Must-Have Gardening Tools for the Novice Gardener
How to Choose the Right Gardening Tools for You
Using the right gardening tools can make all the difference between enjoying the gardening experience and wishing you’d never started. But how do you know what you need and which tool is best for you? Keep reading to find out what tools the beginning gardener really needs.
Table of Contents
- What Gardening Tools Do You REALLY Need?
- Key Points About Gardening Tools
- Pruning Tools
- Shovel vs. Spade
- Watering Tools
- Optional Gardening Tools
- Where to Buy Gardening Tools
What Gardening Tools Do You REALLY Need?
As a beginning gardener, you really only need a few tools. Other tools can be added later as you expand your gardening activities.
If you’re starting with a small container or patio garden, you’ll need a trowel, pruners or kitchen scissors, and a watering can. These don’t need to be top-of-the line tools as you’ll be doing relatively little work with them, so the less expensive tools at your local hardware store will be just fine.
If you’re gardening in a larger space, growing vegetables, or including multiple types of plants, add a shovel, jute twine, and a hose with spray nozzle. Since you’ll be using the tools more often, you’ll probably want to buy higher quality tools, perhaps from a mail-order provider.
Other things that will come in handy include gardening gloves, a hoe or other weeding tool, a rake, a wheel barrow, and if you have trees or large shrubs you’ll also need a pruning saw and/or a pair of loppers. And that’s it. It doesn’t take much to start gardening.
Key Points About Gardening Tools
The #1 thing to keep in mind is this: Buy the best tool you can afford for the type of gardening you’ll be doing.
Point #2 – Use the right tool for the task. If you’re digging a big hole, use a shovel, not a trowel. Don’t use your pruners to open a can. It may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people damage their tools (and themselves!) by using the wrong piece of equipment.
Point #3 – Keep your tools in good working order. Spray moving and metal parts with WD40 to keep them clean, lubricated, and rust-free. Sharpen blades, including shovels and spades. Sand wooden handles to avoid splinters. Store them in a dry location, like a shed, garage, or basement. Not only will your tools last much longer, they’ll make gardening tasks much easier.
Point #4 – Make sure your tools are comfortable for you. The “best” tool in the world won’t work for you if it’s too large, heavy, or uncomfortable to hold. Everyone is different – and so are the right tools for them.
You will need a pair of pruners (also called clippers, pruning shears, or secateurs) to trim and shape plants, deadhead, prune out dead or damaged foliage and small branches, and cut back perennials.
Pruning tools come in a variety to styles and price points. You’ll want a bypass pruner (the blades overlap, like scissors, when you cut), not an anvil style pruner (these crush the plant stems, rather than cutting cleanly).
For a novice gardener who won’t be doing much pruning or deadheading, the Corona pruner is an excellent choice. It’s affordable and long-lasting, and can be taken apart to clean and sharpen.
If you’ll be doing more pruning work, you can’t beat a Felco or ARS pruner. While they’re more expensive, they are readily available, will last forever, and parts can be easily cleaned, sharpened, and replaced. There are models for smaller hands, lefty’s, and with rotating grips.
Shovel vs. Spade
What’s the Difference and Which Do You Need?
A shovel or spade is essential for any job that involves moving soil, plants, mulch, gravel, or other materials. Shovels come in many styles and what you need will depend on what you want to do with it. Keep your own size and strength in mind when buying a shovel or spade; bigger is not better! You’ll get the job done more quickly using a smaller tool that lets you lift lighter loads.
For digging holes, moving soil, and many planting jobs, a round tipped shovel with a long handle works best. If you buy only one digging tool, the round tipped shovel is probably the best one to get.
For lighter tasks such as transplanting you may find a square-tipped shovel with a short handle easier to use. This type of shovel also works well for leveling areas for patios or walkways, squaring off trenches, and scooping up piles.
A spade is similar to a square-tipped shovel in that it has a flat blade, but the blade is longer and narrower and is designed to cut through roots and heavy soil. Spades are ideal for transplanting and dividing perennials, for working in crowded flower beds, and for edging.
With all shovels and spades, look for a forged-metal head, a large lip at the top of the blade so you can easily step on it, a handle that fits securely into the shaft, a comfortable fit, and a tool that doesn’t weigh too much for you to handle easily. Shafts can be made out of hardwood (with a varnished finish), metal, or a composite material.
For a more detailed comparison, see our article on the difference between shovels and spades.
A trowel is like a small shovel and is extremely helpful for smaller jobs (like container gardens), in tight quarters where a spade wouldn’t fit, for weeding, and for planting seedlings and bulbs. When buying a trowel, look for a sturdy handle with a contoured grip that is easy to grip.
There are several options here, including soft rubber handles (easiest to grip) and ergonomic designs (to prevent wrist strain). A trowel with a strong steel blade will last longest. A wide, rounded blade will remove soil more quickly, while a narrow blade is best in compacted or clay soil, or between tightly-spaced plants (such as in a container). Depending on your needs, you may end up with more than one trowel.
Since you can’t rely on Mother Nature to provide water when you need it, a watering can or garden hose is a necessity. Buy the best garden hose you can afford, preferably one with brass fittings, at least four- to six-ply in thickness, and kink-free.
Garden hoses come in a variety of lengths, types, and quality. What you’ll need depends on your situation. For example, for a deck or patio you might choose a coiled hose that stores away easily. In a smaller garden with a spigot readily available, a 25-foot hose may be fine. For larger gardens or those with spigots placed farther away from plants, there are hoses that reach up to 100 feet.
You’ll also need a spray nozzle or watering wand to attach to the end of the garden hose. This allows you to control the flow of water from a light sprinkle to a forceful jet so you can water everything from seedlings to container gardens to trees. As with garden hoses, look for brass fittings – plastic valves usually fall apart within a single season. To help you choose the right nozzle, here’s our Resource article on Hose Nozzles.
If you need to cover a large area, sprinklers are a good option. Be sure to put them on a timer so that you don’t wake up in the middle of the night and realize that the water’s been running for 7 hours!
Something to Move Plants, Dirt, Rocks, and More
A wheelbarrow is used to move soil, mulch, compost, gravel, plants, stones, and anything else that needs to get from one part of your garden to another.
Look for a wheelbarrow that stays upright when you set it down, has handles that reach all the way down to the tire, and an air-filled tire. If you’re going to be carrying heavy material, you may want to consider a heavy-duty contractor’s model or a wheelbarrow with two wheels. Also consider your size and strength relative to the size and depth of the wheelbarrow bed.
Optional Gardening Tools
Nice To Have And Sure to Improve Your Gardening Experience
Let’s face it, everyone will have their favorite “must-have” tool and will try to convince you that you too should have it. But what about the “nice-to-have” gardening tools? You’ll rarely hear about those – but they can make a huge difference in your gardening experience. If you don’t have these, think about adding them to your gardening tool kit.
- Weeding tool, such as a Cobrahead, hoe, or hori-hori (Japanese digging knife)
- Bug repellent
- Long-sleeved shirt
- Water bottle
- Kneeling pad
- Kids love ‘helping’ in the garden – don’t forget to get kid-sized tools for them.
- A gardening reference guide of some sort, whether that’s a gardening book or an online app
- And finally, a suggestion from Chris Beytes – “…the one must-have “tool” I’d add is an experienced gardening friend for advice, plant swapping and camaraderie.”
Where to Buy Gardening Tools
Most of the tools you need can be purchased at your local hardware store or garden center. But if you’re looking for something specific, like a hori hori (Japanese digging knife), then you may want to check out some online suppliers.