. Here, you can get a “by-pass” type or and “anvil” type. Large, thick stems won’t be crushed by an “anvil” pruner.

    Watering Can – After you’ve lugged your Flexogen hose around your garden a few hundred times, a watering can becomes appealing. They’re also good for watering on porches, patios and courtyards where you don’t want to water furniture, pillows and outdoor rugs. Buy a sturdy one—plastic or zinc. And one with a long spout.

    Floral Shovel – Floral shovels are little gems. Especially for women. Or for plantaholics of both genders. They’re like miniature regular shovels. But they weigh a lot less and since they’re small, they accomplish big jobs in small spaces. So if you need to squeeze in just a few more plants you’ve got just the right tool. Floral shovels are great for planting 4-inch pots. Instead of three or four digs with a trowel, it’s just one with a floral shovel.

    Rake – You may wonder why a rake is not in the top five, however remember, you have a mow-blow-and-go gardener. But really, you need a rake too. Buy a small-headed one at first to get in and around your flowers and shrubs where your gardener trampled things the last time he was using his leaf blower. Then inform him that you’ll get the hard-to-reach areas. He’ll be happy and so will you.

    Basket – Or bucket or tub. Something to keep by your side as you weed and prune or harvest. It needs to be sturdy but lightweight. You’ll be dragging it along with you and maybe even sitting it on the top of plants. This is so you can collect garden refuse as you go along. When full, you make a quick trip to your green recycling can. A large, semi-flexible, lightweight plastic tub is ideal.


    Check out our How-to videos for tips to get you going >

    Read the Playing in the Dirt Blog for ideas throughout the year >

    See more articles about: Gardening for Beginners, Garden Care